Observations During a Fruit Platter and Two Chocolate Croissants

I recently accompanied my husband to an international conference in Montréal.  There were around 500 attendees from all over the world.  I was just along to play tourist and boost the Montréal economy.  Hello Rue St. Catherine!

The first morning I breakfasted alone (I was on a mini-break – sleeping later was justified!). Eating alone in a restaurant no longer makes me feel uncomfortable.  If you find it so, I recommend reading a book, newspaper, or writing a blog.  I observed.

A few tables ahead of me four gentlemen were engrossed in conversation.  I guessed from their tie/name tag lanyard combos that they were attending the international conference.  Across from them was a lone woman seated at another table for four.

Part way through my fruit platter another gentleman entered the dining room.  The Maître d seated him at one of the many empty tables for four directly behind the four other gentlemen.   The lone gentleman recognized the other four as fellow conference attendees, introduced himself, and then, without any acknowledgement, sat down with the lone woman.  His intent was to converse across the aisle to the other four.

I feel a diagram is necessary!


Follow the circles and arrows.

I’m not sure of the language or culture of the late arrival.  He wasn’t speaking either French or English.  There’s a fine line between observing and blatant eavesdropping so I can’t be sure.

The woman became engrossed in the fascinating view of the rooftop venting ducts out the window as she continued her breakfast. To add to her discomfort, one of the four gentlemen, realizing that across the aisle communication was impossible, picked up his plate and joined the man at her table.  She now had two strangers at her breakfast table. Neither gentleman acknowledged the woman.

By the time I returned to my table with another chocolate croissant (hey, I was on a mini-break. It was justified!) the lone woman had departed.

It seemed to me that I had been observing the clash of cultural differences. The gentleman was from a culture where sitting with strangers in a restaurant was the norm.  The woman was from a culture where this would rarely happen, and if it did, there would be permission requested and granted.  No wrongs, just different.

The entire exchange was interesting to watch.  I would have liked to have observed more. It would have revealed more about cultural differences. It would have revealed more about human interactions. It would have justified a third chocolate croissant.

About etiquetteottawa

Founder and Owner of the Protocol School Of Ottawa
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2 Responses to Observations During a Fruit Platter and Two Chocolate Croissants

  1. Angela says:

    As I read your post, I became more and more uncomfortable for the other lone woman who may have thoroughly been enjoying her quiet and uninterrupted breakfast. I have travelled alone often and dined alone in restaurants…if someone wanted to sit at my table, I would definitely have expected a request for permission to do so…my first thoughts really were that this was just rude and wrong. Thank you for pointing out that it wasn’t wrong…just different. Puts a different perspective on it for me (you’re very good at that with me, Suzanne).

    Question for you, though – If I was faced with this request for permission, I really would not have wanted them to join me at my table, having nothing in common with them and wanting my peaceful breakfast to continue. How would you suggest that I react/respond?

    Oh…one more thing…i was just typing an email to a colleague…I had used the word “but”. And even before this post, I remembered the conversation that you, Karen and I had. I changed the word from “but” to “perhaps”. Aren’t you proud? LOL

    • Great question Angela. We have to look at this from a couple of perspectives.
      If dining alone in a country where sitting with strangers is the norm, then I think we must accept that as part of the culture.
      If someone asked if they could join my table, whatever country, and I felt unsafe, felt it was an opportunity to make advances, I recommend “I’m expecting someone.” If you were feeling unsafe, it clearly sends a message that you’re not alone. Safety first. But, in the situation I described in my blog post, if requested to join my table, I would have graciously agreed. The lone gentleman clearly wanted to be part of the other four men.
      So, it depends.
      Glad to hear you’re applying a little change of words. It can be a big difference.
      I always appreciate your comments.

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