Ask RuBo: Cell Phones at the Table, Neurotic Food Whims

Ruth Bourdain is a fictional mash-up of Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain.

I have two pet peeves at a restaurant. First, I am sick and tired of being at a table when someone's cell phone rings and they answer it and talk and talk and talk and then everyone at the table sort of stops their own conversation and focuses on the rude cell-phone junkie. The other thing I can't stand is people who push their food with their thumb. Have they never heard of a knife or a piece of bread? What to do, what to do!

In my view, not only is it incredibly fucking rude to answer the phone at the table and proceed to have a conversation in front of your tablemates, it's even worse when that conversation is boring. If you are going to take the call at the table, at least have a fight, call the other person some names, break up with a boyfriend—just do something to entertain us. Scheduling with your dog walker is un-fucking-acceptable.

Now, there are a couple of ways of dealing with this. You could calmly ask the person to stop, with something along the lines of, "Please do not answer your phone in my presence, you fucking asshole." Another option is to block the cell signal by grabbing the phone from the offender and burying it in a pile of chopped liver. As a last resort, you may ultimately need to take the phone and permanently put it out of commission. Crushing the screen of an iPhone with an oyster shell (I prefer Kumamotos) works particularly well.

As for your second question, the Italians have a name for that piece of bread used to scoop up a last bit of sauce from your plate; it's called the scarpetta. It really is the preferred way of cleaning your plate, as compared to the Neanderthal use of the thumbetta.

As much as I hate this behavior, even your fearless leader has succumbed on occasion to this frightful habit. A few years ago, I checked into rehab at the world-renowned Swiss Institute for Gastronomical Behavior to deal with it. After multiple forms of therapy—from gastro-electroshock therapy to intensive psychoanalysis (Brillat-Savarin Method) and behavioral therapy (I was forced to eat all my meals while wearing tiny thumb-cuffs) —I finally gave up my dreaded thumbetta. If you truly care about your friends in a similar state, send them to Switzerland for an appointment. Tell them Ruth referred you.

I invited a friend to my annual Polish Wigilia dinner. It's a very special 11-course formal sit-down that begins with black mushroom soup and is all-vegetarian except for fish. Lately, this person has gone off the deep end with an eating disorder: eats hardly anything, mostly raw, looks terrible, has aged 10 years, and his skin and hair have gone gray. He asked if I would be offended if he brought his own food! I was shocked and said I would be deeply insulted. I also do not want my picky 6-year-old grandson to witness someone with an eating disorder. I suggested he come to our larger open house where his newly acquired anhedonic eating habits will be less conspicuous. I love the guy, but he had a drinking problem and I think this mania is his substitute. This new thing is rubbing off on my husband too and is affecting our relationship. As a great cook and hostess who keeps an immaculate, professional, joyful, and people-filled kitchen I am really pissed. Am I wrong? Do I really need to cater to everyone's neurotic food whims?

You've got me between a rock and a hard place. Or, more precisely, between a vegetarian meal and a loon.

Surprisingly, I'm going to side with you in your dilemma, despite the sorry meatlessness of your dinner. As a principle, I do not think the host needs to "cater to everyone's neurotic food whims," particularly when the menu has a very specific theme or purpose, as yours most certainly does. For example, you don't come to my annual foie-a-thon and expect to opt out of bobbing for goose livers in a vat of absinthe punch. It's simply not done.

I think your solution of inviting him to your open house is a very generous one, though if anyone who reads this column knows you, I think they'll be canceling their attendance to avoid this freak.

Got an etiquette dilemma for RuBo? Email ruth.bourdain@chow.com.