Dear Dr. Boli: Lately when I go out on a date to a decent restaurant there is either music whining in the background, derailing my train of thought, or they have several screens of television going but in some way obstructed (muted or partly obscured behind a pillar et cetera). So how can I ask politely for them to turn that stuff off? —Sincerely, Perplexed in Pleasant Hills.

Dear Sir or Madam: The polite way to ask is this: “Would you please turn off that television set?” (or “that music?”).

But Dr. Boli suspects that you have tried the polite way already and found that it invariably fails to produce the desired result. Although they may not be able to articulate why, the staff at such “decent restaurants” know for a fact that the television must flicker and the music must whine. What you are really asking, it seems, is whether there is a polite and effective way to silence the things that offend you.

It seems to Dr. Boli that “polite” and “effective” are, in this case, at opposite poles. Polite requests produce no results whatsoever. Heaving a brick through the television screen is very effective but not at all polite. Somewhere in the middle are a number of alternatives that are not very polite and not very effective.

When the universe seems to be arranged so that you cannot have everything you want, the proper response is deviousness. The last time Dr. Boli mentioned the problem of televisions in public places, an alert reader mentioned that there are devices, easily carried in the pocket, that will silence almost any remote-controlled television without anyone’s knowing how it happened. Doubtless many sound systems are remotely controlled as well, so the principle could also be applied to them.

Naturally, Dr. Boli will not recommend that you call over the waiter, complain that “something seems to be wrong with the television,” and then turn it off again as soon as the waiter turns it on, eventually leading the establishment to summon a television repair service, or to purchase a new set, at considerable expense. You would not do such a thing.


  1. David says:

    Alternatively, you might confide to your host that you suffer from a disorder according to which flickering screens or unevenly audible music causes you special neurological distress. (This might even be true, strictly construed, if “derailing” one’s thoughts counts as neurological distress.) Your host might most easily accommodate your handicap, and thereby avoid liability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, by turning off the offending device.

  2. Chris Nelson says:

    Since you’re certainly not going to be a disruptive type of person, then you certainly won’t want to google “micro spy remote”, or buy one on Amazon for $1.55 plus shipping (not available for Prime).

    So by all means, don’t do that.

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