Friday, April 25, 2008

The Peacock

Kellie and I talked about blogging last night, over Guinness at the British Isles Pub (also conveniently near where I'm housesitting), including whether or not blogging makes us less attentive readers--and therefore less deep thinkers.
Since I've found more and more blogs I like, it's true I've started to skim a lot more.

Fair enough--skimming is a good way to choose among all the good stuff out there.
But here's the thing: I find myself skimming even when I arrive at an interesting post.
It's like eating so fast I swallow without chewing, and it's not good for my intellectual digestive tract.

I don't like that. I'm also afraid I might start to write only fluff posts, thinking that's all people will want to read.
Even if that is what many people want to read, it's not what I want to write, at least not all I want to write.

So, this morning I decided to slow down and chew my food.
I was rewarded by Cocktail Party Physics' post Let Me Explain.
CCP (Jennifer Ouellette) writes in response to Rebecca Solnit's Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times, "Men Who Explain Things," about men who patronize women by telling them things, with "over-weening confidence in their own authority ...whether or not they know what they're talking about....."

I'd like to know, do men do this to each other? I doubt other men would stand for it the way women do.

It's not just gender that turns a human into someone who Tells You Things--certain professions, many of which start with "p," also encourage the don't-let-ignorance-of-the-facts-stand-in-the-way-of-appearing-to-know-everything phenomenon.

Growing up with a professor for a father, I got a double-whammy. As a kid, it never occurred to me that my father didn't know everything. He never ever answered any question of mine with, "I don't know."
I didn't realize he made answers up until I was well into adulthood.

I've gotten pretty good at avoiding pompous individuals, but I got sideswiped last spring in Sicily:
One morning Bink and I had breakfast at the hotel with an American couple, who were leaving town later that day. They were very interesting--she was in publishing and he was a retired professor of physics. He also was of Italian descent, so, shades of my father.

They told us about the best restaurant in town: Il Pavone.
"What does that name mean?" I asked the man, since he'd said he spoke some Italian.
"It doesn't mean anything," he declared.

That seemed a bit odd, but I didn't think anything of it until I walked into the restaurant that evening and every possible surface was covered with images of peacocks.
Gee, I thought, I bet il pavone means "peacock."
Of course it does.
I was torn between regret that the couple had gone so I couldn't get mine back, and relief because there's something pathetic about seeing a peacock with a bedraggled tail.

The lesson people who lack confidence (not just women) can learn from this behavior is to adopt a bit of it ourselves!
Not to the point of cornering people at parties and pontificating at them, but to the extent that we quit qualifying or apologizing when we speak.
But I'm sorry if I'm wrong about that, I really don't know for sure.


Rudyinparis said...

First off, I'm having fun trying to place Barrett's home... by the river... Dragon City restuarant... British Isles pub... Where in the world is this?

I will go and read the article you reference... a topic dear to my heart, I have a hobby of cultivating dislike for the type of gentleman you describe (your father, surely, not to be included here). Sascha and I refer to them as--and we say it in a specific way, very ponderous and self-important--"I love the sound of my own voice" men. And they are always men, why is that?

fresca said...

Hi, R.!
Yeah, in fact, my dad isn't all that bad. But I did stop asking him geography questions, though he knows a ton, because I couldn't trust for sure that he woulnd't make an educated guess if he didn't know the answer rather than admit he didn't know. That's a problem with always having to be right.

Women do a version of this pontificating too. I think of a former coworker who, under the guise of "mothering" other women, basically dictated to them what they should do in any given situation.
Creepy, sneaky emotional dictatorship. Yuck.

Most people of either sex don't do these things, luckily! But the ones who do sure stand out!

momo said...

"Il Pavone" is a good description of this explaining behavior. It's preening display, and seems to be triggered by the female presence.

fresca said...

"Preening"! Yeah: perfect word!

It's funny--I didn't even put together at the time how perfect the match was between the word in question and the behavior on display!

That's probably the top thing I need writing for: it's often where I put all the pieces together.