Problem: My Friends Talk Over Each Other at Dinner Parties

Our advice columnist to the rescue
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Q: All of my friends, with the exception of a few who get obsequious now and then, disagree about my conviction that while dining at a table seating 10 or fewer, good form requires that only one guest at a time speaks. None would condone chatting during a toast. Isn’t dining a ceremony that honors self-restraint?

— J.R.
Evanston, Ill.


Dear J.R.,

It is difficult for me to answer your question, since at dinner parties I don’t listen; I just wait for my turn to speak. So I asked a superior listener, the man who owns this magazine, David Bradley, for help. David is unusually well positioned to answer this question, because he hosts 384 dinners each year at his home. Here is what he told me: “I don’t know the right protocol, but I do have a sense of what works best around tables in Washington. That is that you leave conversation unmanaged for the first course, maybe the first two. There will come a time, however, when people naturally want one-table conversation. The disappointing dinners are the ones in which the host misses that moment to convene everyone and, instead, people leave the evening without the benefit of hearing each other on the biggest topic of the hour.

“Either way, you will spend the car ride home thinking about what you should have said.”

 

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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