There are few situations more annoying than being stuck in a conversation with someone who believes he or she knows, has experienced/seen and understands more than you. Their default state of mind is that you (or whoever else is caught in their line of sight) are not nearly their equal, but they will grace you with their magnanimity and you may gratefully bask in the glow of their awesomeness. Relentless in the conviction of their own superiority, we can only be thankful they are few and far between.
I always remember Maurice whom I had met briefly well over 18 years ago, yet he is a vividly etched vignette in my mind. As editor Wine & Dine magazine then, I was a guest at a wine tasting and there I bumped into him.
“Do you like wine?” he asks me as an opening statement, chest puffed out in robust generosity.
“Why yes,” I say.
“Well, tell you what,” Maurice says with a knowing wink. “If you like wines, all you have to do is invite some friends over one evening, tell them to each bring a bottle of wine, and there you’ll have enough wines for your own wine tasting party!” He laughs with conviction.
“Wow. I never thought about that!” say I in wonder, as fellow friends cringe in knowing embarrassment. How could I possibly have thought of something as brilliant as that if not for Maurice?!
I am indebted to Maurice, of course.
Another time, I was at a gala dinner for international food media in Hong Kong, and seated next to a fellow food writer from the UK. The main course came and she pointed to the potatoes on my plate.
“DO-YOU-KNOW-WHAT-THESE-ARE?” she chews out her question deliberately and carefully for my benefit.
I glance up from my plate and I can see the eyes of my fellow Asian food writers all focused on me, mouths barely stifling smiles.
“No, I don’t,” I reply. I know I am being naughty but it was an opportunity too hard to resist. I look at her wide eyed – waiting for her pearls of wisdom.
“THEY ARE POTATOES,” she chews on loudly. “YOU CAN FRY THEM, BAKE THEM, ROAST THEM….THEY ARE VERY GOOD,” she masticates.
My fellow food writers from Taiwan snigger politely from behind napkins and I look at the lady in kindly innocence, grateful for her wisdom. Did she not know that we do not live in trees in Singapore and Asia, and hard as it is to comprehend, we do live modern lives, we do know what potatoes are.…and we do know they are as good with truffles as they are with caviar, furikake and wasabi mayo nicely washed down with some champagne.
There have been a few more of such since: Someone who declared, within hours of our first being acquainted, that I drink too much; another who obviously felt that a good conversation had to start with the words “Do you know….?”. That’s annoying as those three magic words just about sums up his estimation of you – that no, you could not possibly know…whatever it is that he had to say, and that’s why he simply had to be so fascinating to you.
I suspect much of this is ego-driven, consciously or unintended. Often they may just be trying to friendly – I give them that much and acknowledge they are failing deplorably. They tragedy is they don’t know they are. Choosing to see the brighter side of things, I suspect the root of such tedious behaviour is really a complete lack of self-awareness on their part. They may not realise they are coming across so overbearingly, but they do, and I don’t have to like it or bear with it.
The Chinese have a saying:“Don’t teach your grandmother how to suck eggs.” In other words, be aware of what you are saying and get a grip on your place in life.
A little humility doesn’t hurt. If only they could only get over themselves and hear what they were saying.