11 MARCH 1995, Page 55


Dear Mary.. .

Q. Recently I and my dining companion were occasioned considerable discomfort and annoyance by a lady at a neighbouring table of the fashionable restaurant we were visiting who laughed frequently, loudly and with the inflection of an angry horse. This was not the first time I have encountered fellow diners whose laughter constitutes what I understand economists term an `externality', namely a cost not borne by the person who gets the benefit. In the past, I have considered throwing a bread-roll, or retaliating by simulating an equally unpleasant laugh; but both of these seem undignified and the latter would doubtless be ineffectual. Remonstrating directly with the laugher is clearly out of the question, as one does not want to enter into direct com- munication with unknown persons in a restaurant, the consequences being incalcu- lable. I am confident that you will recom- mend an appropriate course of action for such a situation, for which I will be most grateful.

A.Q.T, St Martins Lane, London WC2 A. Thank you for your query. The correct course of action in such a scenario is to slip out quietly to the telephone corridor and ring a co-operative friend. Explain your predicament and give a full description of the laugher's outfit. You may then return

to your seat. Moments later, the waiter will approach the laugher's table to announce there is a call for her. 'But no one knows I am here!' she may retort. 'Well, madam, the caller described exactly what you were wearing,' the waiter will insist. No doubt she will be curious enough to take the call whereupon your friend can tip her off, in kindly manner, that other customers are finding her laughter intrusive. You can then blink blandly as she returns to her table.

Q. I write in a fit of pique concerning a social — or, rather, unsocial — phe- nomenon which is both widespread and unacceptable but never seems to have been acknowledged as such. Whenever I go to visit friends, the telephone invariably rings, often several times — and each time my host blithely settles down for a good long session as if I were suddenly invisible. This is just about bearable if there are others around to keep me amused but intolerable if it's just me. How dare he (or, usually, she) give priority to someone who's just pressed a few buttons over myself who has made the effort to visit in person? It seems I am one of the few people who, when I have someone round, has mastered the art of getting any callers I have off the line in under 30 seconds. In other people's houses I seem to spend hours flipping through aged magazines (I can do that at the den- tist's) or, worse, acting as unpaid child-min- der, before my host deigns to wind up his/ her call. How can I force this discourteous band off the line immediately and ensure they give me their undivided attention until I leave?

C.C., Arundel Gardens, London W11 A. Go out of the room as your host begins the call and after a few minutes come back in and say, 'Good, Lord! Are you that much overdrawn?' When your outraged friends have brought their calls to a speedy conclu- sion you can laugh gaily and say, 'Only teas- ing. I just thought you might stay on the line for twenty minutes.'

Mary Killen