The Art of Complaining

Ok, I give up.  I’ve tried to be a bit more soft-spoken, but apparently you can take the girl out of America, but you can’t take the brash American out of the girl.   And the brash quality I’m missing today is complaining.   I’m sure there are Brits who can complain with the best of them, but unfortunately, I’m currently in a microcosm of character.  The nerve of these people, what with their gratitude and discipline, talking about how fortunate they are.  Don’t they know that it’s all a race to get as much as possible in this life?   Haven’t they heard of self-centeredness?  Sheesh.

Last night I was flipping channels, killing my usual zombie time where I can’t sleep but I’m just waiting to get sleepy, and I found Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.  He was showing the footage that didn’t make earlier shows—asides about how much he felt like retching from the previous night’s debauchery.   He had one great line, coming out of his hotel in Iceland to a pitch-black, bleak morning, wearing a puffy jacket and sunglasses, joking about how what he really felt like in that moment was being around lot of people and cameras, being friendly, and consuming the grilled intestinal parts of various animals.

Yeah, I guess it sucks to be even Anthony Bourdain sometimes.

Poor you!


But it got me thinking as to why he’s so refreshing lately, and it’s gotta be because he doesn’t hold back with the complaints.   I think I’ve said this before on BPRB—I really miss fast-paced, neurotic, dramatic people.  Throw in some well-placed complaints and I will worship at your feet right about now.

Here’s what the Brits don’t seem to realize about complaining—it’s an art form.  With hyperbole, a flair for character and jabby one-liners, it’s just street theater.  And who doesn’t like a little street theater?

Can we all just please stop and acknowledge how much it sucks to be herded into the Tube Station at Oxford Street during rush hour like a herd of cattle to slaughter?    Can we?   Oh please?

Shoot me.

I don’t cram myself down to the platforms every day, and would be so much more crabby if I did.  Is that possible?   More crabbiness?   (Ah, the neighbor kid just started playing his video games two feet from where I’m sitting, on the other side of the wall.  Beep, beep, boop, beep-boo-bee-bee-bee.   Yes, heightened crabbiness is possible.)

That was one good thing about teaching high schoolers.  A lot of them didn’t have game faces yet.  They’d come fainting in to my classroom, surrendering their massive backpacks to the desk with a thud.  Then they’d launch into a monologue about their horrendous day.    I don’t miss a lot of things about being in the classroom, but I do miss the teenage sense of drama and melodrama, a quality I’ve decided to hang on to for, oh, maybe just a few decades longer than necessary.

Perhaps the best moment of British complaint I’ve seen was on the television shows Grumpy Old Men and Grumpy Old Women.

I am a grumpy old woman trapped in the body of a not-yet old grumpy woman.

As curmudgeons go, they’re ok, but I think Anthony Bourdain might have them beat, with the ability to sun himself in the Mediterranean, devour the best food on the planet, and still somehow maintain his capacity for the tragic.

Anyone know of any local complaint-friendly venues?   Complaint salons?   Any pound-per-minute complaint hotlines?

The irony is that the Brits, as far as I’m concerned, should get a free pass to complain whenever they want with the gloomy weather. That’s enough right there.   Add in the ultra-crowded conditions and ridiculous cost of absolutely everything, and everyone should have a Recommended Daily Allowance of complaining.   You should take it in the morning with your Omega-3 Fatty Acids or your flax seed.  Truly, they’re looking a gift horse in the mouth.   I guess someone else will just have to do their complaining for them.   Good thing I’m here.

17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mujerboricua
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 18:12:11

    My husband and I talk about this very same issue ALL.THE.TIME. The Brits accept the way things are because it’s too rude to complain. It just is.

    But I’m with you. I’ll complain for them.


  2. taramoyle
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 18:38:58

    Yes! Now we are a force to be reckoned with. 🙂


  3. Kris
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 21:10:45

    I’ve had many a great dinner with friends only to think afterward: My god, did I just spend two hours complaining?? But I have a feeling nobody in the U.S. sees it that way (let’s hope). It’s just our way of connecting with people, don’t you think? We hash out all of our troubles over a glass of wine, knowing full well we have it better than 90% of humans, then go home feeling better. Maybe we just need another word for it?


  4. taramoyle
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 21:24:01

    Yeah. It’s commiseration. C. and I have that argument constantly. Complaining lightens the mood, offers endless comedic opportunities, allows for a little healthy venting. What could possibly be bad about that? He absolutely doesn’t get it. I’m speaking another language.

    There is a limit, but that’s why there’s an art to it….


  5. Michaux
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 04:50:28

    Complaining has a purpose for sure. Don’t know how to articulate it this minute but am working on a theory. Maybe it’s to give other more fortunate-seeming folk a reason to feel good.


    • taramoyle
      Mar 17, 2011 @ 14:03:17

      Yeah, I think there might be an Art of Complaining II. I think there’s still more to say here.

      There was a great Guardian article (can’t find it right now–will need to keep digging) sometime in the last year about customer service and how it doesn’t exist in the UK. The author suggested that perhaps if Brits were a bit less stalwart, they would get better service.

      Thanks for reading! 🙂


      • Michaux
        Mar 17, 2011 @ 17:55:37

        The art of complaining II–you must know your audience. A support group is really just group complaining about the same thing, right? But Americans recognize this as therapy, while Brits would simply think “Bad form.” You must complain with like-minded people; the exception to this rule would be to use humor–if you are funny, you can expand your complaining base to a much wider area.

      • taramoyle
        Mar 18, 2011 @ 14:18:26

        Well I think there’s “sharing,” and “reflecting,” which isn’t always complaining. Where does one draw the line though? That’s an interesting question….

  6. David Halliday
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 11:56:10

    I can complain! I’m damn good at it. Once started on things being unjust etc… I’m off and there is no stopping me.

    I think the English do have an art for complaining, but its different. We are (sadly) prone to a lot of impotent rage where we come to terms with the fact that complaining will not make anything better and everyone around us (take the underground) doesn’t want to hear it. I know that if I’m on a train that is delayed, few things make it more annoying than listening to a running commentary of the delay from someone on their phone.

    It’s the point at which we decide to write a letter, that’s when complaining happens.


  7. David Halliday
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 14:16:57

    A point on customer service. People call the company I work for and complain. I’m always careful when I have to call to complain as the person you speak to isn’t responsible for the problem.

    I have had to be careful when a customer has accidently dialled my extension rather than the customer service extension and given me a long aggressive explanation of their problem before ascertaining that I’m the wrong person. Sadly I like my monthly pay enough to not be rude back and point out that the ignorant tool can’t use a phone properly and has just been rude to the wrong person.


  8. taramoyle
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 14:28:44

    Different styles of complaining–that makes total sense. I have noticed that C. is good with rants and tweeting about poor service. He just doesn’t like to make theater out of it like I do.

    What I love about a delayed train is that lady who comes on to apologize, and she doesn’t apologize for the train company, or the line, but *she* apologizes. “I’m very sorry…” (Speaking of delayed trains, there’s supposed to be a Southeastern program on soon about train line ills. Should be good fodder for future rants….)

    Oh, that letter made my day. Who hasn’t had a horrific experience with an internet or phone service provider? Verizon is notorious in the states. They absolutely have you if you can’t get anyone else in your area. I spent about two months once dealing with them and became so angry that I couldn’t speak to their phone people anymore. (Because, of course, by the time you’ve spent 45 minutes on hold, you’ve been reduced to a seething Tazmanian Devil.)

    This is an all-time favorite customer service phone line comic–I’m sure you’ve probably seen it:


  9. Eastendmom
    Mar 18, 2011 @ 00:14:57

    What perfect timing! My husband and I were howling over the Oatmeal cartoon. What I didn’t know was that he’d had a long, painful run-in with Verizon just today … nothing out of the ordinary, just your usual test of endurance where he finally reached someone who said “I can help you with that” and then promptly cut him off.


  10. Ekua
    Mar 20, 2011 @ 23:54:26

    Hmmm, I think the British do complain, it just comes out in the form of brilliant, snarky, understated humor. Also, while in many parts of the States it’s easy to complain, here in Northern California, my tendency to complain doesn’t always go well with the peace and love vibe that people try so desperately to attain. But that being said, I have spent a chunk of time around Brits and I think I know what you mean by wanting the opportunity to be upfront about complaining 😛

    Thanks for linking to my site, by the way.


    • taramoyle
      Mar 21, 2011 @ 14:11:55

      My pleasure Ekua. Love your posts and am so impressed with all of your solo travel. Very challenging at times! And yes, I’m coming to see that it’s just a different form of complaint, maybe more dry, less drama-filled.

      Thanks for the comment. 🙂


  11. Erika
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 21:39:35

    Interesting post! I’ve had almost an opposite experience. I’m in grad school, and I’ve noticed a fair amount of ‘whinging’ by my classmates about certain things – instructor styles, the amount of homework/reading given, etc. etc. By nature I’m a positive person, and while I’m HAPPY to get on the whiney bandwagon with everyone – the minute I seem to have some sort of optimistic opinion I get teased mercilessly for my “American perkiness”. Just can’t win. Sigh.


    • taramoyle
      Mar 24, 2011 @ 18:01:20

      Yeah, why hasn’t someone written a PhD dissertation about complaining in academic environments? It’s epic. I had the same experience in grad school and actually got sick of the complaining. I’ve had jobs, too, where colleagues complained like mad every time we got together, which could really drag everyone down. I was reading a book the other day that recommended a “fast” from complaining for a month. Every time you complained, you had to start over. I lasted about five days.


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