Ask Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

During a recent conversation with my son, I inadvertently let it slip that I think his children, a pair of girls aged 14 and 12, are selfish little heathens who exhibit all the social decorum one would expect from a pair of hungry wolverines.

One example: They put their elbows on the table, lower their faces to a scant 2 inches above the plate and proceed to gnaw and inhale their food, always accompanied by a cascade of grotesque slurping and chewing noises reminiscent of a National Geographic special about the food chain on the African savannah.

In response to this observation, my son said “manners are dead”. “I’m raising these children to be ‘natural creatures'”, he said, “wild and free and unencumbered by the petty rules of society.”

And he pointed out that Emily Post herself considered good etiquette to be a style of behavior intended to help other people feel comfortable. If his children feel comfortable eating their pizza as if they have just buried their faces in the warm entrails of an exhausted antelope, what right do I have to judge them?

He suggested that it was bad manners for me to even bring this up, and especially uncouth for me to pretend that I just let the criticism “slip” when in fact I have been brooding over this for years.

Dr. Babooner, while there may be some truth to the assertion that I have been thinking about this for a long time, it was never my intention to attempt to correct the atrocious behavior of these young barbarians. They are irredeemable. I would sooner try to convince voracious Asian Carp to swim back downstream.

But if etiquette is all about helping others relax, why must I always be the one to sacrifice? How come no one changes his or her behavior to help ME feel comfortable?

Crabby Gramps

I told Crabby Gramps I was alarmed by his use of the world “irredeemable”. That strikes me as a shockingly final judgment for one to level against young relatives. And frankly, I said, his son is correct. Etiquette is dead – finally killed by the Internet in the same way table manners were done in by the State Fair, along with the table itself.

As for feeling “comfortable”, that must come from within. If you are looking for someone else to MAKE you feel comfortable, you are likely to wait for a very long time. Rather, C.G. should just decide to approach dinner with the mindset of a wildlife biologist. Observe and take notes. These are fascinating creatures who cannot be tamed!

You might also just “let it slip” that any “wild and free” creatures roaming in your house will have to wear radio collars and ear tags for the duration – for their own protection, of course. And one can never rule out the judicious use of tranquilizer darts.

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

42 thoughts on “Ask Dr. Babooner”

  1. Rise and Shine Baboons:

    Dear CG: My, oh my. Your family sounds baboonish indeed. Do not worry about this. Your son and his children will not get far out of the door when it comes to activities, college and JOBS later in life. I have heard, though, that B-ib is looking for goat tenders. Living in a barn sounds like your son’s style. His daughters will also be comfortable there, although B-ib might expect more from your granddaughters than your son does.

    You might want to plan social events away from family meals if this bothers you so.


  2. The world is awash with crimes and flaws and horrors, CG. Supermarkets downsize the serving size of food without telling consumers. Politicians make wild claims and don’t even seem embarrassed when they are proven to be lies. Global warming is destroying the only planet we have. The Greeks think they shouldn’t have to pay their bills. Wise men are afraid to speak up, while donkeys bray with abandon.

    Of all the things that are wrong, what should you try to reform?

    Etiquette is something like a lubricant that allows people of all sorts to interact without friction. It isn’t meant to be a tool for the forced reformation of others. Horrible etiquette is a victimless crime that does not pollute the atmosphere or push any homeless person deeper into poverty. When your grandchildren are boorish, the worst of it is that others see them as boorish . . . which is entirely appropriate. Nobody else is injured. If they are ever hurt by being considered slobs, the remedy is obvious and easily put into effect.

    Meanwhile, you have available thousands of reform programs that deserve your attention more urgently than your grandkids’ slovenly manners. Find a new cause, CG, like fostering programs to improve the self respect of kids with Downs syndrome.

    Happy gorgeous Monday, baboons! This might be the sweetest week of weather in the whole year. My wrist is becoming locked up again, so if I go silent in the next days you should know I’m with you in spirit.


    1. Excellent, Steve. I think “Etiquette is something like a lubricant that allows people of all sorts to interact without friction” belongs in the next Glossary update.


  3. Good morning to all,

    Well, CG, it seems me that this situation is not as bad as you think. The kids are still coming to the table to eat with their family which is a good thing. Apparently you are there for them and you are maintaining a relationship with your son. Also, you should remember that those kids are at the age where most kids have trouble controlling their behavior, the early teen age years.

    What you are seeing is probably a better than normal family. Your son’s idea that the kids should be wild and free is probably just a reaction he is having to trying to deal with a 12 year old and a 14 year old at the same time. It would probably be best if you would try to over look those awfull eating habits and your son’s off-the-wall ideas about how to raise his kids.


  4. I think Jim in CG is on to something – unless this has been their behavior from the time they have been feeding themselves, the wildebeest-style of eating will pass with time. Probably this will pass into history about the time they start dating because what potential romantic partner would want to eat across the table from that? It might be fine if they meet over a hot dog eating contests, but probably not for an evening out at the pizza parlor and local movie house. Fear not CG, by senior prom this is likely to have improved. If not, you can gently invest in a course in table manners as a graduation present.


  5. Two quick comments and then my bike ride:
    1.) re tables as per the master reference. Studies show that families seldom eat together at tables at home.
    2) The wild creatures roaming free through the mall and grocery store and along streets here are the older generation. More than once I have listened to other CG’s whining about bad manners in the young while they were displaying the same. A friend of ours suggested to the senior center here that along with driving refresher courses they should teach manners refresher classes.

    We are going to drive up the MN River Valley a ways, have a cook out at F. Ridgley State Park, then babysit for the evening.


    1. I confess, we have of late deserted the dinner table for the television.

      The way the current work/school schedule cookie is crumbling, from the time I get home from work until we have to call it a night (so as to rise and shine before sun-up), there is just about enough time to prepare and consume a meal, so if we want to watch something like the excellent Ken Burns’-Prohibition, we end up having it for dinner.

      I’m trying to figure out when a picture of my grandpa and his friends was taken. It is labelled as having been taken on the occasion of their first ride in a Model T, which got a flat tire. They are all standing around, mugs in hand, a small keg of beer.

      We had a good laugh last night when they showed the map of all the states and counties that had Prohibition before the Constitutional Ammendment-Minnesota looked pretty wet (moreso than Wisconsin, to my surprise). All those Germans, I imagine.


      1. The “Great Danes” of Clarks Grove did not allow any liquor sales or bars in town up a few years ago when they changed their laws to make way for the town’s first bar.


      2. You have named why families don’t. Just time and busy-ness and kids coming and going from all their activities, which is one of the reasons fast food thrives.
        I’m not sure how bad it is; my family bonded at the table three meals a day, shared events and shared family plans, that is work. I think families can bond in other ways. You have named one.
        We have friends and children of friends who make sure they have a “formal” dinner every


      3. I found myself feeling very guilty about this for awhile, but have decided to let it go.

        We don’t really do a lot of activities compared with most families we know (one sports activity that meets twice a week), and we are active at our church. We don’t eat fast food, we cook. This time of year, a lot of it comes from our very own yard. We converse on a regular basis and we do sit down to breakfast in the morning. We aren’t each holed up with our own meal and tv, we’re watching something together and discussing as we go.

        It’s not the way I grew up, but that involved sitting at the table eating while my parents talked. We were not really expected to be part of the conversation. I have to say, I like the way we do it in our home today better.


      4. At our family table as a child we all talked, our parents involved us in all sorts of ways, such as the state of family finances–part of her philosophy about raising kids. The dinner table of my childhood was the loosest time of my childhood. I do not remember issues about table etiquette, we must have been told things and been corrected, bot do’t remember it.
        In my wife’s childhood the family never ate together at a table. She could not understand why I thought we should at first.


      5. It is easy to romanticize the family dinner table. My family ate every lunch and dinner together, which sounds like a lot of sharing. But only the adults spoke. And after a meal my parents would “have coffee,” meaning they would smoke one or two cigarettes. The kids were expected to be polite and quiet, and that was easy enough for my father was a gifted storyteller. Still, I think MIG has better bonding in her meals with the TV going.


      1. In my German family it was first and foremost the Jews, then the Catholics, then the Finns, then Swedes and Norwegians (no Danes near us), then anyone of faith. But my mother was 1/4 Scots-Irish. So the ethic groups/cultures/religions I admire most are in order: Jews, Catholics/Lutheran (about the same thing aren’t we?), Finns, Greeks, English, Irish, Scandinavians, then maybe Germans.
        Is that how you raise kids to respect differences? My sister is like me. My brother, who hated everything about his childhood and parents, is walking bigotry.Hmmm.


      2. Makes me think of the book Mama’s Bank Account, in which Kathryn Forbes writes about how outraged her Uncle Chris would become if someone mistook their Norwegian family for Swedish – “Svedes? Vat are Svedes but Norvegians vit der brains knocked out?!”


  6. The NYTimes is obviously following our blog. From today’s Complaint Box:
    On a weekend excursion to Baltimore in July, I chanced upon an unusual scene in a hotel restaurant. After a toddler and his parents had finished eating and left their table, a two-person cleanup crew immediately appeared, attempting to reverse the devastation that the child had wrought on and beneath the table. Apparently the toddler had shredded every last piece of bread on the table and tossed it to the floor, along with various other breakfast items. Yet nothing in the parents’ expressions or words would have led one to conclude that they were aware of the mess their child had created.

    I thought this was an isolated example of poor parenting until I had brunch in a lovely Manhattan restaurant a few weeks later. Two couples and their children were seated at a table in full view of my own. After the dishes from the main course were cleared, the two toddlers proceeded to open every packet of artificial sweetener, sprinkling the contents over the table. One then used the empty ceramic packet holder as a small drum, beating it continuously with a spoon. The two mothers continued their conversation across the grainy surface of the table; the fathers left to continue theirs in front of their sport utility vehicle, which was parked in front of the restaurant.

    The doors to the restaurant were open, allowing easy access from the interior of the restaurant to the tables outside. While the one child continued the drumbeat, the other ambled over to an empty table by the door, swiped the sweetener packet holder on it, then climbed into the open S.U.V. with his new toy. When the mothers eventually vacated the table, a cleanup crew, similar to the one in Baltimore, set to work with broom, mop and cloths, restoring the table to a presentable state before the next group of diners could be seated.

    These were exceptional cases, of course. More typically, meals out are ruined by the persistent screaming of uncontrolled children rather than by food strewn in all directions. Clearly, the era of teaching table manners and the decibel modulation of “outside voices” to children is long gone.

    After the families left the brunch place, I spoke with the staff, who seemed loath to challenge their clientele, preferring a cleaning detail to a loss of business, especially in these tough economic times. Patron-to-patron confrontations might similarly disadvantage the restaurant, especially given the ease that the Internet affords the diner who wishes to complain of sub-par restaurant ambience.

    Perhaps a public service announcement campaign (“Mind Your Children!”) could accomplish what the stern glances and shocked reactions of onlookers have failed to communicate to these parents: By failing to control, admonish or even notice their children and the havoc left in their wake, they send a clear message — both to their children and to the adults in their midst — that their children’s misbehavior is someone else’s responsibility.

    Sharon Mast lives in Riverdale in the Bronx and teaches high school in New Rochelle.



    1. Thanks for this. Is this what triggered Dale’s blog?
      We eat out quite a bit. I am only rarely bothered by the behavior of children in restaurants, or elsewhere as a matter of fact. I am pretty accepting of children’s behavior generally, but I just don’t think we do often see that sort of behavior here. We eat out as much to watch children as we do to eat out. I do admire the familiy-ness and well-behaved children in Hispanic families. Eating out is where so many children respond to me (remember the blog way back when about children and my Santa Claus face?).
      What a day to be outside!!


    2. I’ve had a lot experience in my family with young children misbehaving in restaurants. We have had to take kids out of restaurants in the middle of a meals. We would not stay in a restaurant too long with a kid that couldn’t behave because it would be too embarassing for us. I guess some people will let their kids get away with a lot in a restaurant. Not us.


      1. Our kids and grandkids, except for moments, were/are good in restaurants. Just luck I think. Our kids challenged us in other ways than public behavior.
        One of our favorite family memories was eating in Millers, the local restaurant everyone ate in, where everyone knew everyone. So on a Sunday after church, our five-year-old son stands up and announces to us loudly in a demanding voice: “Will you two please quiet down. I can’t hear the people in the booth behind us.” Everyone laughed, except, of course, the people in the booth behind him.
        I think I told this before but what the heck. I’m at Brookdale in the middle of the mall area with a three and a five year old waiting for my ever late wife. The kids are energetic and eager to be gone. I am doing my best to control and entertain them. They are not being bad and it was a teachable moment. Along comes a woman with three boys, about 4, 6 and 8. She sits them on a bench and says “Now Don’t Move.” And for the next 15 minutes I was there, they didn’t. They sat there listlessly. For years after that when my kids were bugging me a bit, I would think to myself, “Thank God my kids are not like those three boys.”


      2. i saw that in china where a group of school childern were seated quietly and behaved quite nicely through the meal. it wasn’t until one of the americans in our group pointed out that was the difference between usa children and chinese children. in the usa there would be 5 kids raising cain and giving the teachers fits. in china there were 40 kids with 3 teachers and no one did more than look at us. we were a curiosity being white people. same conclusion… hellraisers preferred vs quiet unchallanging group.


  7. When I hear stories about parents ignoring their children – esp. when they’re really on a tear – I think the next time I see that, I’m going to go over there and just calmly say something like “I wonder if you could pay a little attention to your child – he’s ruining this or that…” I never have, though.


    1. I’ve never done that either – I never quite have the courage to confront. I wish people were more sensitive to the withering look, but I must not be very good at that – it doesn’t seem to get results.


      1. My experience is the Withering Look works best with one’s family, as they know how to interpret your expressions. I should add that if you’re a kindergarten teacher, it may work on a select few kindergarteners.


      2. i did have a guy tell some people in a plane to shut their spoiled little brat up. he sat there in his seat with the parents feeling embarrased for 2 more hours.


  8. My, I am talking a lot today. Waiting for my wife to head on our drive and picnic. But she is having her common health issue. And I am tired of correcting the mistakes my fingers keep making.

    Good day all. TTFN


    1. Maybe Carlos has made very special plans just for the 2 of them and she won’t be able to see Casey until tomorrow. In either case-best wishes , Donna!


    2. Awww, thanks you guys! I had a smashing b-day. Went out to eat with my best friend (not Carlos). And my little sister just got here. She’s flying out of SF in the morning for work in Alabama. Her name is Linda and I used to hate her when she was the baby of the family and got all the attention even though I was always cuter (ask anyone). But now we get along famously and would you believe it – her birthday is the day before mine! Isn’t that ironic??

      Not to brag or anything but I think I have the three wonderfullest children on the planet. They went together this year and surprised me with a MacBook Pro. So Linda, the Casey Jones b-day youtube came in crystal clear and there were no pauses or glitches of any sort! I am soooooooo lucky. And older too, but what the hey! I have a MAC!


  9. Happy BIrthday, Donna. And Happy Birthday everyone who’s had one in the last few weeks that I haven’t said “happy birthday” to. 🙂


  10. i am having compouter and schedule issues this week so more late additions.
    the pig children reminded me of the little brother in my favorite holiday movie. the christmas story. remember how darin mcgavern was disgusted with the mom for encouraging the little boy to eat like a piggy and the little bouy got the potatoes all over his face and up his nose but laughed and ate and made the family table a memorable occasion. then i remembered a time back in the hippy trqavel days where i picked up a hitch hiker and gave him a ride to his house and he invited me in to have a sandwich and meet his family. he had been gone for months and upon returning home his mother was appalled to see him make his peanut butter sandwich on napkins instead of plates and eat with his elbows on the table. she told him if this is what he picked up out there in his travels he would have some serious re learnng to do. i finished my sandwich and thanked him and wondered on my way out the door why he’d come home. civilized aint all its cracked up to be.
    my son who is now in collefge was in the class for 3 or 4 year olds and the teacher pulled me aside after school and expressed her concern that he was using such terrible manners and eating with his fingers. i asked her what her idea was of how he should eat and she realized by my blank stare that i was serious. we never bothered with forks or spoons unless it was soup or something like that. sald beans spaghetti, bread potato jello all great finger food. he ate everything. fish chicken sloppy joes etc. baby food was the last time he saw spoons before he joined civilazation in school. wolf boy raised in the jungle of the suburbs.


  11. remembering the teacher who made sure the child who knew cows are not blue
    and the one who embarrassed her students with mean words in front of classmates
    the priest who insisted on respect and the cub scout den mopther who got upset when paper mache went flying across the room. i had a rfriend who would tell her son to sit there until she got back and he would and i wondered about him today he is lost and has no idea which way to turn
    my dad had a meticulous frind that he loved to mess with by flicking cigarette ash to miss the ashtray then wiping it up with a napkin messily and stuffing it all in the ashtray pretending not to notice the rfiends facial contortions thne he would continue the conversation and accidently light the napkin on fire with the cigarette and finsih up by pouring water on the smoldering ashtray tosend my meticulous family friend over the edge. he would shake like a person just served castor oil and jump up to clear the table. oh my dad laugh when retelling the story, he would get ters in his eyes at the memory of the perfect delight in messing with poor old dick bardon. did it not occur to cg that the kids are declaring their indepepdance from a tiresome old drone.
    i will be n bright and early in the am for the big day. see you all then. steve i hope the arm gets better. you sure make good use of it when its working. thanks
    clyde. fight fight fight hope sandy feels better.
    donna i ust say you do look pretty good for an old broad. happy day… quick get it over with.


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