Do I tell this girl to stop chewing with her mouth open?
July 15, 2010 2:54 PM   Subscribe

A girl I am currently living with and working with abroad has the terrible habit of unknowingly chewing all of her food with her mouth open and making a terribly annoying sound. We´re friendly though not best friends. Do I tell her? I feel like I would only be doing her a favor but I haven´t known her that long and I don´t know if it´s my place to intervene. Thoughts?
posted by masters2010 to Human Relations (39 answers total)
no, this is rude.
posted by sweetkid at 2:56 PM on July 15, 2010

I have a good friend who is a fantastic person in every other way except this same habit and I just try to avoid going out to eat with her. And when we do, I try to focus on my food and not the way she eats. You're not her mom/dad. Don't say anything.
posted by misozaki at 2:58 PM on July 15, 2010

This is what happens when you live with people who you like but don't love. For the sake of roommates everywhere, don't tell her - you'll get over it.
posted by Think_Long at 3:01 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Compensate for her open mouth by keeping yours shut.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 3:01 PM on July 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

It's also possible she has a problem. Some issues with soft pallates /sinus problems can lead to not being able to breathe easily while eating.
posted by Brainy at 3:02 PM on July 15, 2010

Nthing "rude".

One of my supervisors at work has this problem. I generally would try to avoid sitting next to him at lunch.
posted by Sara C. at 3:03 PM on July 15, 2010

She is being rude, but there's nothing you can do, realistically. You should probably not say anything. She will likely take it personally. If you have to say something, your best chance is to be self-deprecating and say, "I have this really weird pet peeve that I hate. It's not you, it's me, but could you maaaaybeee..." Realize, however, that she is highly unlikely to change no matter what you do.

Put on headphones and read this thread. Realize that there are people much more sensitive than you, who literally cry when someone scoffs and says, "You'll get over it."
posted by supercres at 3:04 PM on July 15, 2010

Bring it up in case she doesn't know she does it. Make sure you're not to confrontational about it. Really, it's not a big deal for you. But it could really help her out later.
posted by theichibun at 3:04 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Of course the obvious step -- long before saying something -- is to avoid her while she's eating. Make excuses, whatever you have to do. You should only be driven to say something if she snacks all day long and you can't avoid it via headphones, etc.
posted by supercres at 3:06 PM on July 15, 2010

Most important rule of social interaction is to consider the comfort of those around you.

Just because someone is breaking (or not aware of) this rule, you are not absolved from following it.

Because you don't know whether she may have some medical condition or just ignorance, doesn't mean this has any chance of her being comfortable with you pointing it out.

Your own discomfort during the (few) meals you share does not trump her potential burning shame every time she sees you, and/or eats in the company of others.

Also. She's not your social project. It's bit your duty to make her a suitable dining companion for her future roommates or coworkers.

As for myself, I try to sit beside open mouth chewers, rather than across from them. (better yet, two seats over.)
posted by bilabial at 3:11 PM on July 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

Before you say anything, remember if she takes it poorly you're going to have to see her every day.

I've learned you can't teach roommates new tricks. I'm still trying to get mine to flush the toilet and stop eating food out of the trash. (No, really.)
posted by phunniemee at 3:13 PM on July 15, 2010

Use the next opportunity that you attend an event or restaurant without her. When you return, make a point to rant for a bit about a person there who engaged in this behavior. This awful person you speak of will be entirely fictional, but she will never know. Is she's paying attention, she will identify the same behavior in herself and quietly begin to stop while around you.
posted by mochapickle at 3:13 PM on July 15, 2010

Maybe I'm just incredibly rude myself, but I would absolutely tell her. If I had some annoying characteristic that I was unaware of I would want to know about it. I mean, everytime she shares a meal with someone they're likely to notice and lower their opinion of her.

Be prepared for it to poison your relationship with her though, I guess there's a reason I live alone...
posted by Jawn at 3:13 PM on July 15, 2010 [11 favorites]

Sorry; one more because this subject is close to my heart. (Can you tell?) A personal story.

I was roommates with a friend for two years. He ate loudly, and I was (and am) sensitive to that in anyone. I simply told him about my sensitivity, and that I didn't want him to do anything different. I told him that it was my problem, not his. I told him so that I wouldn't seem rude (or would perhaps seem less rude) if he came into the living room with a plate of food or bowl of cereal. (The latter... I can't even begin to describe.)
posted by supercres at 3:14 PM on July 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

That should read: if he came into the living room with a plate of food or bowl of cereal and I, in turn, went somewhere else.
posted by supercres at 3:17 PM on July 15, 2010

I would get stoned with her and then do a hilarious send-up of her open-mouthed eating. Maybe with potato chips.

But only if she is a stoner. And has a really good sense of humor. Be careful with this suggestion, it might be a bad idea.
posted by angrycat at 3:20 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the input everyone, the general consensus is not to say anything so I will refrain from making any sort of comment. The situation is arranged such that we eat all our meals provided by a host family at a small table so it isn´t a viable option to simply avoid eating with her. Whatever, I can deal for another month.
posted by masters2010 at 3:23 PM on July 15, 2010

There are some people who actually appreciate it when you tell them they have some kind of unknowing or rude behavior i.e.: boogar hanging from their nose, smell funny, etc.. This girl may or may not be able to take the helpful criticism. It's easier to not say anything and avoid confrontation. Personally, I would tactfully try to say something.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:34 PM on July 15, 2010

I'm a bit surprised by the "say nothing" consensus. I'd want someone to tell me; silent forbearance seems the easy way out, and tactful communication the more difficult but more compassionate route.

I'd rather learn that my chewing bothers those around me than learn that my chewing, for years, has bothered those around me and they've avoided me at meals but never had the simple courtesy to let me know.
posted by kprincehouse at 3:47 PM on July 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

kprincehouse: please let your friends and loved ones know that this is your hope.

As a general rule there is an expectation that adults have learned these skills and habits of polite table manners before adulthood. The assumption (I know! An ass of you and me!) morphs into a belief that someone can't be bothered to follow the rules.

While I'm a fan of attributing many faults to ignorance rather than malice or laziness, I'm also of the mind that it's not my job to make my coworkers onto pleasant table mates.

(and friends of a certain closeness do get social advice, but not unless they ask for it. So, a guy who is a gaper while chewing who asks why girls like him just fine until they have dinner together might get tipped off to their mouth chewing being inappropriate in that context. Might.)
posted by bilabial at 3:56 PM on July 15, 2010

I don't know. I guess for me it's because of being a mom, this... this wouldn't be an issue to me. You just politely say, "You're chewing with your mouth open a lot. Do you have a cold or something?" And whatever their response, you shrug and continue eating and hopefully won't need to bring it up again. I would want to know, and I don't think it has to be a big deal - especially if you present it as being something you only just noticed. If it's brought up as an Issue and she has that retroactive embarassment over the past - then it could be bad, bridges-burning, awkward-living-situation-making bad.
posted by lemniskate at 4:26 PM on July 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have the most disgusting habits ever, and I do most of them quite unknowingly (chewing with mouth open, picking at my nose, picking at my ear, slouching, gesturing too much). Sometimes I even have full conversations with myself in public (I try to hid this when I'm in public, but it's so hard!).

I would appreciate it if someone said to me, in a non-judgmental light-hearted way, something along the lines of, "Yo, that's gross, you should chew with your mouth shut!"

I guess that depends on what type of person she is. If she doesn't seem to take things too seriously, and if you have a good rapport with her, you should tell her.

Personally, I would rather be the person who cared too much than the person who doesn't care at all.
posted by moiraine at 4:35 PM on July 15, 2010

Can she breathe through her nose? I just had a terrible bout of springtime-long allergies, and my nose was completely plugged, and I had to chew with my mouth open or else suffocate. But, knowing this, I ate alone or only with my family, with my hand in front of my face.
posted by Knowyournuts at 4:40 PM on July 15, 2010

Being very easily annoyed by quirky behavior, I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut. (npi)

Having someone correct long held habits is embarrassing to lots of people and generally not appreciated.
posted by HFSH at 4:57 PM on July 15, 2010

Just to elaborate on the chorus - yes, someone ought to tell her, but you are not that someone. That's not in the job description of Random Friendly Home-Stay Roommate. This sort of thing is the province of parents, siblings, partners, and best friends - the people who love you and therefore can lovingly point out your flaws out of what you know to be genuine concern for your success and well-being.
posted by messica at 5:04 PM on July 15, 2010

This awful person you speak of will be entirely fictional, but she will never know.

Yes she will. This doesn't even work in grade school, where you can wait until recess and push the person who said it down at the playground for being a jerk.

I have a very good friend who is sensitive to chewish noises, and she puts on music when she has to eat with someone. That doesn't help the having-to-look-in-the-foodhole part, though.

I kind of like the spelling "boogar". It lends a certain dinnertable legitimacy to it, like sugar, vinegar, or agar.
posted by Sallyfur at 5:07 PM on July 15, 2010

I have trouble breathing through my nose, and sometimes chew with my mouth open for this reason or maybe more specifically because I've had this breathing problem my whole life, and so developed a habit early and don't always remember to make a point of eating more politely. Also, my mouth is actually shaped in such a way that it is open in it's relaxed state. I've noticed my daughter has the same face shape, the same trouble breathing through her nose (despite having her adenoids out), and the same habit of chewing with an open mouth.

I wouldn't necessarily, or at least lastingly, be offended if someone brought this up in a gentle and loving way, and it might help me remind myself to close my mouth more, but it probably wouldn't totally erase this life long habit/problem/sometimes unavoidable reality.
posted by serazin at 5:57 PM on July 15, 2010

Table manners vary from place to place. Does your coworker share the same cultural background as you?
posted by electroboy at 6:00 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I went through something similar with an acquaintance who had terrible table manners. He was an academic and it took no imagination to see how this could derail his career. My wife and I debated if/how to tell him so he could clean up his act for job interview lunches and the like. We never did think of a graceful - or at at minimum unhurtful - way to do it.
posted by mojohand at 6:59 PM on July 15, 2010

How much does this annoy you? Does it make you cringe when she (or anyone) makes the particular noise she does?

My sister suffers a form of Synesthesia and Sensory Processing Disorder where the sound of smacking lips drives her absolutely up the wall. I use to get dirty looks at the dinner table.

She's made an art of telling people when they're doing it, simply to curb the urge not to go insane. She told me she receives everything from an understanding response to a very defensive stance.

If it's something that you absolutely cannot stand.. I say talk to her. Pull her aside, explain that it's really bothering you and want to know if there's anything you can do to come to a compromise.

Don't point it out as rude or disgusting. Don't be condescending. Talk to her like an adult.
posted by royalsong at 7:39 PM on July 15, 2010

Dear phunniemee

Thank you for correcting me, but I should tell you that everyone here thinks you are being rude. I think It's good that you weren't cowed at the idea of confrontation and dismissively avoid what needed to be said out of fear. I do appreciate knowing how to spell a word I use so often now. Thanks again.

posted by P.o.B. at 10:40 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with both those who say they would be grateful to learn about something they're doing which is causing widespread but suppressed horror and disenchantment, and those who say it was really the job of her parents or siblings to teach her acceptable public behaviour. But they didn't do it (or didn't do it successfully). I think you can reach a reasonable compromise here.

You seem to have to put up with this totally obnoxious behaviour (unless, of course, there's a valid medical reason for it) for only one more month. Say nothing now, but if you really feel you would be helping her social development, career possibilities and General Success in Life by pointing this out to her, tell her as the very last thing you do before you go your separate ways. You could even spend the remaining month fine-tuning in your head a note to her to leave behind when you go, explaining that you're not doing it in writing because you're a coward avoiding a confrontation, but merely to save her the embarrassment of having to listen to you, and that you otherwise found her a very pleasant and enjoyable roommate/friend/whatever, and hope that this advice will help her make the many more friends she deserves.
posted by aqsakal at 1:53 AM on July 16, 2010

I am super bothered by eating sounds, to the point where it's really difficult for me to keep my composure around someone with bad table manners. Most of the time I don't say anything, because I figure it's my problem and I just try to avoid situations where I have to deal with it, but there've been a few times when I said something to someone. I had a coworker once who went on some diet that required her to eat a giant, juicy/crunchy dill pickle every morning.....AAAAARRRRRGGH!!!! I told her she had to go eat that in the break room! And yeah, that was probably rude as hell but I DON'T CARE. **shudder**
posted by cottonswab at 4:40 AM on July 16, 2010


I don't think she was being rude. I actually think she was giving an example of playfully and kindly pointing out a mistake, you know, like an indirect answer to the OP's question.

I saw it this way because spelling mistakes can be made by anybody, so it really doesn't make you look bad in any way.

Perhaps your defensive attitude does make you look a little bit silly, though.
posted by Tarumba at 7:41 AM on July 16, 2010

As one who's also terribly annoyed by People Like This I have no answer to if you should tell or not but in my experience, it doesn't do any good. I'm trying to train my niece and nephew by giving them dollar bills if they can hold 'em between their lips whilst chewing a bite, but their parents hate this game.
posted by Rash at 12:06 PM on July 16, 2010

Tarumba, it's interesting you saw what phunniemee did but you missed the whole point of my reply. You know, like, an indirect answer to the question?

I also find it interesting that people will jump up and announce how rude it is to talk to someone about what they are doing which is quite obviously rude. It's a bit of a recursive conundrum, kind of like calling someone defensive and silly when in turn they are being defensive and silly.

One must pick their battles and weigh their options, and words, when entering into something like this.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:45 PM on July 16, 2010

Dear Poster,

I am also of the "not hearing the overt sounds of your mastication would really improve my life eleven-fold because you are my roommate and it makes me want to throw up when I look at you" but, seriously, after setting up TWO different places to eat in the house, one very far from the tele I thought he loved, I was beaten ...I found he would just follow me around...slurping and masticating in my face until I said OH JESUS JUST MOVE OUT ALREADY I MUST BE AN UPTIGHT OLD LADY BUT HOLE JESUS YEAUCJK!!!

Well, nearly. Plus, he never in six months unpacked his moving boxes, which he just chose to punch hole in the center of like some kind of squirrel. We all have limits, unfortunately, and sometimes oddly I think, miss manners is very particular about which manners one may address. (i'll capitalize her name when she admits that gum snapping in public is destroying civilization!)

But I have to ride a subway, so I may me very messed up simply from that sort of closeness with strangers mouths, pits, crotches, faces etc.
posted by metasav at 2:07 AM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mouth open/shut while chewing is not a black & white rudeness issue but also a cultural issue.

For extreme contrast, watch Chinese people eat and then watch British people eat. Both are being perfectly polite by their own cultural standards and completely weird/rude by the other culture's standards.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:14 PM on July 17, 2010

You're absolutely right. But I don't happen to live in China. And apparently nor does the OP. Just because I'm a Brit, it doesn't mean I should try to drive on the left side of the road all over the world, because That's The Right Way To Do It. I live in a Western society, where eating with your mouth open is disgusting, vomitworthy and totally unacceptable. I have deep empathy for the OP, and in his|her shoes I would probably go out and eat in a greasy spoon every day, whatever it costs, just to avoid her. It now depends on just how much the OP feels he has a duty to help this poor girl realise just what irrevocable damage she is doing to her social and professional chances. There are certain jobs/professions in which, once she has had lunch with the interviewer, she will be totally (and rightly) excluded.
posted by aqsakal at 7:55 AM on July 20, 2010

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