Can you hear me now?

Yes, I can hear every word you’re saying.  And I’m so sorry you had that scare with your mammogram!  I totally empathize:  Nothing is worse than sitting in that little room in your standard-issue white robe and being repeatedly called back in for one more picture.  I’m so glad it turned out to be nothing.  No wonder you’re having a drink with lunch!

Can you hear me now?

Perfectly.  I didn’t know about the sample sale, but now that I do, might try to hightail it over there myself.  I adore Hermès and at their last sale, they actually had most of the fragrances for half-price!  I stocked up.

Can you hear me now?

As well as if you were sitting next to me.  Yikes, that’s terrible about your job!  Employers these days have no sense of loyalty.  You give everything you’ve got for 7 ½ years, and what does it get you?  Laid off.  Not fired for cause, even, just laid off “because of the economy.”  I’ve seen it so many times that whenever a young person asks me for career advice, I always tell them, “Whatever job you take, give it your all, do the best job you possibly can.  But never, ever feel any loyalty toward your employer, because your employer isn’t going to feel any loyalty to you.”

Can you hear me now?

Yes, you’re coming across loud and clear.  And I’m appalled that he’s been treating you like that.  Trust me, you don’t need a guy who’s cheating on you.  If he can’t be faithful now, he’s not likely to be once you’re married.  It’s obvious that you love the guy, but I say, “Throw the bum out!” You’re so pretty, you’ll find someone better in no time.

PROBLEM IS, I DON’T WANT TO HEAR YOU NOW!  I don’t want to hear about your suspicious mammogram or your job woes or your love life.  Because I don’t even know you!  You and your women friends just happen to be sitting at a table several tables away from mine.  What I want to hear is what my husband, seated across from me, is saying.  True, I’ve heard most of it before, but this time it might really be important!  Besides, he gets as frustrated with the noise level in restaurants as I do.  Furthermore, he contends that it’s usually young women who raise the decibel level in the restaurants we frequent.

Now, it’s possible that his observation is skewed because he tends to observe primarily tables of sweet young things (what else would you expect of a middle-aged man whose favorite place in New York is the ladies’ shoe department at Bergdorf’s?). I decided to check it out by asking Vinny, the manager. We know him well, since the restaurant we’re in is one of our favorite haunts on the Upper West Side.

“So, Vinny,” I said.  “It makes us nuts when we can’t carry on a conversation in a restaurant because of the noise.  Is it just us, or do you agree that the biggest culprits are young women?”

“Totally,” he replied.  “Generally, when men come in to eat, they eat; maybe they converse a little, too.  When young women come in with men, they tend to talk a normal amount and in a normal voice.  But women in their twenties and thirties in an all-women group almost always talk a lot and talk loud. Why?  I dunno.  I just think women have more to say: They love catching up with their friends, expressing their opinions, making their points—especially on girls’ night out.  Does alcohol play a role?  Sometimes.  Women are generally smaller than men and occasionally think they can handle more liquor than they can.

“The other real problem is customers—both men and women—talking on their cell phones; they tend to shout.  When I’m near the front door, I can often hear conversations at tables in the middle of the restaurant.  I don’t mean voices, I mean conversations—what they’re actually saying!”

My mind wanders to pleasant, relaxing meals we’ve had in Europe:  Diners in Paris and Venice tend to keep their voices down.  Suddenly I’m called back to reality by the words . . .

“Can you hear me now?”

It’s my husband, still sitting across from me, still trying to tell me about something that happened in his office during the week.

“No, dear.  Let’s get out of here.”

From my little platform at Women’s Voices for Change, I have one request of women’s voices: a little softer, please.