When cell phones became more than just the clunky, foot long black things that I only remember from movies and old (okay… old-ish) photos, my mother made it very clear very fast that they did not have an open spot at our dinner table. At dinner, and anywhere else for that matter, our main priority was always the people that we were presently with. When I’m with my mom and I’m being rude on my phone– going through social media or whatnot– she likes to ask me who the most important person is to me right then in that moment. The first couple times I would get tripped up and stutter out an, “uh, I don’t know?”, and she would respond, “It should be the person that you’re with right now.” By now I’ve caught on, and as soon as the first couple words of the question are out of her mouth, my phone is safely tucked away somewhere her watchful eye cannot see.
Because of this, I grew up a firm believer in the power of eye contact and active listening. Show the person that you’re with that you actually care about being here with them in the here and now. Sometimes when I go out to eat with my friends of my generation, I often find myself shocked and, quite frankly, annoyed, when a piece of metal and glass and people behind a screen take priority over me.
In Italy, and anywhere abroad, for that matter, it’s slightly different. Wifi is a rare occurrence. And when a restaurant’s windows bear the wifi symbol, you can bet your butt that I’ll be asking for the password right alongside any other student abroad as soon as I’ve been comfortably sat at my table. I’ll check and make sure that no one has died, and then I usually stick my phone right back in my coat pocket. My mama taught me well.
It’s frustrating, however, when the people that you’re with don’t abide by the same phone-away principles. Sitting there, twiddling my thumbs, faking interest in the hem of my napkin, I’ll watch my friends scroll through instagram and keep up their snapchat streaks and I’ll feel unbelievably awkward. I feel as though I’m the odd one out, as if I am not cool unless my phone is in my hand. If I take my phone back out, I’ll resent my friends for making me feel weird unless I’m doing something I don’t believe in. If I sit there staring, doing nothing, I’ll resent my friends for not sharing the same beliefs as me. It’s a lose-lose situation and, no matter which I choose, I end up in an unhappier state of mind than the moment I walked in the door.
Most of the time, I’m pretty good at covering up my crankiness with the cell phones. I go into these situations knowing what will probably happen, and when you can predict, you can also prepare. However, life would sure be a lot easier if everyone had grown up with my mother.