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May there be no moaning of the bar - The Ex-Communicator

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April 9th, 2009


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03:46 pm - May there be no moaning of the bar
I was waiting patiently at the bar at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford recently when a very uptight upper middle class woman tapped me on the shoulder. Her voice was so tense that it sounded as if it would snap, and she was obviously very, very angry but spoke quietly. All she said was 'I'm in front of you'. I didn't really know what to say, as I hadn't pushed past her or anything. I replied 'I'm just standing here waiting to be served' and turned away, because I didn't want any trouble.

On reflection I think she had thought that one queues at a bar, and I wonder if she had been standing for some time behind a group of people at some distance from the bar, thinking she was at the back of a very slow queue. Seeing me walk up to the empty bar (ETA - I mean here 'the empty part of the bar') and wait to be noticed by the bar staff, made her think that I was pushing in. So, in other words, she was in an environment where she didn't understand the norms of 'how to behave at a bar'. That's not her fault, though I do think it is a particularly upper-crust British attitude to go into an environment that you aren't familiar with and get angry with people for not being like you (the British have certainly been criticised for doing that to 'foreigners' even in their own countries).

Anyway, this memory was stimulated by this BBC report about how to get served at bars.
Britain may be a nation of queuers, but the thought of lining up in an orderly fashion at a bar is enough to turn many a drinker's beer flat. But that's what patrons of busy town centre pubs in Oldham may find themselves doing if plans for post office-style queues go ahead to deter trouble.

Hmm. I do think British pubs are understaffed compared to American and European bars. In Europe (this is how it seems to me) there's less of a tendency to pare overheads to the bone, so there are plenty of staff, and in the US wait staff are badly underpaid but at least get decent tips so there tend to be as many as the custom will stand (this is just what I've been told by various people).

(21 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:hafren
Date:April 9th, 2009 04:27 pm (UTC)
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Gosh. Even I know you don't queue at bars, and I really don't go in them much. I guess if she never has, she wouldn't know.
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From:communicator
Date:April 9th, 2009 05:02 pm (UTC)
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I'm only guessing because she was so angry (but very quiet) that I didn't want to engage with her at all
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From:wwhyte
Date:April 9th, 2009 04:41 pm (UTC)
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A similar thing happened to me at a Super Furry Animals gig in Boston. There was a fairly loose crowd in front of the stage, so when the band came on I pushed forward like you do. A woman behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said "You're standing in front of people who've been waiting here for ninety minutes." I said, "You don't understand, I love this band." Which maybe didn't do anything to clarify the ethical questions. She said "Ninety minutes. Think about it."

Thinking about it afterwards I thought that (a) maybe she didn't go to a lot of gigs or (b) maybe gig etiquette is different in Boston from Dublin -- I hadn't been here long and I think it was my first gig. I think in this case both were true.
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From:communicator
Date:April 9th, 2009 05:05 pm (UTC)
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Perhaps it's different in the US? But on the other hand, I bet everyone else was pushing forward. Sorry wwhyte I don'tknow if you are male or female, but I am wondering if cross women find it easier to challenge other women, of about their own age? hence the tapping.
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From:wwhyte
Date:April 9th, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC)
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I'm male, FWIW. And I felt like other people were moving forward, but maybe not as far forward as me -- but then SFA were my favourite band at the time...
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From:communicator
Date:April 9th, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC)
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Oh, well, no pattern then. Bizarre sense of entitlement on her part though.
From:egretplume
Date:April 9th, 2009 09:49 pm (UTC)
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I grew up in Boston. Your actions were entirely correct. It is always OK to move closer to the stage in a loosely packed crowd. Standing room is not reserved. Shoulder-tapping woman was crazy.

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From:wwhyte
Date:April 9th, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! You've cleared up something that's been bothering me for eight years.
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From:happytune
Date:April 9th, 2009 05:34 pm (UTC)
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That quiet scary voice can be terrifying. How was the play?
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From:communicator
Date:April 9th, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC)
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I can't remember which play it was. It was that sort of brittle 'I am about to snap' voice, which strikes fear into my bones.
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From:emeraldsedai
Date:April 9th, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
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Sales of alcohol are often the only money-making part of an American establishment (this is particularly true in the theater) so that's the last place they feel pressured to cut.

I remember being in any number of British pubs and not having the first clue how to behave. There's something about the norms around drinking that is more fraught with social meaning than other norms--I suppose it feels that way because it's a behavior we aren't (most of us) exposed to the environment until our brains have already solidified.
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From:communicator
Date:April 9th, 2009 07:13 pm (UTC)
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Yes, it is very rule-bound in a British pub, but all the rules are internalised. Plus different types of establishment have different variations. A minefield for gaffes. In some pubs in the North you sit down and get served like in America. That's rare anywhere else.
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From:emeraldsedai
Date:April 9th, 2009 11:05 pm (UTC)
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The worst of it, on either side of the Atlantic, is that one doesn't even feel one can go into a new establishment and just ask, "Okay, how do we do this here?"

There are some startling similarities to sex, when you think about it.
From:egretplume
Date:April 9th, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC)
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The idea of a queuing at a bar is so awful and wrong. It would be like Starbucks. *shudders*

Sorry you had to deal with Angry Woman.
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From:communicator
Date:April 9th, 2009 10:14 pm (UTC)
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It was disconcerting to have someone standing behind you, hissing 'I'm in front of you...'
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From:i_smell_shite
Date:April 10th, 2009 08:40 am (UTC)
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I don't like ordering in a bar, I like working on the other side though! I prefer to sit and Iain get them in.
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From:communicator
Date:April 10th, 2009 09:00 am (UTC)
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Sounds like an excellent plan
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From:the_wild_iris
Date:April 10th, 2009 08:56 am (UTC)
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As an introvert with a little voice, I find it hard to get served in any establishment where there's no queueing (and when someone who's less self-conscious gets attention ahead of me, it makes me feel helplessly angry). Maybe this woman felt something similar?
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From:communicator
Date:April 10th, 2009 08:58 am (UTC)
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To be fair, I am sure she was suffering in some way, and didn't know what to do.
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From:lamentables
Date:April 11th, 2009 08:54 am (UTC)
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I was talking about this with abrinsky this morning, and the only places in the UK where we've encountered queues at bars have been theatres. We've witnessed formal queues at the RSC and at Warwick (F)Art Centre.
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From:communicator
Date:April 11th, 2009 08:55 am (UTC)
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I've never queued at either of those, though I wouldn't put it past them, particularly at the Art Centre where some of them seem to be so uptight they might split.

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