Sunday, April 01, 2007

Stopping to smell the roses? I'm stuck on the thorns.

On weekdays I go to the gym at around 4:30... am. (I'll pause for you to take that in). I've been doing it now for almost ten years. It just happens to be the most convenient time for me; there's not much else going on at 4:30am and so there's fewer excuses for not going - except sleep and god knows we sleep enough in life as it is.

I'm usually still 1/2 asleep when I shuffle into the "Family Fitness" close to my house, hand over my key fob for scanning and then head straight for the coffee maker. The coffee is terrible - clearly made by some eighteen year old whose coffee comes ready-made from mother or Starbucks - but if you put enough sugar in, it gets a pass. Heading toward the locker rooms, there is a white board on the wall facing you and on that white board the staff of Family Fitness usually write a "quote of the day", presumably to motivate you to move your flabby, suburban ass. Without stopping, I usually scan the quote and contemplate it's application to my life as I head to the locker rooms, passing various overweight men, grunting as they chest-press too much weight with shoddy form. (I used to be a personal trainer, so I know the difference. 95% of the gym is in bad form, believe me.)

One of last week's quotes was up a couple of days, so it had the opportunity to sink in a little more than most.

"You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses."
The quote was attributed to "Ziggy", who research now tells me is a character in comic strip by Tom Wilson. Not exactly prolific, but there you go.

In my early morning pre-coffee, pre-cardio haze it occured to me that I spend a lot of my time on thorns. This whole blog is about thorns. Random rants was set up basically to give me a place to bitch and complain about other people and sometimes even, myself.

Yesterday, while out and about with my husband, he turned to me and said (I paraphrase here dear, so don't pin me to the wall on this one) "Why can't you just be nice? Why do you have to be all over my shit all the time?" I was on a 1/2 serious, 1/2 joking sarcastic roll at the time and didn't think I was being particularly mean and so I said "I AM being nice. This IS me being nice. Would you LIKE ME to be mean to you? Because I can!"

Ahem.

Those of you who know me know that this was said with my typical tongue-in-cheek tone but still... why do I have to be so... so... thorny?

The answer lies in my upbringing - us Brits delight in sarcastic, biting, self-depreciating (other depreciating) humor. We like nothing better than to bitch and complain about other people, the state of the world, the price of a loaf of bread... anything unfortunate enough to come up on our radar. And the thing is, it's not done (most times) with the slightest amount of malice. It's not about the people or things we're moaning about. We're not trying to change anything, we're not attempting to poison others or even convince others of our point of view, if we're complaining about this person or that person... we're just simply... venting. We complain about people we love as well as people we hate, it doesn't mean we like or love them any less. It's our form of therapy and a lot cheaper I might add! It's understood amongst fellow Brits (and I find, too, many other Europeans and even Australians) that a bitch-session about a mutual friend is not the end of that friendship, or even a comment about the whole person, it's just a venting of emotions about that particular incident or characteristic. We're not judging the other person and we don't judge one another as a result of that "venting" either.

The trouble is, this just doesn't translate in the U.S. To Americans, who were not brought up this way, we're just simply being mean, judgmental, disingenuous, and gossipy. We always appear to be complaining and worse, it seems that we don't intend to do anything about it. Americans are so accomplished at the art of the intentional complaint that they don't understand complaining for complaining's sake. If you're going to complain it had better be about something that warrants your complaint and you had better know what you want the other person to do about it. There are books and books on the self-help shelves about just this thing, in one form or another - the art of channeling your negative emotions for positive impact; it misses the point for us Brits.

Complaining without intent is viewed as just poisoinous to Americans; bad vibes, bad mojo, too much focus on the negative elements of your environment. Americans truly believe that if you can keep the bad stuff hidden (in that you don't talk about it openly) you can maintain the artifice of positivity and that artifice, eventually, will become your reality. By not giving voice to the "negative", the positive will triumph.

I was about to write right here that, of course, this doesn't apply to every American out there (which it doesn't) but then realized that I was doing something uniquely American - couching my opinion and/or thoughts in modifiers and qualifications, get-out-of-jail-free clauses that allow those reading this post to discount my opinion as not applying to them. You see, when Americans do voice an opinion that can be viewed negatively by someone, they love to do it in such a way that they ensure you can read it as not applying to you. Americans, whether they know it or not, are all accomplished, amateur politicians.

It's interesting, because the very thing I'm writing about it being read by Americans right now - you? - and this cultural difference is probably evident in your reaction to this post. It probably seems like I'm complaining about Americans... again. And that's just the point. I don't see this as a complaint. I don't! I've lived here for almost 12 years. I'm still here. I have American friends. I work with Americans. If they (you?) were so intolerable, do you think I would have stayed? (Especially with my obvious lack of patience for anything I consider intolerable). Of course not. But even after 12 years I realize I can't shake the fact that my formative years happened in another country, another culture, a whole other reality. I don't think the same way as my American friends, family and co-workers. I don't express myself in the same way, I don't react to things in the same way, I don't do things the same way and, you know what, I'm okay with that.

The question is, can the people around me be ok with that?

One thing I've discovered is that it takes Americans some time to figure me out, to understand me. Most don't know what to make of me at first. For those who take the time, I'm ok with whatever the end result - like, hate or indifference. Hey, they tried and if they didn't like what they found, that's alright with me - I don't like everyone I meet either. For those who don't take the time, usually because they're afraid of someone who challenges their own sense of reality, I don't have the time for them. I'm better off without them in my life.

So, although roses are darn pretty, I'm content with pricking myself on a thorn once in a while. It's cheaper than therapy. Anyway, I have my American husband to remind me to smell the roses once in a while...

3 comments:

Jules and Jarrod said...

Love this post, Shelly! It's probably best that I live in Oz now -- I can bitch and whinge like a champion and don't have a problem with it! Maybe it's my New England upbringing???

I know what you mean about never being the same as your American maties though. As you know, I experiene the same thing down here in Oz! At least your dear husband balances you out. My husband and I are two peas in a pod which isn't always a good thing... ;-)

e said...

I take issue with your position. And I preface this by saying I'm from Italy, so I understand that whole European thing. The English included, I've lived in enough Commonwealth countries. You (rightly) complain that immigrants who come to England feel entitled to remain within their cultural boundaries, to put it euphemistically, while really the more appropriate course might be to adapt to English culture. Doesn't mean they have to repudiate their own culture, but at the very least it's common courtesy to adapt to the host country. I pretty much agree with you on that one.

But then you're here, and you are suprised that Americans don't get you, and then demand that they do. Consider that it might be you who could benefit from expressing yourself in a way that is understood by the natives. If you went to Nepal, for instance, you wouldn't dream of expecting the Nepalese to figure you out and be ok with how you express yourself, whether or not that works for the Nepalese. Why then are you not willing to make concessions here? Ultimately, you don't need to compromise who you are or your opinions. You only have to learn a new language that is understood by the poeple around you.

Consider also that your understanding of the Americans' reluctance to whinge (sp?) is simplistic and not entirely accurate - probably because you're interpreting it from your cultural perspective.

This, by the way, is a common problem we have as Europeans. We think that Americans are the same as us somehow, and don't allow for the cultural differences. We don't adjust for those cultural differences, and then are surprised at the misunderstandings. Well, duh! For people whose primary language is English, this may be even more common.

Anyway, this is a very interesting topic of discussion, and this comment does not do your post justice at all. There's so much more to explore...

e said...

Oh, I do think that you have a greta insight when you say that Americans believe that if they speak positively reality will follow. It's not as easy as all that, unfortunately, but that is definitely that element. And, from my own personal experience, what comes out of my mouth creates my world and my reality. That may be true of many other people. Again, lots lots more to say about this, but I'll just leave it at that.

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