Definition: Civil inattention is the opposite of civil attention. It is used to create the impression that a person is unaware of what is going on so that others can maintain the sense that what they say and do is taking place in private.
In a restaurant the people at a table right next to us might be having a private, intimate conversation. As strangers near enough to overhear, we are not supposed to be privy to their conversation. In response to this expectation, we refrain from looking at them or acknowledging that we can overhear them and instead pretend to focus our attention elsewhere.