Do you remember learning about self-esteem in grade school? When they teach you to stand up for yourself in an assertive way? To speak up when someone doesn’t give you the respect that you deserve?
As it turns out, that’s only half the lesson. Because they certainly don’t teach you how to respond when someone gives you respect that you don’t deserve….
I went to happy hour with a friend one time. It was still early, so there was only one other customer sitting at the bar as we walked up. The bartender was deeply immersed in conversation with this guy, and as we waited for her to serve us, I couldn’t help but overhear their entire conversation.
Apparently, the bartender had gotten sick a few weeks ago and was worried that she had an ear infection. But, she didn’t have any medical insurance, so she didn’t know what to do. As the other guy nodded along sympathetically, I thought this was sort of a strange thing for a bartender to be telling a customer.
Maybe she knows him? Maybe they’re friends, and he’s just here to chill with her?
Finally, the bartender noticed me and sidled over. I ordered a round of drinks and handed her my credit card, telling her to keep the tab open. She glanced at it and then, somewhat unexpectedly, said this:
“Oh hey! Can I ask you a question?”
I furrowed my brows at her sudden eagerness.
“Okay, so I got sick a few weeks ago….”
And she carved a screeching u-turn right back into the story that she had just told the other customer. As I sat there, listening to her kvetch about her ear, I began to wonder if this bartender just had a case of oversharitis.
Maybe this other dude at the bar isn’t a friend after all? Maybe this bartender is just so worried about her potential ear infection that she’s going around telling anyone who’ll listen?
Finally, she finished her story (which I had now heard twice in its entirety), and then she asked:
“So, can you tell me what I should do? I don’t have any insurance, so I’m kinda scared.”
Figuring she must have been desperate if she was actually asking some random bar patron for advice, I threw out the only two cents I could muster up:
“Have you tried swimmer’s ear medication? It’s over-the-counter, and it’s supposed to fight ear infections, so that might help… as long as it’s not anything serious.”
“Oh my God, thank you! Thank you so much! I’ll give it a shot.”
Yay, me (I guess). I turned back to my friend, who gave me a mock congratulatory pat on the back.
“I think you totally just made her day,” my friend smirked.
“I guess so. That was weird, huh?
“Yeah, kind of.”
“Oh well, I’m glad I could help…. I guess?”
Totally of their own volition, my eyes rolled ever so slightly as I muttered that.
My friend and I resumed our conversation, and the bartender went back to chatting with the other customer. I guess she must have been friends with him after all. But then, I overheard her saying this to him only a few seconds later:
“God, I’m so glad he’s here,” she gushed as she tilted her head in my direction. “I noticed on his credit card that he’s a doctor, so that was really cool of him to help me out.”
I admit it. When I applied for my credit card, they gave me the option of checking off “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” “Ms.,” or “Dr.” Now, look. I worked hard for my Ph.D…. in biology. I believe it was well within my right to check off “Dr.” So, right there on my Visa card, it says “Dr. Dennis Hong.”
It doesn’t, of course, clarify that I’m a biologist, not a medical doctor. It doesn’t say that I studied viruses that don’t actually infect humans. It doesn’t mention that I have no medical license. And it certainly doesn’t warn people not to accept any medical advice from me.
Then again, is it supposed to? Because I don’t usually dish out medical advice without even realizing it.
I mean, nothing I said to the bartender could’ve injured her. I know that much. It’s not like I told her to get some leeches and drain the evil from her body.
I was a little uneasy that she thought I was a qualified professional. But hey, my ego loved it. And I was too proud to admit to her that I wasn’t really a doctor. (Oh, and I also didn’t want her to think I was eavesdropping on her conversation. Yeah, sure. Sure, that’s why I didn’t say anything.)
So, I pretended I didn’t overhear. And I’m sure that bartender went straight to the drug store after work and bought herself some swimmer’s ear medicine.
I hope the medicine worked.
I mean, I could start making excuses for myself and even point to the saying, “You get what you pay for,” because she certainly got what she paid for. But honestly, the adulation I got from her (if not my friend) was totally worth the slight ding to my integrity.
And hey, that’s what she gets for toying with my ego like that. The nerve of her.
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