Monday, January 17, 2011

Universal Truths: Stupid Things We Say

Men get a hard rap sometimes. The male journalists whose work I follow (see Jeff Maysh, Jeremy Clarkson and Charlie Brooker) have largely pointed out that all men tend to get herded together, boxed up and shipped out to the rest of the world, advertised as a mass product. The end result is like vaguely labelling a box "SHOES" when it contains flip-flops, stilettos, snow shoes, rollerblades etc: you get no sense of the contents from the outside packaging.

I don't pretend to know men inside-out - nearly all of my best friends are male, and I'm sure I know some of them better than I know myself - but I do have a good idea of how most of them work, much like men know a lot more about the nature of woman than most girls would happily admit. So while it's easy for women to complain about men, we are not without fault: to paraphrase the Good Book, let he (or she) who is without sin post the first Blog.

I don't mean to patronise men with my posts: I am merely here to offer another viewpoint to all of my readers. A lot of it is based on common sense with a feminine insight, so I admit it may be old news to some people. I heartily encourage debate - if you've taken the time to read, please comment - even if it's to rip my argument to shreds. My advice is free to take or leave, and it is simply advice, not the definitive guidebook.

What I'm now going to do is give you chaps a break and start on us girls. For all our good points and abilities - multitasking being the main one; I've yet to see my bloke or brother juggle dinner, a phone call, washing and paperwork without breaking down; putting a joint of beef in the washing machine and slicing their mobile into a neat Julienne of iPhone (which I have come alarmingly close to doing sometimes -  there's multitasking, then there's just plain asking for it). But as I was saying, we're not perfect by any means, and quite often we say some stupid bloody things to you. Here's a countdown, a la Top Of The Pops.

"I'm fine."

Notice the emphasis on the word 'fine'. Any chap worth his salt is able to guess that no, we are in fact less than fine. I empathise with you guys on this one, because it must be so damn annoying (doesn't mean I don't do it myself, I'm no saint): why don't we just tell you? It's generally for two reasons:
a) We want you to guess why we're angry. Either because it's something you did and we think you should inherently know what it was, or because we think that if you can't tell why we're angry that you don't really care about us (it's something to do with the listening, which I'll get on to later).
b) We are angry, and we kind of want to have a good rant about it. By letting you know we're angry by barking "I'm fine" or "Nothing" at you when you ask how we are, we're giving you a get-out clause. If you want to ask us how we are, it's possible we may start up into Rant Mode. If you're happy for us to do so then feel free to ask what's up, but if you're not in the mood for it then you know not to ask. WARNING: I accept no responsibility for the consequences of your actions. If you think your girlfriend's irritation will fizzle out without your help, then go ahead.

"Are you listening?"

This is another one -  and yes, I think it counts as a stupid question, because if I have to ask a man this then I already know the answer. This question is basically the equivalent of loudly going "OY!" and clapping your hands an inch from someone's face. Have you ever had a teacher say this to you? Or a parent? Of course, this is not gender-exclusive - men and women can and doubtless have said it, but I have often heard it come from my mouth rather than my partner's. There are several 'textbook' responses to this:
- "Yes of course." If you say this, be prepared for a test. Depending on how finicky/irritable the asker is, you may have to recite all or part of the last conversation. If you have been listening and can prove it, you'll get a "warning look": pursed lips, raised brows, rolling eyes. DON'T respond to this: don't break the gaze, just let it go.
- "No. Sorry." And always say sorry, it's just polite. Even if the asker was talking about potholing and you've never been more bored in your entire life, you must have really dropped the ball because you obviously didn't look even politely interested. At worst, the person will glare at you, walk away and not talk to you for a fixed period (this could range from three minutes to never again). At best, if they're a good friend/girlfriend/in a good mood, they may get slightly peeved at you but ultimately will let you off.
- "Hmm?" This is the Death Answer. Not only were you not listening, you haven't apologised, and you probably weren't listening right up to the point where the asker said "Are you listening?" Shame on you. There's nothing you can do now but grovel.

"Does my bum look big in this?"

You may remember my previous Universal Truths column about shopping and that this conundrum (which I named Conundrum XY) is usually present while trying on clothes. Now, I am talking about this specific question, wherein you girlfriend/wife/sister/friend is trying on clothes, whether at home before a night out or out shopping.
At the risk of me repeating myself, nobody really wants a straight yes or no answer. If you spent your life forever bleating "yes" or "no" to every answer you'd gain a reputation as boring and insincere. In this situation you need to give her an honest answer. Look at the outfit. Is there something else you like about it, or something else that doesn't quite flatter her? Tell her why it does or doesn't look right - don't just say "I don't like the colour". Is it too bright for her? Too dull? Does it make her look paler, make her cheeks look flushed, make her look bigger when really she's not? I'm not asking you to be Gok Wan here, just asking you to be observant.

So now that you've had yourself some Universal Truths, why don't you let me know where you stand? I don't want to hear about "that time the missus asked me to do this fing for sum reason", just let me know if you've ever been on the receiving end of one of these Truths. Go on, go nuts.


Fox said...

When I got a teacher I didn't like in school, I would occasionally stare off into space on purpose in order to provoke an "are you listening?" At which point I could say "Yes, sir" and perfectly recite back the last 5 minutes of lecture.

This is how I learned that teachers have an inherent inability to apologise to their students when they get something wrong! Must be some kind of alpha male thing, because whenever I had an answer I got told off for being a smart-arse!

I've also had a few "I'm FINE" instances where I've committed the ultimate sin of spitefully taking it completely literally, said "Oh, well that's brilliant then!" and walked off.

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, I've experienced all three of these firsthand. Yes, including the last one - although to be more honest, it was related to her clothing in that she was going out and asking for my opinion in order to impress her workmates.

I'm not sure if she crossed a line or I did by saying that the black dress would have been more attractive to male co-workers.

Sprog said...

Or you could just go "No you're not fine, yes I am listening, and yes your bum does look big in that but I don't mind it" All dealt with in one easy sentence. Sorted.

I haven't died yet!

helen said...

"I'm fine" is (personally) almost a holding statement while my brain manages to articulate what is wrong. Am I really annoyed because the fish and lizards haven't had *all* their lights turned on yet or am I actually frustrated after a long day at work biting my tongue rather than tell a colleague what I really think of them? A cup of tea may defuse the situation as might a rant consisting of all the things I wasn't able to say while still in the office.