I barely know where to start with my story today. It seems so trivial and shameful. Embarrassing that I should react to such a small thing.
Yet react I did. I argued with the barman because every other day in the same bar, granted by a different barman, I had been charged 3 euros for a coca cola.
Today I was charged 4.50 euros. Bear with me, there is a point to this! I had an argument over a measly 1.50 euros.
Or it seems to me that I just made my point.
He escalated it into an argument by flinging his notepad, followed by his pencil, with great force, to the other end of the bar.
As I tried to explain to him, it wasn’t about the money.
My story started long before we got to the bill.
It started at the point where I asked for a coke and he got out a different glass from the rest of the week, one I didn’t like.
I decided not to say anything, after all I’m forty five (or there abouts), not 5.
Then he started pouring from the dispenser. You know: those nasty pub tap things that never taste like the real thing.
Every other day I had been served an old fashioned glass bottle, like we had on really special occasions as a kid. It felt like being properly spoilt and taken care of.
I decided not to say anything because he’d already started pouring, I didn’t want to make a fuss. I convinced myself it would be ok. Until he got half way full and the dispenser started spluttering and choking and gurgling a mass of froth into my glass.
I actually felt excited, now he would say the tap was finished and I could have a bottle instead. But no, he just carried on, froth filling up the whole glass. He had to wait for it to go down each time before pouring again.
By now I was beginning to feel stressed. Coke was my massive treat of the day and it was going to taste horrible. He finally placed the glass in front of me and I finally finally decided to speak up. Well not exactly decide, it just kind of happened.
‘I usually have a bottle.’ I said.
Very unhelpful and completely out of context by now. It was just my stress talking, stress which at the time I wasn’t completely aware of.
He politely waited, something like a grimace on his face, whilst I tasted it and pronounced it fit for human consumption. I think he was going for a smile.
Actually, incredibly, bizarrely, it tasted like the real thing.
But it still didn’t come with a bottle.
It was still in the wrong glass.
And then, naturally enough, he brought me the bill.
I finally, ridiculously, the time had long since passed, decided to speak.
‘I normally have a bottle and I normally pay 3 euros.’ Like I owned the place.
‘No madam, you asked for coke, we always serve it from the dispenser.’
Well this just riled me. Untruths tend to do this. (I probably need to look at where this comes from!)
‘I can assure you you don’t.’
Getting all high and mighty, pompous even. I was going for assertive but I may have missed the mark.
‘I have asked for coke every day this week and I have always been given a bottle.’
I tried to explain –too late, all my opportunities had passed by as I dawdled, procrastinated, convinced myself I didn’t mind, it would be ok – that it wasn’t about the money, it was about being given the choice.
It fell on deaf ears. In fact it fell on furious ears, red hot, fuming, I can’t take any more ears.
I was trying to be reasonable, to be assertive, but of course he didn’t know about the rest of my story.
All he saw was a difficult tourist, a difficult moneyed tourist trying to make him look stupid in his own bar.
And of course his story started long before this also.
It started with every other tourist who had moaned or complained about something ridiculously tiny.
It started when his boss admonished him for something minor, when a customer looked at him with disrespect the same way his Dad had, when he looked at his situation and realised he was serving alongside a barman half his age, a barman who apparently seemed to be able to keep the guests happy.
When he realised he was just trying to do his job, he worked long hours, he tried to be as amenable and helpful as he knew how and still no one appreciated it. (Or some other version of these stories).
He lost it. He was angry. He said some choice words, he struck through the price, replaced it with something unreadable. He had me sign it to the room and then he hurled his notebook, he hurled his pen. He turned away from me without another word.
I was fuming and it took me a while to calm down, to realise that he didn’t know my other story, to realise that he had a story of his own. To stop being ashamed and embarrassed that I had acted ridiculously, impetuously, without really stopping to think what I wanted out of the situation, or what position I would put him in. It really wasn’t his fault that I hadn’t spoken up at the very beginning. It really wasn’t his fault that I had expectations that were mine alone which hadn’t been met.
And so it is with stories. Most of us have little stories going on behind the scenes, some that we are not even aware of. And then we wonder why people don’t understand us, why they react badly to us. We get stuck in our own little versions and fail to appreciate that other people have stories also.
I’m not writing this to say that I have any solutions. Well I do, namely to get more conscious of what you are saying and when. To really own your decisions around this and not randomly decide to drag it all up later (like I did). If you do decide to mention it later, at most it is to express yourself, not to cast blame, judgement or to try and put right what has already gone. Mostly though I am just writing this as a story, my petty, ridiculous, embarrassing story, and to raise awareness of how stories play out in our lives.
Rachel Weber is an emotional healer and helps people understand why their stories impact them, and what they can do about it. You can read about how she works here.