Sometimes I wonder whether it wouldn't be easier to tell people that I'm a bank clerk. It seems to be a non-threatening occupation with the least potential risk of unsettling a crowd. Disclosing that I am a journalist, however, can often have quite the opposite effect.
Of course this very much depends on the situation - and in a relaxed social setting, being a journalist is possibly one of the best ice-breaking, conversation starters there is. However, at formal dinners, wedding ceremonies and even on the Metro - basically anywhere I might unsuspectingly be sat next to a potential interviewee - it can cause a little bristling.
Eyebrows rise, mouths close to a forced smile, prolonged staring and nodding often follow. There's somehow the assumption that journalists are always in "breaking news" mode and can't have conversations without computing the information, formulating paragraphs and creating headlines. Off the record means just that and any journalist worth their salt knows the difference between an exclusive interview and entrapment, but that's not necessarily the public perception.
I found the "recoil effect" at its most pronounced while reporting business news and often witnessed high-ranking executives in airport lounges hiding behind newspapers, averting their gaze or walking briskly in the opposite direction upon our chance encounter. A girl could take it personally, but instead I took it as a compliment. And in fact, the chief executives needn't have worried, for even the keenest news hounds need to take a holiday occasionally without the excess baggage of recording equipment.
On the flip side of those going to great lengths to avoid having potentially incriminating conversations with me, there are those who try to engage me in "hack bashing". Believe it or not, some individuals love to hate journalists and, occasionally, I'm forced to listen to rants about how irresponsible, inaccurate and dastardly the industry really is. Thankfully, this only happens from time to time but when it does, it serves to remind me that reporters are so often tarred with the same untrustworthy brush.
I can only presume that people's unpredictable reaction to my job is something dentists must experience every time they reveal their identity to a stranger. Indeed, I'm guilty of it myself and upon recently meeting one at a dinner party, I instantly toned down my toothy grin and popped a mint in my mouth for good measure. From plastic surgeons to police officers and psychiatrists, I'm sure there are hundreds of professions that trigger people's self-conscious, mildly paranoid behaviour. Frankly, it's a comfort to know I'm not alone and ensures I won't be applying for a job at ADCB just yet.