Bigging Up and Doing Down

Sitting in a cafe earlier, I was ear-wigging on two conversations to my right and left. (Research, I tell you, not nosiness).

On my right were three business-men. In their pinstriped glory they exuded testosterone: from the shiny abundance of lego-man hair, to the palpable emissions of Manly Scent.  Man A necked a triple espresso as Man B gesticulated wildly at a pie-chart on his laptop.  Man C tapped notes into his glossy I-phone, punctuating B’s sales pitch with guffaws of derision. In the space of several minutes, the interchange went like this:

A: ‘Yes, well since I up-sourced our media overheads, projections have been sky-high.  I’ve only been working a few months, but we’ve already tripled sales and the sky’s the limit, -‘

B: ‘- Sounds like me when I first started – oh, some twenty years ago.  I was a high-flier too, but y’know you can’t beat experience.  If you look at this chart, you’ll see that our team offers you unbeatable expertise.  I’m heading it up and if I say so myself, in twenty years we’ve never missed a target.’

C: ‘We’re the same. Bob – yes,  Bob the Chairman, was saying so last week on the fourth tee. He and I go waaay back, since I did him a few favours.  I gave him some free advice – well,I hammered him at golf, so I had to give something back’…

I say interchange, but it was each man for himself –  holding breath till he could interject or just shouting when the strain of holding it in became too much.  At one point, Man C (who had turned purple several moments earlier) actually broke his pen with excitement.  I was hoping they’d actually start wrestling, but our barista had clocked them early and kept a watchful eye on proceedings.

That was on the right.  On my left, were a group of middle-aged women, muttering to one another in muted tones.  But as the men packed up their cases, snatches of conversation drifted over.

‘I do like that dress: is it new?’

‘This one?’ (Looking around in amazement) ‘Really? Oh, it’s ancient.  It was half-price in the sales and if you look at the side – yes, here, there’s a small stain.  I should have thrown it out years ago’.

‘I know what you mean – all my clothes date back to the ark.  But at least yours fit – after Christmas I can hardly get my trousers on’

‘Yes, but you’ve been cooking for the whole family – no wonder you’re tired.  I just had me and Bill and I still went to Marks.  I don’t know how you do it’

‘Well, I burnt the turkey this year – brined it for two hours and it was still dry as a bone.  You must tell me how you get yours so juicy’

‘Oh it’s no effort at all – any fool could do it.  Just get one of those zip bags – Poundland do them and you’re so good with baking, you’d pick it up in no time’

‘Ooh, you are clever.  I wish I had you in my kitchen.  I’m rubbish with meats’…

On both tables, competitive lies were being told.  But whilst the men were bigging themselves up, the women were tearing themselves down.  The men were vying to outdo each other, whilst the women were trying to undercut themselves in every possible sphere.

It would seem that the women here are a ‘nicer’ bunch than the men, but I’m not so sure.   The male posturing was  just ridiculous, but the women were doing actual harm.  If we do it to ourselves, does that really make it ‘better’?

4 thoughts on “Bigging Up and Doing Down

  1. I wonder if we sometimes do that partly as a defensive strategy: look how small and untalented I am, there is nothing here for you to envy and therefore nothing to make me a target for your hatred…

    And maybe partly it’s about not wanting to be in the limelight in case we (or our clothes, our cooking etc.) turn out not to be able to stand the scrutiny – better to point out all the failings that we know are there *before* anyone else can notice them. Because if you notice my failings before I’ve apologised for them I’m pretty sure you won’t accept me anymore….

    And I think maybe there’s also a less other-oriented, more internal aspect to that: I *feel* myself to be worthless, lacking, defective – my failings are magnified a hundred times in my own eyes – so when someone else complements me I have to be self-deprecating even if there’s no chance they’ll find out how deficient I am. If I don’t, my inner monologue will persecute me just as much (probably much more, in reality!) than anyone else will: “how could you let them think that good thing about you, YOU?! You’re just trying to look good in front of them, but you know it’s not true. *I* know what you’re really like.”

    Thank you, inner monologue. You may shut up now. I’ve asked Jesus and He disagrees with your assessment :P

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