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.