The Introvert and the Pub

Saloon Bar sign.

By Bailey

I can’t find the original quotation, but Ian Nairn once described the pub as something like ‘the perfect place to be alone with other people’.

A few weeks ago, Ron Pattinson asked this question on his blog: “Why bother going out at all if you don’t want to interact with anyone?” I bristled slightly, but let it go. Then, this morning, ‘py’ said something similar in the comments on this post by the Pub Curmudgeon, and I thought I ought to try to explain myself.

When someone explained the idea of introversion to me a few years ago, I felt greatly relieved to have been ‘diagnosed’. Here are two simple ways I’ve heard it expressed:

  • If faced with a choice of spending eternity alone or with a group of strangers, the introvert will choose to be alone.
  • Extroverts gain energy from interacting with other people, while introverts spend it.

I’m an introvert through and through, but that doesn’t mean I’m unfriendly or socially inept. I turn it on when I have to, and there are plenty of people who seem to enjoy my company.

But when I’ve had enough, I’ve had enough. I sometimes feel exhausted the next day, too, as if I’ve got a hangover, and need to be alone for a day or two to recharge my batteries.

Where does the pub come in? Well, sometimes — and it might only be every four or five weeks — I feel an urge to be around other people. If I’m feeling really full of beans, I’ll perch at the bar, say hello, and hope to get included in the conversation. Usually, though, the operative word is around — I like hearing the murmur of conversation without actually wanting to have one. I find a corner, read a book or a newspaper, drink a pint or two, and go home with my need for company nicely topped up for another month.

And I don’t think I’m doing the pub ‘wrong’ because I’m doing it differently to you.

19 thoughts on “The Introvert and the Pub”

  1. I do the same in all but one pub I go to (in that one they know me very well, as I’ve pretty much kept the place in business the last 18 months). It’s true that I probably scare people away by seeming aloof and arrogant, not to mention the way I actually look.

    So, if you want to be left alone – wear paisley. In 2014 that alone will mark you out as someone sufficiently deranged to be avoided at all costs.

  2. A very reasonable way to feel, and clearly explained. It’s easy enough to read people’s body language. As you said, at the bar, head up and engaging, is a signal that someone is happy to chat. If I’m in the corner with a book/notebook/paper/phone, you’d have to be especially blunt and nosy to blunder over and start blathering. Obvs it’s different if you’re an acquaintance/you recognise me from somewhere and want to say hi, but I’d expect the latter to be prefaced with some initial ‘sorry to bother you’ chat..! 🙂

    I’ve always been very comfortable in my little bubble in pubs, and it does my head in when people approach with some mundane/creepy remark based around the fact that I’m alone. People can say ‘but people get chatted up everywhere’ til they’re blue in the face, but there’s a big difference between flirting with someone who’s clearly happy to socialise, and imposing yourself on someone who’s deliberately sat on their own in a corner with a book.

    1. Totally agree with this.

      When a guy sat down opposite me and said, ‘where’s your boyfriend?’ recently I was sat at a table with a load of paperwork in front of me, and was even using my phone at the time.

    2. Just wanted to say I agree wholeheartedly with the OP and a number of the comments, this one in particular. I talked about my own pub-based (non-)socialising here.

  3. Partly it’s simply a desire for a change of scenery, and partly it’s interesting being around other people even if not actually interacting with them. It’s a case of “seeing life”.

    My mother used to ask my father “what’s the point of going to the pub if you don’t actually talk to anyone there?” which suggested she didn’t really “get it”. He never drank very much, so he certainly wasn’t going out to get tanked up.

    After he died, she would sometimes complain of feeling socially isolated, and I couldn’t help thinking that a man of her age, if still sufficiently mobile, could get some sense of belonging from the occasional visit to the pub.

  4. Don’t see any problem with that, except you don’t have to be defensive about it. What you are doing is perfectly normal behaviour.

    It certainly doesn’t have to be justified.

  5. Interesting topic and a good follow-up to the “Best Pubs Aren’t The Friendliest” post. Everyone wants something different in a pub. I am mostly interested in the beer, the taste of it that is, getting something that hopefully will be very good. Certainly I try to be civil but I don’t go to bars to talk about public events or have other random discussion. The one exception is frequenting beer bars – bars or pubs which make a point to specialize in beer. Then there is much more chance to discuss the offerings, what people like or don’t like, etc. Of course, where one knows the bartender it is different and I enjoy a short chat with them, or of course where you run into an acquaintance, usually again in the beer specialty bars.

    Small talk is just one of the things that can interfere with beer appreciation. The other big ones are strong food smells and loud music. It is surprising how many people order food at the bar in Canada.

    Gary

  6. That’s all fine (although you might be interested that the notion of introversion is a largely outdated theoretical archetype invented by Jung rather than a real-world diagnosis).

    But does that really imply that anyone saying so much as “hello” to you is out of order? As Mudgie says, how are they supposed to know you’re not in the mood for a chat without finding out? If we were all psychic this might be less of an issue.

    1. The introvert/extrovert thing makes sense to me as a way of understanding myself — I’m not especially bothered about whether it’s up to date.

      Sitting a long way from other people, not making eye contact, and not talking to them except where absolutely necessary indicates that I’m not in the mood for a chat. People usually seem to read that correctly. The ability to read social cues is as near as we get to psychic ability, but I realise not everyone is good at it. I cut the socially inept some slack in those situations.

      1. “I cut the socially inept some slack in those situations”.

        Yes, and some of the people at the bar are more gregarious shall we say by virtue of being there for a bit…

        In North America, in general you can’t retreat to a corner table, you stick it out at the bar. Tables have waiter service are for ordering food, you don’t have to, but the social expectations/assumptions are such that you will, generally. In England an insular temperament has more scope to be itself since pubs don’t generally have wait service and you can take your drink anywhere you like.

        Gary

      2. I was not intending to say that you were somehow doing it “wrong”. Its perfectly fine to go to the pub and not attempt to interact. My point is that if you want to spend time around other people in a social environment like a pub, you have to accept the fact that occasionally one of them might speak to you in the mistaken belief that you are there to socialise with them.

        You don’t want to talk, they don’t really know that, they say hello as they walk past, you grunt back without looking up, they go and talk to someone else instead. Where’s the problem here? Just seems like a perfectly acceptable everyday interaction to me. No-one has done anything wrong in this situation.

        1. “you have to accept the fact that occasionally one of them might speak to you in the mistaken belief that you are there to socialise with them”

          Can’t argue with that. People speak to me sometimes when I’m not in the mood for a conversation; being socially capable, I deal with it, and then carry on reading my book.

  7. Around here I like going to the pub for both a gossip and a read of the papers and occasionally joining in some chat about football (never politics or religion), oh yeah and the beer; on my travels I like to be anonymous, sit and observe people, write what they say in my notebook and obviously drink the beer, but then I often get chatting at the bar especially if I’m abroad and they speak English and I want to know more about the local brewing scene— I think I’ve got a big mouth, especially when I’ve had a few. The pub is a multi-coloured coat of voices, people, mannerisms — you make of it what you want to make of it.

  8. Funnily enough, I’m very much the introvert myself. And I appreciate a quiet afternoon in the pub with a few pints of Mild and a newspaper..

    It was the concept of wanting to completely remove the possibility of interaction between people that depressed me.

    I can understand that for women and the less aesthetically-challenged than me the situation is quite different.

  9. I’d say the OP’s attitude to going to pubs alone is similar to mine, though I’m not quite as introverted as I used to be – but it is rare that I’ll strike up a conversation in a pub, and I’d agree with Mudgie many modern pubs aren’t really conducive to that if you arrive on your own.

    I’d wonder over to pubs and read for a change of scenery and to be around people, before I had a steady crowd of friends in the final year of uni – formed around pub quizzes initially and helped by me discovering I love cider. Since then I’ve become a regular (depending how you define that) at at least two or three pubs, which was a new experience for me – it’s nice to be able to wonder in and occasionally bump into people you know, and for 20-somethings to make older friends (age is also helpful answering quiz questions 😉 ).

    On the rare occasions I have got into discussions with strangers, joined a quiz team when wondering in during a quiz etc I’ve enjoyed it.

    However, I usually find that kind of serendipity easier if I’m with more outgoing friends of mine – particularly a Geordi I know (I’m both southern and have a touch of Aspergers).

    Since leaving uni – and being fortunate enough to still live in a large city (the second largest city) – I have to say that attending Internet-organised Meetup events (often centred in pubs or bars – or at least starting in them in the case of the film club) can really get me out of my introvert shell though – plus I’ve met two girlfriends through those events – not at the same time. 😉

    I suppose those Internet-organised events are a modern version of clubs organised by fliers, or those regulars’ tables in German pubs or whatever.

  10. I’ve never been chatted up in a pub though. It certainly sounds like women risk getting constantly pestered in some based on the above, even when obviously working or busy.

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