Different Roles

Different Roles

It’s strange, but my behaviour changes depending on what I’m doing. I reluctantly went to the usual pub quiz last Tuesday night without my wife, who wasn’t well enough. This is the same pub I work in at weekends. When I’m behind the bar, being a barman, I have the confidence to speak to people. Because of the context of the job I can interact with complete strangers. So why do I feel so darned uncomfortable when I’m on my own in front of the bar?

I got there a good hour before the quiz started and the place wasn’t yet busy. I probably knew almost everyone in the there. But I didn’t feel at ease joining anybody’s group. I did hover at the edge of one group for a while but ended up sat on my own at the usual table reading the news on my phone. Even when the other members of the team arrived I felt isolated. It’s not that I wasn’t included; it’s just that I always put myself under pressure because I feel that I should be active in conversation. If it hadn’t been for numerous people asking after my wife’s health I don’t think I’d have said very much all night.

So why does it feel so different among the same people in the same environment depending on whether I’m a customer or a barman? I don’t really know. I do know that I hate to take a break while I’m working because for half an hour I’m out of barman mode and basically just a normal customer. I usually come back early from my break and hope I won’t get sent back out again. I guess it sounds weird but that’s me!

Even when I’m on my own behind the bar with a pub full of customers I hardly ever feel intimidated – I feel safe. Is it the solid counter between me and them? I don’t think so. I suspect it’s because the interactions are constrained and I understand the boundaries – I know what to expect from the customers because they just want to be served. When I’m in there as just me – no role to assume – there are no such boundaries.

I realise now that I can handle much more socially if I am fulfilling a role than if I’m just being myself – exposed, unprotected. In a way these roles are like masks that I can hide behind.

4 thoughts on “Different Roles

  1. Hi Ben,I really can relate to this and so can my son. We both like having our boundaries well defined by the roles we are supposed to adhere to. I do great in classroom settings (small) and discussion groups when there is a particular subject to discuss, especially if I'm well versed in it. My son and I both flounder when we are in an open social setting as opposed to a defined social setting. What you're describing doesn't sound weird to us at all. It all makes perfect sense.


  2. Hi Bird. I'm sure that's it – it's not the number of people in the setting per se, it's that the interactions within the context of the role are almost exclusively one on one and they are predictable. I'm realizing how much I take a back seat to my wife in open situations.


  3. I really prefer to have a 'purpose' too. Friends or ours often have rather large gatherings at their home to which we are usually invited. The one I enjoyed the most was when there were more people than the available dishes and glasses, and I spent the entire afternoon in the kitchen, washing dishes, and quite comfortably chatting with the people coming into the kitchen. But put me in a chair amongst the same people with no other purpose than to socialize, and I am very uncomfortable.


  4. I know just what you mean, Cecile. I always seem to end up in the kitchen at parties, away from the crowds and noise, and feel much more at ease when I'm given some task such as fetching food or pouring drinks.


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