Dear Annie: My parents live in a tiny Midwestern town with one restaurant. It’s a mom and pop place with really delicious food, and many of the locals are regulars, including my parents. The owner, “Martina,” is extremely sweet and accommodating and does most of the work including the cooking. Her husband, on the other hand, does very little except sit down at the tables with customers and annoy them. He brings up politics, religion and other topics that repeatedly offend customers. It’s the Midwest, so everyone is too polite to say, “GO AWAY!” They also really enjoy Martina and her cooking. No one wants to hurt her feelings, so no one has let her know that he’s driving away business with his behavior.
Martina seems oblivious to how much he annoys people. She mentions how tight money is and how hard it is to stay above water in her business, and I want to tell her that banning her husband would certainly improve her income. Is there a polite way to do so?
Personally, I can’t stand him and only get carryout when I visit my parents, but I know that the locals appreciate having a place to catch up with neighbors and prefer to eat there. Several have stopped going because of him. Is there a way to let her know how he’s affecting her bottom line without offending her? — Ban the Booth Bully
Dear Ban the Booth Bully: I’m sure this woman is aware her husband is a thorn in her restaurant’s side. If he’s that prickly in public, just imagine what a bramble he is at home. Perhaps her seeming obliviousness is a coping mechanism: She can’t convince her husband to change his behavior, so she does her best to tune it out. So rather than go to her with the issue, I think you ought to address it right at the source. The next time you’re in town, dine in at the restaurant. If and when this bully tries to push his way into your conversation, summon up the courage to push back (with words, of course). Politely but firmly say, “I’m not interested in discussing politics or religion,” or “Respectfully, my parents and I haven’t seen each other in a while and would like some time to catch up on our own here,” or something to that effect. Once word gets around, others may follow suit. At the very least, you’ll have given Martina something to point to should her husband insist that customers don’t mind his antics.
Remember: It’s not rude to stand up to rudeness.
Dear Annie: “An Earful” wrote to you about her sister, who repeats herself in the process of explaining her “stress, problems and anxiety.” She sounds just like my own sister. A wise, dear friend of mine once suggested that such people often repeat themselves because they don’t feel heard, and that paraphrasing their words back to them — without correction nor advice — enables them to stop repeating themselves.
It worked like a charm with my sister. After the second iteration (so I knew she felt she hadn’t explained herself well enough), I would interrupt her, saying, “Hang on, hang on. I want to make sure I’ve understood what you’re trying to say.” Then I rephrase my genuine understanding of her words, together with adding, “and I think it makes you feel…” Then I shut up, not offering any explicitly unasked-for advice. She happily either affirms or adds to my understanding and then moves on. It doesn’t stop the talking, but it does provide a more enriched two-way communication and prevents most of the repetition. — Blessed Friend and Sister
Dear Blessed: And how blessed she is to have such a friend and sister of you. This is excellent advice. Thanks for writing.
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