Would You Let Strangers Share Your Table?

mythically By | November 24, 2013

http://ifcus.org/2010/01/13/recovering/ IMG_7480

Yesterday morning I went to the international book fair in Mishref’s exhibitions ground. I was book shopping all morning and by the afternoon I was quite exhausted so I went to the cafe just outside the book fair and sat at a table with two chairs, nursing my deliciously cold blended coffee drink and trying to have a moment of calm before setting off again. Suddenly, a lady with lots of people and pushing a buggy with a baby stands over me, asking if there was anyone sitting with me while eyeing the chair. A bit shocked, I do confirm that my husband is indeed -he was- so she gives me a look and goes to sit on a nearby chair with the army of people trailing behind her.

Why was I shocked? I’ve never been asked to share my table with a stranger in Kuwait before. Well, OK it happened once in restaurant a long time ago when there was a waiting list on the tables and a lady thought she would intimidate me into giving up my table by sitting with me even when I refused but thankfully the manager of the restaurant stepped in and asked her to leave, he knew I was a regular customer. I saw it happen to a couple of ladies before as well who were having breakfast and suddenly a woman decides to sit with them and they politely asked for the check and left her without finishing their breakfast. Now that it happened to me again, and after I said no, it got me thinking about it.

Is saying no considered an anti-social behaviour? In some parts of the worlds sharing your table is considered the most natural thing ever. In Switzerland for example, there is no such thing as your “personal” space in, say, trains or cafes. Having two or more people share a table and paying separately in cafes is the way to go. I actually saw an old lady once ask a couple to leave just because she wanted to drink a cappuccino and there was no empty tables, and the couple obliged promptly and with a smile! In the UK they value your personal space unless they really have to. No one would sit next to you on the train unless it’s during the rush hour and there is no other seat. No one would ask to sit next to you on a cafe unless, which happened to me only once in 30 years, its lunch time and they have no other choice but to ask to sit down.

I have to say I don’t like sharing my table/train abroad but it isn’t that bad given that the people you share it with are civilised and would bury their heads in their books or mind their own business, taking utmost care not to disturb you so the both of you could enjoy calm and peace at once. Their intent is to genuinely share the experience and not to rob you of it and force you to leave.

Had I allowed the lady with the army of people and the baby to sit on my table yesterday, and by the way she only wanted to sit there and not order anything, you could imagine the pandemonium they’d have created with total disregard to my own comfort or peace of mind. The thing is, there were plenty of empty seats right next to the tables and the tables are designated for the cafe so unless you are ordering something you shouldn’t be sitting there. I still feel a tad guilty, but not so much. The lady took her buggy and entourage to the empty seats in a heartbeat, amazing me with her audacity and prompting me to write this post. I don’t like sharing my table, even abroad, I’m not comfortable with strangers at all and I personally would never bother anyone by asking to share their own tables. It’s not their fault they got there first, especially in Kuwait.

What do you think? Do you feel comfortable sharing your own table/train seat with strangers? Does it differ to you if it’s here or abroad? Have you ever been asked to share your table in Kuwait? What would you say if you have?

10 Responses to “Would You Let Strangers Share Your Table?”

  1. Robyn says:

    Since you asked…I would totally sit with strangers. If the cafe is busy and popular, I would be happy to share the space, as long as they didn’t smoke of ourse.it is very common to do that elsewhere. If someone said ‘no’ to a polite request , if I needed a seat/ table, I would be a little put out by being turned down. Each to there own.

    More importantly- was the book fair any good? Is it still on?

    • danderma says:

      Interesting perspective! Then again its quite an unusual request around here. What if they want to chat or talk too loudly on the phone?
      The book fair is still on and I’ve been twice already. It ends on the 30’th and I’d say the collection is decent and you can unearth some lovely finds. I will post about what I got in a day or two.

  2. Yahya says:

    I agree with you to some extent, but normally people should be granted benefit of the doubt. I have to say if I was sitting in that table, I would’ve picked up my belongings and walked away with a smile.

    • danderma says:

      I would have walked away if she was planning on sitting down with the baby and feeding him something she ordered from the cafe. She was just going to sit there and not order anything and there were plenty of empty fair seats next to the table. I did feel guilty for saying no though and it made me feel like an antisocial freak.

  3. SN3A says:

    انا ما احب وبالكلية كنت اتضايق حاطة اغراضي ورفيجاتي معاي فجأه قبيله تحط اغراضها على نفس الطاولة بالكافتيريا ويدزون اغراضنا
    وماصارت مره ولا مرتين

    ويريت ناس من كليتي او يعرفوني لا تلاقينهم ناس من الكليات الثانيه اللي ايوون كافتريتنا اللي اصلا اهيا كافتيريا ومكان ندرس فيه ومكان نحل فيه هوموركاتنا

    وبدون استئذان كلش واصلا لو استئذنو ماكنت راح اخليهم

    • danderma says:

      انا ما واجهتني هالمشكلة بالجامعة الله خير و على ايامي محد يتطفل كان بس يعني المفروض عالاقل الواحد يستاذن اذا مضطر مو يهجم و يمشي!

  4. Nora says:

    I would share my table with anyone, anywhere but not someone who wasn’t buying from the cafe/restaurant if there were no empty tables, I believe it’s rude to sit at a restaurant and not buy anything, taking a seat of a potential customer. If I were to come in and buy and find no seats but find non customers are taking a table I will feel like that table is supposed to be mine.

    If I share a table and the person was in anyway rude or bothered me I would leave, I let them share, they should at least respect in exchange.

    However if I was to ask to share a table and for any reason they say no, I respect that, I wouldn’t like to share, I just would never say no, except for non customers or if there were other tables & seats.

    I only once was asked to share a table in a library with male Irish stranger in Ireland and all the other seats were empty, I was studying and didn’t think of his existence, he started talking to me, saying he noticed I always study here, then he asked me out, I refused and left the library.

    • danderma says:

      I agree with you, unless there is a dire need to occupy seats designated for paying customers, people should not use those seats if they are not planning to pay especially since there were plenty of empty free seats around. Even if you share your table because its the decent thing to do in a situation you could never tell how the new person will behave like for example your library sharing student who was looking for a date!

  5. Manal says:

    Hi danderma,

    I’m a regular reader of your blog post and admit that I am too lazy to comment.
    This post reminds me of another one you wrote about sitting beside a man in a movie thater.

    Personal space is personal as the name clearly hints so it really does not matter who invades it (men or women) once someone deprives you of your experience (movie – coffee – flight trip) you feel violated, hence the discomfort you felt.

    Personally I dont like to sit with strangers (male or female) here or abroad unless the place is crouded and i have to. But when i do (have to) i take care to make the person feel welcome since he or she is a guest in my personal space :)

    • danderma says:

      Thank you for your comment! I love it when silent readers decide to give me their input, you don’t know that but when silent readers do its enriching to both my blog and myself :)

      Now its true, while I was typing up the post I realised that I was just talking about would you sit right next to a man or woman. But this case is different. In the cinema you go inside fully aware that you are sharing your chair with one or more people. You can always take up two sits, or pay more for VIP seats with more privacy but in the end, supposedly that is, once the movie starts all you have to do is concentrate on the movie.

      In the case of a table in a cafe the norm is that you have the table to yourself to enjoy your time on your own, hence when someone asks to join you on that little tiny table, whether you agree or not, is something that both of you decide on. The other person by asking and myself by agreeing or declining, so its a bit different but I agree that both experiences do fall within the loop of social interaction.

      When I’ve had a lady, a very civilised one that is, sit next to us on a table in a cafe in Zurich I did my best to smile and didn’t talk too loud so I wouldn’t annoy her. She also grabbed a book and began sipping her coffee in peace. It wasn’t a bad experience per say but I was also very conscious of the fact I might bother her somehow. However, in Kuwait the behaviour is unpredictable and often includes some kind of interrogation about you and your entire family when all you would have wanted is a few moments of peace and quite with a cup of coffee…