Monday, January 18, 2010

Do a lot of Londoners have an inferiority complex?


"I've lived in South Ken for almost twenty years now," said the elderly woman, "although it's quite stressful because there are so many people around. Before that, I lived in Hampstead village, but I think South Ken is better because Hampstead is a bit remote."

"But Hampstead was on the tube twenty years ago," I reply, "so how can you say it's remote?"

"I know," answers the woman, "but it's on the Northern line. So it goes to places like Camden and Tottenham Court Road. They're certainly not the sort of places that I want to go."

I'm with boyfriend T in a smart restaurant, and we've accidently got chatting to one of the diners on the table next to ours. We chat to her for a while, but after ten minutes or so, she and her dining companion pay the bill and leave us on our own.

"That woman was hilarious," I say after she's gone, "saying that South Ken is 'stressful' and that Hampstead is 'remote'!"

Hampstead"I didn't like her!" replies boyfriend T decisively. "Actually I've noticed that lots of Londoners talk like that :-(. They give unnecessary information when they're describing some pretend hardship or other, but in fact they're just showing off. With her, she lets us know that she's lived in two of the best neighbourhoods in London, but that it's either 'stressful' or 'too remote'. Poor her."

I hadn't expected this response, because I'd just found it amusing listening to the way that the woman described the places that she's lived.

"Do a lot of Londoners really talk like that then?" I ask. I'm not an impartial witness because I sometimes describe myself as a Londoner, so it's interesting to get boyfriend T's perspective.

"Yes! For example, I went to that conference a few months ago, and one of the guys that I got chatting to there said that he was late arriving at the conference because he was having to 'stay in a 5 star hotel while his house was being renovated'. Why didn't he just say 'hotel'! I don't need to know that he can afford to stay in a '5 star hotel'."

"And other people will say things like 'my Mercedes is in the garage at the moment'," continues boyfriend T, "Just saying that their 'car' is being repaired would be sufficient, I don't need to know that they can afford an expensive car."

"I hope I don't do that kind of thing," I say, realising that boyfriend T has a valid point.

"No you don't, not when you're with me anyway!"

"I guess people who say things like that have some kind of inferiority complex," I suggest, "because they're just trying to make themselves sound more wealthy and important."

"Maybe, but if so, why do so many Londoners do it? Is there something in the water? Anyway, I hope that by living in London I don't end up suffering from that affliction!"

I'm not sure whether the way of talking that boyfriend T doesn't like is a trait of Londoners, or if it's used more widely? If any readers have any thoughts on this, it would be interesting to get further perspectives :-).

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello

Boy! If you ever happen to come to New Delhi, India, you will have more than enough of that "show off", or if you have any Indian colleagues who hail from New Delhi, ask them. Here if you DONT show off, then you must having something to hide, something like a slum address!

Good day! :-)

Nik_TheGreek said...

I agree with Anon. I don't think it's only a Londoner's trait. It could be that many people from London do like to show off, but it’s a characteristic found everywhere...
And it has to do with inferiority complex...

Anonymous said...

It's a big city symptom. New York comes to mind!

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's necessarily about inferiority. These things are proxies for the tribes they identify with (or in London terms the class they think they belong to).

All of us do it about something. If not about where we have lived or the car we usually drive then we may talk about which little-known Greek island we spent our summer on or blather on about food provenance and the celebrity chefs trumpeting their virtues or we may rail against big-pharma and proudly waste our money on little sugar pills (ie homeopathy) or we may refuse to drink anything but real ale. People tend to latch onto a few that are appropriate for their income.

In a city like London where class determination is still a very important organising principle but where class distinction is becoming harder to spot, it's natural that some feel the need to leave clues in their conversations.

Richard Meade said...

It's a pity that 'anonymous' should be anonymous because he (or she) is right on the button...very intelligent response...

Richard

silverrrcloud said...

In most cases, the behavior described has less to do with the 'inferiority complex' than with sending a sublime message of 'false transfer'.

See, I have 3 homes on two continents, 4 cars, a huge income, am friends with everyone who matters, etc... If you try hard, you can also become one of my buddies and share in this amazing lifestyle of mine...

Even if all of the above were true, all I have is really only mine, and even if I choose to grant you a favor or two, nothing will really change in your life...But there is no harm in trying to see, if you can angle an admirer or two...

SC

Zapato said...

Third Anon has it spot on! It's not really to do with showing off at all, but in London it's very difficult to seek out people of your own kind unless you've met them through school, work or friends etc. If you are British, we all instinctively send out signals which can be recognised by people who are similar to you.

Showing off your car (especially a Mercedes) is a clear sign that the person is from a lower middle/working class background and has been successful. Good on them.

Anonymous said...

Your boyfriend sounds like a pretty intelligent guy.

Hedgie said...

I'm with T, I dislike this kind of showing-off; it's rude, vulgar, and brainless. Although I tend to disagree that it's a typically London characteristic - one can probably find shallow materialists in any culture. The important thing is to be open to people and what they have to offer. If all they seem to offer is endless jabber about status symbols, move on!

Anonymous said...

While the car and hotel examples are blatant boasting, it's probably fair to say that namedropping where you live is a London trait and self-deprecation is generally British –—a way to socialise by finding something in common to moan about.

Saying that South Ken can be stressful or Hampstead remote isn't that bad. It's calling Camden and Tottenham Court Road "not the sort of places that I want to go" that is trying to send a clear signal of the places they'd rather go (and comes across as snooty).

You could have heard someone moan about how remote Shoreditch is. Whether that would be construed as boasting depends on the kind of person you are. (And I guess it says something that your boyfriend finds it showing off when a person says they live in South Ken or Hampstead.)

Anonymous said...

I really felt an affinity to what you wrote.

There are so many people who have to show what they have [I experienced this at bar school] and they can be extremely mean at times.

However, when I found out who they really were, most had divorced parents, were never loved and simply needed attention...

Not that divorced parents are bad at all! But regarding the way people speak, sometimes they give the impression that they are perfect.

Hopefully one day I will "make it" in London. You know what I will do?

I will work my arse off and buy a flat in Belgravia, but live in the East. Just so I can say "Yeah I have a flat in Belgravia, which I rent out to a celebrity friend, but I prefer the East, because the people are much more salt of the earth".

And when I say it I will be wearing a tailored suit, holding a barrister's wig and gown, and said in the most farmer-like yorkshire accent possible. Why? Why not...

It is nice to know that even wealthy banker's notice such people...

Andy

:)

Was Once said...

He picked up on their intent to deceive, and their inability to feel comfortable without a status bumper.
It is problem in the western world where things are more important than people...Hail, advertising!.....the next God.

Eric Whitney said...

If you think this kind of thing is common in London, visit Los Angeles where it's off the charts.

This post and comments are really insightful - I agree name/label/neighborhood dropping are in large part a way to signal what 'tribe' a person belongs to. I also think it's a way for some people to reassure themselves. I'm an escort, so the subtext I think i"m hearing is: "although i'm about to pay for sex, I'm also a guy who ____ "(fill in the blank with the the marker that most reassures them - cute ex, amazing job, big house, name art, complex emotional life, etc).

DD said...

In Chicago you don't hear a lot of this, but I think there are two bigger factors at work. The first is that the urban core of the city is not very differentiated by class any more. Rents are remarkably similar across a large area of the city with the caveat that they do get stiffer close to the Loop due to the large proportion of high-rise housing and condo subleases close in. There's more variation in owner-occupied housing but you'll still see much less of a patchwork quilt of house values in a real estate map of Chicago than you would of other cities. You'll also see a fair bit of mixing of people of different financial means even within buildings. A few years ago, a major new lakefront building in a great location and sporting a very 1920s architectural style was advertising its apartments for sale "from the high 300s to $8 million."

The second is race. This is the complete and uncomfortable opposite to class in Chicago. Chicago is so severely segregated by race that it's embarrassing to people to drop neighborhood names in mixed company because just talking about it reinforces this awkward fact. So it tends to get swept under the carpet. There are officially 77 neighborhood areas in the city itself; only five or six of them are what you'd call integrated and likely to stay that way, not just in mid-gentrification.

There's also the Midwest factor with Chicago. Combining neighborhood name dropping with trolling for pity would be social suicide here. And as for name dropping of other people, I hear it more from transplants than from locals.

Anonymous said...

It's not an inferiority complex it's a superiority complex.

Humming Bird in Hyde said...

I tend to think like 'T'. It has to do a little with not being born a Londoner but later becoming one - it's easier for us to spot in conversation. I've worked it out like this: if the Londoner has a public school accent - then they can't help themselves, basically it's inbred (although, I've met a few public schoolers who have been quite the opposite). If they don't, then it's ulterior.

'T' is indeed brilliant Anony.

xxx

Edgardo said...

I agree with the poster that talks about class and tribe. It is basically the case everywhere. I lived in South Ken for many years, and would always get some funny looks from people that thought I didn't belong. Mainly my neighbours who found anything to complain about, even when I wasn't around. I love London, and I do love the diversity of its people including the ones that make these kind of comments to a perfect stranger.

A-Philosophical said...

In the monetary based system people need to brag about their lifestyles being superior. It is in their very chore of values!

NYC, Miami, Buenos Aires or the whole Spain are like that. I have seen that.

They need to create the feeling of envy in the other! They do the same with a person, which is even worse than boasting about a house or a car.

I personally do not care and try to be behind good and evil!

P

A-Philosophical said...

I'd love to add a clip dealing with this kind of people ignorance to feel important by bragging about their affluent material stuff rather than their very own virtue or wisdom

IGNORANT'S

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fi5YZAUiT-g&feature=player_embedded