DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m a bartender at a small neighborhood bar. I have a great rapport with many customers, who have told me they come in specifically on my shifts for the good conversations. I am grateful for such comments, and also for my patrons’ generosity.
Most of my customers, while friendly, do understand that there’s a line between us, and don’t try to extend our good relationships outside of the bar. But lately, I’ve been struggling with a patron who very much wants a friendship outside the bar.
I do not, under any circumstances, want to be friends with this man. He’s never said or done anything terrible; I just simply don’t find his company very interesting and I don’t want to feel like I’m at work during my free time.
I’ve tried a number of polite responses in an attempt to defray the conversation. He does not take the hint. I’m at a loss as to how to communicate that I don’t want to hang out with him while also maintaining his patronage. Honestly, it wouldn’t bother me so much if he stopped coming on my shifts, but I don’t want the bar to lose a valued customer because I’ve offended him.
GENTLE READER: Some professions, by their nature, risk blurring the distinction between the professional and the personal.
It is natural to think that your doctor’s interest in your health is greater than that a scientist feels for a lab rat. And the teacher who spends extra time to make sure you understand the subject can be forgiven for developing a more than professional pride in your accomplishments.
But everyone needs time off, for which reason those professions cultivate distancing mechanisms, from the doctor’s lab coat to the now-disappearing habit of referring to the teacher by last name.
Such professionals, when approached outside the office and the classroom, are trained to refer the client to a colleague who is on duty. While this might work in your case, Miss Manners has her doubts. Your problem is, she cannot help noticing, at least partly self-created.
Bartenders in general, if not you in particular, increase their business by intentionally posing as pseudo-friends. That makes it easy to understand customers’ confusion. You can clarify the situation by saying, “I’m always happy to chat with you here, but I have a strict policy of separating my work from my private life.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My girlfriend and I were at a comedy show with another friend. At one point during the performance, both my girlfriend and I got up to go to the bathroom, which was just outside in the hallway. When I came out of the bathroom, I went back inside to our table. My girlfriend said I was supposed to wait for her by the ladies’ bathroom. Am I in the wrong?
GENTLE READER: The only applicable rule is one you both broke, namely, agreeing in advance on what to do. Miss Manners will accept any decision that does not involve one party forlornly standing outside a bathroom waiting for someone who is back at the table laughing.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)