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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Oh yeah? Top that!

I'm sure most of you have encountered people at work or in social settings who like to one-up you on pretty much any topic of conversation that might pass between you.

It might be about the great deal you got on your new car or your children's accomplishments: 

Me:  We're so proud of Ariella for being accepted to such a great school.  She worked very hard and it really paid off for her.

Idiot du jour:  Hey, did I tell you that my nephew just graduated high school at 14 and has been accepted to the elite IDF program for excellent scholars?

A darker side of this phenomenon is the idiot who finds it necessary to 'top' whatever illness or injury you or your loved ones my have just suffered:

Me:  Sorry I missed the meeting yesterday, my son hurt his finger and I had to leave early so I could take him to have it x-rayed and make sure it wasn't broken.

Idiot du jour:  No problem. I completely understand.  I had to miss a lot of work last year when my wife was having her cancer treatments and my father in law needed to be taken twice a week for dialysis.

The problem in both cases is that, although the Idiot du jour seems to have offered a response that was on topic... he was clearly more interested in using your good / bad fortune as a springboard for his own story than offering congratulations or sympathy. 

You can always spot such people in any gathering.  They are the ones who listen to the conversations around them intently for any key-word that might trigger one of their stock favorite anecdotes.  And from that moment on you can see them completely glassy-eyed and tuned out; mentally dusting off their story, and waiting for the speaker to take a breath so they can interject their unhelpful offering.

There's really no cure for this kind of boor.  So you have a choice:  You can either ignore/tolerate them... or make something up that so completely trumps their story that it makes them look even more foolish than they tried to make you.

For the record, as tempting as it might be, I don't indulge in the latter sort of one-upsmanship... and prefer to just smile and let them top me.  But occasionally real life offers a third option... the best kind of revenge; the truth.

Here's a real conversation from last week:

Me [getting out of my car in the parking lot at work on a cool sunny morning]: Good morning!  Man I just had the most beautiful drive to work!

Idiot du jour: Are you just now getting here?

Me:  Uh huh, you saw me drive in... didn't you just arrive too?

Idiot du jour: Yeah, but I live fifteen minutes away! It's great living so close to the office.  I was still asleep half an hour ago!  Moving closer to work was the best decision I ever made.  I'll never understand why anyone would want to spend so much time in their car!

Me:  True, there are advantages to living so close.  But I need some time between home and work... and especially between work and home,... you know, to clear my head and mentally change gears.  My commute lets me do that.

Idiot du jour: But you drive over an hour through 'the territories' every day?  Doesn't that scare you.  I heard on the radio last week about someone getting stones thrown at his car near some Palestinian village.

Me:  You're right, that kind of thing happens occasionally.  But I hear about people being hurt or killed in serious traffic accidents on the roads inside the green line almost every day!  And Arabs throw stones (and worse) in both sides of the green line.  Statistically, since I drive on pretty much empty roads until I get to work, and you have to pass through the busiest section of Beer Sheva to get here, I'd have to say I'm much less likely to be in a traffic accident than you are... much less to be deliberately attacked! [tfu tfu tfu]

Idiot du jour [after a few beats of stunned silence]:  But you have to admit that an hour of driving each way is a lot more stressful than 15 minutes? Right?  You hear about people going crazy from long commutes and having to either change jobs or move closer to work!

Me:  That might be true of people who have long commutes through high-congestion areas, or where they have to contend every day with crazy drivers, road construction, detours and bumper-to-bumper traffic.  But I barely have to touch my breaks from the moment I leave my house to the moment I pull into the parking lot here.  My drive takes me through the most beautiful and sparsely populated area in the country.  And if I want, I even have my choice of alternate routes that are equally scenic and lightly traveled.  Not only that, but there are never any police radar traps or cameras to worry about along my commute, so I can travel at speeds that I feel are comfortable and safe, rather than at an arbitrary speed limit set by some clerk in the ministry of transportation.

Idiot du jour [now sputting with frustration]: Oh come on now, you want me to believe that you never have traffic jams?

Me:  Okay, you got me.  It happens once in a while  that I have to stop and wait as long as 30 seconds... to let a flock of sheep or goats cross the road.  When that happens I have no choice but to smile and wave at the shepherd.  Or occasionally if I see a camel, a family of partridges or an ibex crossing the road... I have to stop and get my camera out to capture the moment.  But of course, when something like that happens, it gives me even more time to adjust the great music on the stereo, appreciate the scenery around me and maybe even roll down the window and breath in the clean cool air.  I honestly don't know how you deal with such abrupt transition from home to work, and from work to home.  A person needs time to make such a big adjustment, no?!

Idiot du jour: [looking at his watch]:  I'm late for a meeting... gotta run.

Me {doing a mental touchdown dance]:  Have a nice morning!

Posted by David Bogner on October 15, 2009 | Permalink

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David and others, you absolutely must watch this clip about "one-uppers":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QvSoRQrVJg

Brian Regan, my favorite comic of all time, 100% clean (Ruti Mizrachi is a big fan!) And if you're REALLY busy, you can skip ahead to 2:37.

Benji

Posted by: What War Zone??? | Oct 15, 2009 12:59:47 PM

OK, now you've made me jealous of your beautiful ride to work. I wish I could be one of the people who hitch a ride with you.

I'd promise not to ask you to pull over so that I could pet the ibex in the middle of the road... or the deer or the mongoose or the fox or whatever critter it happened to be....

Posted by: Rahel | Oct 15, 2009 1:00:08 PM

I'm not a big Dilbert fan anymore (Scott Adams' politics annoy me).

But he had a great series about this phenomenon, a few of which are gathered here:

http://www.jeremyperson.com/dilberts-the-topper/

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | Oct 15, 2009 1:20:14 PM

That's one thing I miss about living in Manhattan. Sure, I'm 20 minutes from work, but I have to squish in like a sardine with people of questionable hygiene, switching a train here and there to do it again. The sanity check is my stop off to the gym on the way home, so I can 'blow off some steam' running or pushing heavy things. I still miss the days of being in my car, the tunes on. Not the same as your drive, but I miss it nonetheless.

Posted by: J K | Oct 15, 2009 1:21:18 PM

LOL! Have you given any thought to putting these stories in a book? This one is almost as good as the supermarket express lane, and you seem to have more of these "episodes" than anyone else I know. Not to mention the fact that you have a way with words that brings your stories to life.

Posted by: Rachel | Oct 15, 2009 1:36:27 PM

Yo, Dave, hook me up with this jerk. Then I can tell him that MY commute to work is now 12 minutes since I moved to Jersey. The only thing I miss is the foliage on the Merritt....

Posted by: Marsha in Englewood | Oct 15, 2009 1:54:07 PM

There is a Saturday Night Live character played by Kristen Wiig who plays the one up-manship game to ridiculously annoying/humorous results

Posted by: Aharon Fischman | Oct 15, 2009 2:15:10 PM

Yes, David, I agree with Rachel. We all bemoan how Israel is losing the PR war by default, about the all-out effort made by the Palestinians to depict themselves sympathetically while the Jews are made to look like soul-less and venal plantation owners. How about doing a higher level Erma Bombeck, letting the world know there are normal, modern, hard working people there with their own indivisible bond to the land of their fathers? Who is it, your brother in law, that printed that book about profanity? Well, you can do some one-upmanship of your own. So I say that Rachel's suggestion is not only a good idea, but also a potentially successful venture. I would love to see it reviewed in the NYT.

Posted by: Barzilai | Oct 15, 2009 3:25:36 PM

Particularly apropos the name of your blog- you don't want to wake up one day and regret not having done it when you could have.

Posted by: Barzilai | Oct 15, 2009 3:35:29 PM

B"H

Not sure that they're idiots, just maybe having more than the average amount of insecurity and self-centeredness.

I encounter these reactions mostly from olim, but native Israelis are not immune.

Many olim are afraid, and often do a lot of validation-seeking behavior.

How many of us we're running TO Israel? How many of us were running AWAY from something?

Posted by: Ben-Yehudah | Oct 15, 2009 3:39:53 PM

What War Zone???... YouTube is banned at work, but I'll be sure to check it out when I get home. Thanks.

Rahel ... I always giggle when people say they are jealous of anything in my life. I guaranty you that you and everyone else reading this site have lives every bit as rich and full of wonder as mine. People just forget how to look around and ask themselves how their 'ordinary lives' would seem to someone living half a world away (or even 30 minutes away).

Andy Levy-Stevenson... I know about the Dilbert bit but I still haven't gotten over finding out Scott Adams is an Israel basher.

J K ... As someone once said: Nostalgia ain't what it used to be. :-)

Rachel... As I've said each and every time someone has suggested it: FIND ME AN AGENT! I would love to have a book deal and am even up for the hard work of editing my work (something I clearly don't do before posting it here). Know anyone?

Marsha in Englewood... The foliage on the Merritt is a lot to miss.

Aharon Fischman ... I'll have to google it when I get home. Haven't seen SNL in years.

Barzilai... As I said to Rachel, find me an agent and the book is as good as done. Heck, I'll even give you a free copy if you get me a book deal! :-)

Ben-Yehudah ... actually, in my experience it has been exclusively native born Israelis who do this. The guy in today's post has never even been to the US (as far as I know).

Posted by: treppenwitz | Oct 15, 2009 4:30:32 PM

:)
Made me feel smug just to read your post...nesiah tova!
And someone who does that is basically a thief-same idea.

Posted by: eem | Oct 15, 2009 5:22:39 PM

This was really funny, and interesting too.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Oct 15, 2009 8:36:38 PM

HIGH FIVE!

Posted by: Noa | Oct 15, 2009 10:41:09 PM

My commute is from Polk and California to Montgomery and California by cable-car, then a three block walk.
Fifteen minutes, tops.

But wait, I can top that!
Back in 1993, the company where I worked was three block from my house. Almost everybody else drove in from the East-Bay.

Now I really miss my old commute.
See what you've done?

Posted by: At The Back of the Hill | Oct 15, 2009 11:04:42 PM

I wrote a post about one-upmanship too, and it was better than yours.

Posted by: Elisson | Oct 16, 2009 11:08:31 PM

Oh, to see an ibex on the subway...now that would make for a great tale of one-upmanship. Crackheads, schizophrenics, brilliant classical musicians, I see them and marvel at them all, almost every day...but an ibex would trump them all.

Posted by: Erica | Oct 18, 2009 1:28:03 AM

Hello, my nom de reseau is Wry Mouth and I am a "topper"... (pause for greetings from assembly)

Although you should know I'm recovering, and daily trying not to do that anymore ;o/

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Oct 18, 2009 4:28:03 AM

Hi Wry Mouth! :-)

David Bogner
Efrat, Israel

www.treppenwitz.com

"Laying the groundwork for an insanity defense since 1961"

On Sun, Oct 18, 2009 at 4:28 AM, wrote:

Posted by: David Bogner | Oct 18, 2009 6:02:58 AM

While bring my father Aliyah To The Land of Israel At 89 home to Israel, the cab driver to Shiloh mentioned that we must live surrounded by Arabs. I suggested that he look at the views of empty hills as we drove from the airport.

Posted by: Batya from Shiloh | Oct 18, 2009 10:19:08 PM

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