What do you do when you see RBG at a Restaurant?

November 7th, 2013

This was an actual question to Dear Prudence on Slate:

Dear Prudence, 
Here’s a Washington, D.C. etiquette question for you. I was recently dining at a hip new restaurant with my husband and some friends. Seated at the table next to us was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We had recently noticed some flattering street graffiti art about Justice Ginsburg and I had a photo of it on my phone. My husband, friends, and I debated at length whether it would be appropriate to show this art to her. Everyone but me thought it would be rude or at least annoying. Ultimately, I went with my instincts (assisted by a couple of glasses of wine); after the justice had finished eating and I was on my way out of the restaurant, I stopped by the table and showed her the graffiti on my phone. She was very pleasant, seemed interested, and the entire exchange took maybe 20 seconds. Since then, we’ve polled numerous family members, friends, and co-workers. A small majority support my husband’s view that it was not appropriate. So, was I just being friendly or was I a pest?

—Ginsburg Fan

Dear Fan,
I’ve lived in both Los Angeles and D.C. and you’re right that the prevailing ethic is to let celebrities dine out and go about their lives in peace (unless you’re a paparazzo). It was fun to eat out in L.A. and have a companion say sotto voce: “Bruce Willis to your left.” The only time I ever saw an entire place lose its cool was when Elizabeth Taylor walked in for lunch at a Santa Monica restaurant. People unashamedly craned their necks at one of the biggest stars to ever live. In D.C. you can see the president’s daughters at children’s sporting events, or pass a senator loaded down with bags at the airport (I saw you, Lindsey Graham!), and most everyone leaves them alone. But I think the short, positive, nonintrusive interaction you describe is fine. I can imagine it was just too much to have such a perfect piece of graffiti on your phone and not let Justice Ginsburg enjoy it. She was done eating and you kept it under a minute, so you’ve got my vote.

I think this is right. Celebrities (even RBG) are people too. Unless they are at some legal function, or a reception I’ve been invited to, I would have done nothing.

H/T Sonja W.