What Do You Do?

Americans sometimes shock people from other countries by asking them what they do for a living. In many places this is considered rude. Here, it’s almost as if you can’t really decide what to think about a person until you know what’s on their resume.

In Seattle, I often hesitate to tell people I’m a bridgetender. Oh, the initial reaction is the same as it was in Florida. “That’s so cool!” “Wow, I thought bridges were automated.” “I’ve never met a bridgetender. What’s it like?”

These questions make me smile. I am proud of my unique job. I love to talk about it.

But at some point I sense a shift. People are willing to ask me questions, but they’re not going to invite me to their dinner parties. This is a highly successful town, and I’m a blue collar girl. I don’t wear a suit to the office. As far as they’re concerned, I’m a glorified security guard. Fascinating to query, yes, but shouldn’t you be using the service entrance, dear? Be sure and wipe your feet.

I find this intensely frustrating because I have three college degrees, an extremely high IQ, and I’m now a published author. I’m much more than my scruffy work shoes.

I’ve even been passed over for dates because of my job. For example, I can meet a guy and really hit it off. Things can be going well. Then the career thing comes up, and he can’t disappear fast enough. I don’t know if he suddenly thinks I’m a gold digger or if he’s concluded that he couldn’t show me off to his friends, but poof! He’s gone.

I’ve also gotten the impression that once I reveal that I’m in in a traditionally male job, suddenly my sexual orientation comes into question. I get that a lot, actually. I usually don’t care unless I’m looking for romance.

Plain and simple: I am what I am, but that’s not all that I am. But I’m getting a little too old and tired to work up the energy to break through barriers that I myself haven’t erected.


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4 thoughts on “What Do You Do?

  1. Sam

    I can relate, Barb. I was an actor for many years. I wan’t rich or famous, but I was steadily employed as an actor in stage productions that traveled throughout the U.S. When people asked what I did for a living, I proudly said I was an actor. The reaction I usually got was, “That sounds fun!” or “What else to you do?” Very few people could accept that I was a full-time entertainer, who paid my bills, bought my own clothes, and even made car payments from my earnings. I must have been very frugal, because I was able to meet my financial responsibilities and even squirrel away some savings in the bank. To me, acting as always been a profession, not a hobby or a pastime. In fact, some of my actor-friends in New York were shocked that I refused to work for free to gain “experience.” I considered myself a professional actor the moment I received my degree in theater in 1985. However, I would occasionally encounter a few supporters. When I was an extra on the Spike Lee film “Jungle Fever”, an older gentleman (retired teacher who was working as an extra) looked over my resume and said, “Sam, you don’t belong here. These other extras are not actors…they just want to see themselves in a movie. You are a trained actor with experience.” I was very honored that this man saw me as a professional and not as a dilettante. Many opportunities came my way to work for free, but I always turned them down, thus offending friends and fellow actors. In New York,I turned down vulgar material, shows that demanded unlimited rehearsal hours, or shows that would jeopardize my other responsibilities. By the way, those jobs didn’t offer to pay me a cent for my efforts. I, instead, accepted paying acting jobs that offered me the opportunity to display my talents and recognized me and my fellow performers as professionals. Makes sense, doesn’t it? But, you wouldn’t believe how many people think that actors was just having “fun” and are willing to play around on stage for free. I’m not knocking community theater. I’ve seen some amazing productions done in local theaters by non-professional actors. But, I came to New York to be a professional, not to pursue a hobby. Stand proud, Barb. Your job is unique and yes….”Cool.” Wear you profession with pride. I had been immersed in the theater lifestyle for so many years that, after coming off tour to go to graduate school, I continued to use phrases like, “I have to change my costume” (When I wanted to take off my winter coat) and “What are you doing next season?” (When asking someone about their future plans). I’d catch myself and laugh and proudly say, I was an actor and that had been my lingo for years~

  2. Angiportus

    I am disgusted. At how these people treat you. I wish I could compile a list of comebacks for anyone who dumps classist crap on you, and also a sort of filter for guys who are such snobs as to dump someone because of her occupation. This is just garbage. Hold your head high, is about the best I can come up with for now.

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