Respecting elders who are acting Unrespectable (Bar Etiquette)
December 14, 2011 6:51 AM   Subscribe

An older gentleman who comes to our local often enjoys singling me out for loud and overbearing criticism, even when he isn't part of the ongoing conversation. I need a good turn-off phrase to de-fuse his little bombs.

An older gent (75+), retired military officer comes to our local regularly for a beer after working as a concierge for a guesthouse. We're usually an hour or so ahead of him, so conversation will often have taken a turn for the absurd.

He'll say something innocuous enough, and wait for replies. Usually, I'll include him in the conversation. Ten minutes later, when we're talking and I make a general statement about some local situation, I'll hear "NOW YOU KNOW THAT THAT IS JUST NOT TRUE!," in his best very loud drill instructor tone.

I am prior military, so it always draws me up short. Even though I know better at every level, I find this extremely infuriating. He "knows" that I am not going to rebuke him, even if I should do so. My response has always been to turn to the bartender, ask for my tab, pay it and go home annoyed, even if I was having a pleasant evening before he turned up. I understand that this usually leads to a speedy mass exodus and him alone with the bartender.

I've tried looking directly at him and saying, "Can we talk about something else?" just to give him an out, but once he's on his half-a-beer high horse, it's pointless. One of the bartenders tried correcting him on it, and got reported to the boss for "backtalk and being disrespectful." The boss would rather not deal with him.

I'm 53, 6'2" and 200 pounds, so it's better for me to be gone rather than be accused of elder abuse. I'm also very good at responding instantly to anything like this from anybody else, so he's obviously got me psyched out.

So, share. How do I thwart this friendless, doddering old gasbag without doing him irreparable harm? What's the magic phrase?
posted by halfbuckaroo to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"Whatever you say."

Maybe try that one a few times.
posted by devymetal at 6:56 AM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

"Ah, but what if it were?" (+ knowing nod)
posted by Pomo at 6:59 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you have a friend who happens to be a retired officer who outranks him?
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:01 AM on December 14, 2011 [8 favorites]

You could furrow your brow, turn slowly to him, and say, in a perplexed voice, something like, "what a strange thing to say." Then continue making your point to the others.
posted by gauche at 7:02 AM on December 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Or say nothing--pause in silence. Don't look at him. Then return to what you were saying. This way he knows you heard him and have chosen not to respond. Maybe after realizing that everyone's just ignoring him, then he'll try to be a little friendlier.
posted by greta simone at 7:03 AM on December 14, 2011 [11 favorites]

The best thing you can do is not react to it. The reaction is what wants. Whatever you say, you need to say it from a relaxed and unbothered place. I would try smiling at him and continuing the conversation as if he hadn't said anything.
posted by doctor_negative at 7:03 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Bow down to him and praise him for his ancient wisdom. Ask him if you can kiss his ass. Stand up straight and salute him with a sharp yes sir. Pretend you didn't hear him, pretend he isn't there.
posted by mareli at 7:03 AM on December 14, 2011

"Go home dad, you're drunk." (with credit to cortex, who IIRC used it on Metatalk to shut down a truly bizarre rant)
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:16 AM on December 14, 2011 [26 favorites]

"Well, bless your heart."
posted by juniperesque at 7:28 AM on December 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

I hear you on the psyched out thing - I can deal with most people in one way or another, but one particular boss I had a great deal of trouble with. He would have these amazing tantrums in the office (never actually at me, or anyone else - he was pretty careful about that as the red mist descended, interestingly ...) and although he was cheerful and friendly the rest of the time (and insisted on being treated as "one of us") I just had this block about confronting him about his behaviour - he had obviously worked out that he could condition people to refrain from calling him on his crap. And that is what I think your little buddy in the bar has done - he knows he can shut you down and drive you off by throwing around a little parade ground attitude. If you're younger and (obviously) more popular, he may feel threatened by you, so his only response is to try and drive you away. If you can somehow see this as the inept and inane posturing of an old and lonely man, can you hang on in there and see what happens if you don't go? If you do ask the question, "So then, what IS true?" and wait for a sensible answer - chances are you won't get much of one and the bluster will fade into embarrassed silence. Or as Devymetal says, acknowledge it and move the conversation on.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 7:31 AM on December 14, 2011

An older gent (75+), retired military officer

I am prior military, so it always draws me up short.

You both were formally in the military, so was my father. He used to tell me that one of the most important skills he learned post-war was that he was now a civilian and so were his commanding officers. This was a hard lesson for him to learn as he was rigorously trained to follow superior officers without question for years, yet he claims that it was vital to his life outside of the military to learn to not be pushed around by past authoritative power.

How would you handle this man had he never been in the military? What if he had always been a civilian? What would you say to him?

I realize that you don't want to risk being harsh to a senior citizen war veteran. that is very kind and noble of you. However, realize that you do have the right to firmly object to him and stand up for yourself.

"You are being a drunk jerk and I will not tolerate this. We are civilians now, and your age or former rank does not give you the right to be rude". You are allowed to say this. Even if it pisses him off and he feels disrespected. He is breaking the social contract of politeness, not you. I promise you that he will continue his drill instructor behavior until people stop acting like subservient soldiers in response.
posted by Shouraku at 7:36 AM on December 14, 2011 [10 favorites]

Along the lines of "whatever you say", my father uses a pause, a stare for a beat, and then a shrug, a cocked eyebrow, and "well, okay then." And that's it.

He's an old-school liberal and he's been able to successfully use this on my Tea-Party aunts and uncles. It's very effective.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:41 AM on December 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

I would try "Well of course we all know it's not JUST true." With a full stop. Don't say it as if you are going to follow it with "but..."
posted by bdc34 at 8:22 AM on December 14, 2011

Easy one. Just bore him. At every pause in the conversation, improvise some vapid blather about, say, formica, and go on and on.

"Sir, did you know there are 435 varieties of formica? The general public is horribly, horribly ignorant about this miracle material! Formica is for so much more than kitchen counters, where, indeed, it has often been usurped by Corian and sheet metals. I, personally use formica in my garage! In my bathroom! In my UPSTAIRS bathroom! In my child's room! In my other child's room! And, yes, even though I realize it's not currently "popular", I use it in my kitchen. It doesn't stain if you pour ketchup on it. It doesn't stain if you pour soda pop on it. It doesn't stain if you pour milk on it. It doesn't....."

Etc. Etc. He will not stick around for this.

Now, if you later have a (normal) conversation with another patron, and he comes around to join in, and starts doing his shtick, just go formica on him. If you always use the same (boring) subject, you'll very quickly set up a feedback loop where he'll have an incredibly strong aversion to talking with you.

Alternative is to talk to him about your work. The most boring, tedious aspects. The aspects no one would understand or care about. Use jargon. Go on and on. Don't make eye contact. Be "the guy who always does this".

And understand that, strangely, he won't notice that you don't do this with others in the pub (and thus decode your strategy). Human nature is not to parse this all out. We are accustomed, at a deep level, to people behaving in different ways with different people. It doesn't seem abnormal (at least not to HIM....those observing it all will instantly know what you're doing).
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:52 AM on December 14, 2011

Thanks, mefites. I appreciate the thoughtful answers to a delicate question, even if it is bar business.

Faint of Butt brings up a point I hadn't thought about - when I originally met him, I WAS in the company of someone who outranked him at every level. That friend died, and now I'm stuck with this one. With that in mind, I will approach this very differently henceforth. Thanks for removing the unrecognized emotional blockage.

I will however, take the higher road. Formica!

Thanks again.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 8:57 AM on December 14, 2011

I believe in direct confrontation, I'm afraid. I find that boils are better lanced than treated with ointment.

"You know, it really pisses me off when you talk down to me like that. You do it all the bloody time and I'm sick of it. I'm asking you one time here to cut it out. If you don't you'll know why I'm ignoring you in future. Clear?"

This may not be your style but it's mine, and I've never had it fail. But then my definition of success is simply to stop the behaviour, not to stay friends with someone annoying. Oh, and don't accept the age card. He's being a jerk and deserves to be called on it. Age is no excuse, assuming he isn't senile.
posted by Decani at 9:04 AM on December 14, 2011

I think everybody else nailed the advice -- and I read it all because I've been in very similar (though demographically except for age and male quite dissimilar)* situations and was curious what the wise minds here would suggest.

But my response, which is only useful if you've spent lots of (maybe too much) time in online communities is to treat him like a troll. I did a quick Google search on 'how to deal with/ignore trolls' and wasn't happy with any of the (many) suggestions -- but I think the best advice I've ever learned online that I've been able to roll out into the real world is 'do not engage' but when that doesn't work, calling people on their shit is the only way to go.

It's rough if you don't like conflict (and especially if your method of dealing with conflict isn't healthy/legal because you avoid said conflict so completely that you're horrible at dealing with it once you get pushed too far - i.e. physical or verbal cruelty) -- which is why you should do it BEFORE you get pushed too far if you feel it coming. But weirdly, I've found, the more you deal with stuff head on, the better you get at it. Good luck.

* At first glance, I found it odd that a 75 year old retired military officer would drunkenly seem similar to older gay men talking (more accurately, misspeaking) about politics or the history of the gay movement or just about anything else. But I guess it just shows everybody's more alike than different in vino veritas, drunk assholes are drunk assholes everywhere, etc.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:21 AM on December 14, 2011

I find calmly saying "let me just stop you there", with a raised palm, as if you are going to say something, works.

And then you don't. You turn around and get back to your conversation.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:03 AM on December 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

"I'm certain, upon reflection, that you would like to withdraw the tone of that remark and participate in the conversation in a relaxed fashion." What's he gonna say, that he doesn't want a relaxed conversation?
posted by Ironmouth at 11:24 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Usually, I'll include him in the conversation. Ten minutes later, when we're talking and I make a general statement about some local situation, I'll hear "NOW YOU KNOW THAT THAT IS JUST NOT TRUE!," in his best very loud drill instructor tone.

I am prior military, so it always draws me up short. Even though I know better at every level, I find this extremely infuriating. He "knows" that I am not going to rebuke him, even if I should do so.

I'm not former military, but I lived a big chunk of my life in two different predominately-military towns, and I've definitely noticed the challenge of reconciling one's military identity with their personal-but-military-influenced identity. This guy, though, he's pushing your buttons because he knows he can elicit that gut reaction from you. That's a pretty sad and cheap tactic for someone who wants to be afforded respect based on his rank as a leader.

Practically speaking, though, perhaps he could also be put in place by his own rules. If a (proper-enough for these purposes) woman in your group tells him that he is being rude with his bellowed interruptions, it would be disrespectful of him to argue with her, no?
posted by desuetude at 12:53 PM on December 14, 2011

I like the phrase "it's interesting that you feel that way" as a phrase for defusing anger "bombs."

posted by macinchik at 9:06 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

You describe him as an older gentleman - but is that the way a gentleman acts? Not at all, what you're describing is a bully. Think of him as such, and this is going to become much easier.

(also, I looked at your profile - you live in key west? I'm jealous! I love the keys!)
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:38 PM on December 14, 2011

That "stuck record" that Quisp Lover mentioned is the best repartee method without becoming sarcastic/sharp).

I had a colleague who used "Oh Really!" in a dull, boring tone continuously, occasionally braking the monotone, by using "Congratulations! Good for you!".

As someone who watches a lot of cheesy movies, I would try this stunt:

If he continues doing this, I go all silent, cold, stare at him for a few minutes. Then when everyone is looking at me, I laugh and say, "You are not worth it; you are just a drunk old man"

Period. He never enters the bar again.

But I am sure you are classier than me to attempt this.
posted by theobserver at 9:53 PM on December 14, 2011

That's nasty. My method repels him by making me seem boring and anti-charismatic. It's about hurting his feelings.
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:09 AM on December 19, 2011

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