How do you negotiate the communal table? Start a conversation? Avoid or end a conversation?I don't always mind communal tables, perhaps because I've made my peace with the fact that they aren't going away. Okay, I do mind when I'm squashed between people I don't know and I find it hard to hear my friends. And yes, I have found myself at communal dinners, trapped next to with people who hijacked my party and would not let us talk to anyone else around us. But I have also ended up swapping pizza slices with strangers, which once helped out with a review I was working on, and just last week I dined with a friend I met four years ago across a communal table in a Vietnamese restaurant in Seattle.
By angling your shoulders away from the diners next to you, and speaking in a slightly lower voice, as if you and your friends are exchanging confidences, you're conveying a message that most strangers get. I've also found that explicit discussions about J-horror movie plots or ponyplay work like a conversational DEET, repelling most of the unwanted. And if you do talk to a neighbor for a few minutes and then decide you've had enough bonding, simply turn to your friends and start talking about mutual friends or other insider topics. Isn't that how it worked in the high school cafeteria?
Of course, if you do want to
hit on the guy next to you engage in the now and here of this restaurant experience with your fellow beings, just ask him what he's ordered because it smells great. Everyone likes talking about what good taste they have.
E-mail your questions to Jonathan.Kauffman@SFWeekly.com.
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