No Bragging, Y’all

May 10th, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Yes, it must be Southern week. This time, I checked in on an old college newspaper to see a clear Yankee/Southerner distinction.

7minutesUp here in New England, I’ve told locals who never get below Hartford that a lot more than dialects differs. One clear distinction has to do with what Southerners call with disdain bragging on yourself. Granny warned them abaout that, so did their teacher, as did their minister.

Of course, as with so much, there’s some biblical grounding for the admonitions against pride. Think Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel, having to eat grass with the cattle because of his pride. Then in Proverbs, “When pride cometh, then cometh shame” (11:2) and “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (16:18). Front to back, the book is full of such.

On a personal level, Southerners consider bragging a great personal flaw. That’s not to say there aren’t loudmouth, arrogant types down there, rather that the larger society looks down on them.

Up in Boston and larger New England, the culture is quite different. We consider it honest and necessary to establish our bona fides (that would be Latin for good faith, as in a type of notice) when we meet.

Seven-Minute Drill

Some sociologists might compare it to dogs sniffing each other’s  nether regions, or various beasts thumping their chests or making other displays. Regardless, by the watch, you can expect New Englanders to display everything, every last thing, they are proud of within seven minutes of meeting them.

That should include their colleges, prep schools, and most notable employers. They circle back to famous forebears, from whom they infer genetic transference of alleged virtues. They don’t talk absolute money, but they will certainly list big-deal property they or their immediate families own or owned.

In short, they do exactly what a Southerner finds reprehensible — brag about themselves with an aim to impress. Yet, in this culture, they are wont to say this is necessary to place themselves in context.

Ancient Voices

This came to mind as I read, “Braggers should learn humility:
Those who advertise accomplishments appear conceited, alienate peers
” by Chelsey Seidel in the Daily Gamecock. She’s in the same journalism college and sequence (print) I attended, lo those decades ago. More important, she clearly heard the same admonitions I did as a child.

seidelcropShe delineates three kinds of braggarts — the classroom achiever, the MVP type, and to her the worst, the out-doer. The latter tops everyone’s contribution to conversation and brags to the point of lying to appear the best at everything.

Yankees should know that such predictable and expected behavior here has its costs there, as in people not wanting you around or “the out-doer usually ends up pitifully walking home alone at the end of the night.” In a culture that prizes sociability, those aren’t light punishments.

Seidel, whose cropped face appears here, offers a moral to the column. Southerners also prize storytelling and often end with a take-home, in this case, “Braggers need to realize that people would be much more congratulatory of their accomplishments if they learned to show humility instead of constantly making others feel inadequate.”

Of course, Bostonians aren’t about that. They want others to feel inadequate, in least in contrast to their magnificent selves. It’s different there and here.

Maybe you do learn more about someone else in the New England style and timing. I certainly grew up parceling out good stories and personal history to keep friendships spiced and fresh. In a way, this contrast is of two kinds of showmanship. Do you throw everything on the stage in the single act or make a real show out of it?

By the bye, the columnist is a fair scold from the look of her work. For example, a man trying to be his companion’s “best girlfriend” turns him into a “girlie man” who waxes his chest and eats small salads. Then too, she finds public displays of affection by teens disgusting.

She actually offers quite a sample of Southern manners and culture. It’s different there, but even after all the decades in Boston, I could talk with her.

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3 Responses

  1. Dan says:

    Sounds like you are hanging out with upper middle class white “New Englanders,” which includes constitutional braggarts like the George H. W. Bush and Kennedy families. They certainly don’t sound like the New England culture I came from, where those who bragged got taken down a notch.

    Like the old story of the New England farmer who meets up with a Texas rancher (someone we New Englanders think of as a Southerner). The Texas rancher was going on and on about how big his ranch was. “Why, my ranch is so big,” said the Texan, “that I can start driving at one end of it, and not reach the other end of it before nightfall.” “Yup,” said the New Englander, “I used to have a car like that.”

    Or there’s the time I was at a small working fishing pier on the coast of Maine, and I overheard two downeasters talking. The first one was sitting in a sixteen foot with a huge outboard motor on it; the motor was so big that the stern of the boat sat well down in the water. The second guy was looking at this boat with a jaundiced eye, and said, “Well, I bet she goes pretty good,” in a dry tone of voice that clearly indicated he thought the other fellow was a complete and utter ass who just wanted to show off.

    Maybe you’re hanging out with the wrong New Englanders. You might want to get away from the urban prep school crowd, and go find yourself some swamp Yankees (so-called because when the rich people took all the land, what the swamp Yankees got was the swamps). Salt of the earth.

  2. Harrumpher says:

    Fair enough, although salt-of-the-earth always seems odd…that kills plants, Biblical references aside. It is true enough that rural New Hampshire and Maine sorts can be plain folk. Posturing is not uncommon even among them though. To your point, the prideful sorts do tend to come from the Ivies and live in Boston and its ‘burbs. The serious braggers seems to have been trained to it both at home and from prep school.

  3. Uncle says:

    There’s a Maine story about the tourist who walked past an immobile old resident into the general store. Some time later the tourist came out to see the same old man on the same bench. “You know, there are some queer folks around here, Mister, ” he said.

    The old gent looked up and said “ayuh…but they’ll all be gone come Labor Day.”

    Which may prove the point or not.

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