A strange sequence of events happened at Umami Burger in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. The hostess sat Michael Michael, Kat, and me at a long table with four people already dining on the other end. I thought it was unusual that the hostess didn’t at least check that we minded the proximity to the other party, but I didn’t actually care, because I had no intention of paying any attention to them.
My companions, however, were very intrigued with the adjacent foursome and talked about them almost incessantly. I kept trying to get them to stop because I thought it was wildly rude. Plus, I couldn’t hear the other side of the table, leaving me unable to participate in their little game, anyway. But more than anything, I hadn’t seen either of my friends in more than a year, and I was way more interested in catching up with them rather than spending the whole meal discussing strangers.
I lost, though. I never managed to diverge the conversation too far from the quartet at the other end of the table. Michael Michael and Kat would change their minds about which one was dating which and how long they had been dating (Double blind date? Long-term?). They’d quote directly from the strangers’ conversation - as it was happening - to support their arguments. I thought that this was particularly audacious, pointing out that there was almost no buffer between our parties and that if we could hear them, then surely they could hear us talking about them.
As the other four people readied themselves to leave, Kat got brave enough to address them directly: “Excuse me, we just have to know what all of your relationships are with each other.” Meanwhile, I buried my face in my napkin. “We’re two couples, why?” one guy responded. Then my two friends admit that they had been eavesdropping the whole evening and shared some of the theories they had been devising. I was mortified at how nonchalantly they were confessing to being busybodies, and worried what the fallout would be as they awkwardly shuffled away.
“Oh my God, I love that game!” one of the woman said. “I do that sort of thing all the time.” From there, everyone excitedly chatted about how they try to guess the lives of strangers they encounter in restaurants, on the subway, etc. I was completely wrong, they seemed to think it was great that we had listened to everything and encouraged us to guess even more specifically about their lives.
Then the tables turned (figuratively, not literally, as the long table was stationary) and Michael Michael asked them to figure our stories out. They admitted that they hadn’t been paying any attention to us (apparently, some people just enjoy the company of their own friends rather than fixating on their neighbors), but they were pretty quick to suss out that we were friends from college and even guessed our school remarkably quickly.
“So you know ______? And ____? And ____?” they asked. And we did know these people. The strangers from the other side of the country whose lives we were inventing were just one degree of separation from us. We all just happened to be at a restaurant in a city none of us have lived in, yet these people I kept begging my dining partners to shut up about were now almost like old friends. In fact, I think that night I learned more about what was going on in those four people’s lives than my actual friends.
I’m definitely the loser of Michael Michael and Kat’s game because I had pegged the people at the other end of the table the furthest off, figuring they’d find the game itself rude rather than reward it by acting chummy with us afterwards. But I still contend the night’s conclusion was an anomaly, and that most people you’d say, “I’ve been eavesdropping on your whole conversation, can I tell you some theories I’ve developed about you and then ask some follow-up questions about your relationship?” would respond by looking at you funny.