Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Victor Meldrew, or I Don't Like to Complain, but...

I'm thinking about moaning and the way people see "moaning minnies " in different countries.

In England, people often hedge a conversational complaint by saying "I know I shouldn't be moaning, but...", or they'll be looking for agreement from others by saying "Is it just me, or..." rightly hoping the reply will be "No, not just you it really is..." Objectively approved, complaint therefore allowed.

My interest in intercultural moaning was sparked off when I came to Germany, and noticed how much people complain all the time.(Despite of course having one of the best lifestyles in Europe). It's as natural here as a baby crying in its pram. There are no social  filters, no shame, no social stigma.

In a European context, England and Germay are actually at opposite ends of the scale. In England moaning is seen as a sign of weakness, an inabilty to cope. There are various negative words to describe a complaining person (moaning minnie, grouch, Victor Meldrew....) Nowadays, even legitimate complaints in Britain are often battened down by being labelled unpatriotic, or an attack on the British way on life.

Things couldn't be more different in Germany. Complaining means showing your human side. Hey, nobody is perfect, and things are difficult, so let's all have a good moan together. (The un-acceptable opposite would be an American-style "Life is good" attitude, which people here would see as presumptious.

There is a different form of moaning yet, in France. There, by moaning you show that you're not a push-over, and also indicate that you're used to better things. People who don't moan are obviously happy with lowly offerings, and don't know any better. And who would want to be like that?! Moaning as a social status indicator!

My mother for example, has been moaning all her life. She hardly ever does anything else, and if she stopped I'd be seriously worried. Me? As ever, I'm in cut in the middle. Whilst my favourite saying is "When the going gets tough, the tough get going", I'm no stranger to moaning. Recently, when I had to spend a year in Scotland, I simply couldn't stop complaining. It was all too much, and I hated every minute.

Maybe moaning is really a sign that you can't cope. And society's reply should be "Oh just get on with it". At least that's what I'm feeling now, when I have very little to moan about....

Let me know what you think via twitter, @Margit11

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