If you come off as dumb and/or uninformed in social situations, how do you correct this?
A bit of context, first: Growing up, almost everyone around me saw me as abnormally smart, freakishly smart, enough that people really thought it was the only thing going for me. On pretty much every measure, official and colloquial, of intelligence, I would have rated pretty highly back then. (They don't really have them for adults.) So to anybody who knew me as a child, this question would perhaps be a bit surprising and/or alarming.
Anyway, there was an article in the NYT
a week ago about "faking cultural literacy," and I was horrified at how much of it rang true, particularly this:
We have outsourced our opinions to this loop of data that will allow us to hold steady at a dinner party, though while you and I are ostensibly talking about “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” what we are actually doing, since neither of us has seen it, is comparing social media feeds. Does anyone anywhere ever admit that he or she is completely lost in the conversation? No. We nod and say, “I’ve heard the name,” or “It sounds very familiar,” which usually means we are totally unfamiliar with the subject at hand.
I haven't seen The Grand Budapest Hotel
. I have read enough reviews that I can come up with a convincing, socially passable reason why I didn't go see it, where the real reason is that I just don't give a shit. But I have said "the name sounds familiar" more times than I can even count. Sometimes the name really does sound familiar. Lots of pop-cultural names pass through the feed. But sometimes it's a complete lie, the name doesn't
ring any bells at all. This is bad enough when it's pop culture -- most people won't think you're dumb
if you haven't ever seen an episode of Mad Men
, even if it results in sitting like a creepy silent idiot whenever you're out with groups who inevitably talk about TV shows you have no possible thing to say about so you just sit there alone. But it's never just pop culture. The New York Times piece doesn't talk about this in a dating context, but this article does
, and considering that I have yet to be in a relationship, it is a pressing concern, particularly when you don't really have looks going for you to make up for any perceived unintelligence.
I just got home from a date, which didn't really go very well (he did the whole touchless "it was nice meeting you" thing at the end, which is the agreed-upon code these days). During the date, the following topics were discussed: bankruptcy in the casino industry of Atlantic City; commodities trading in the restaurant industry; macro-level trends in advertising; corruption in New Jersey city councils. I know very little to absolutely nothing about any of these. Unfortunately, there is no way to say "I know absolutely nothing about that, can we please not talk about this" without seeming rude and/or stupid. So I muddle through, saying things like "interesting" and "hmm" and "that makes sense," and I end up coming off stupid anyway. Sometimes I say things that are grammatically incorrect or stammered or just not smart-sounding, because it's very hard for me to express myself verbally, particularly when I have to focus on modulating my speaking voice into some kind of presentable, attractive sound in a loud room and
focus on saying something passable. (It's the same whether I'm sober or whether I've had anything to drink.) So I come off even more stupid. Specifically, I come off as, and feel like, a stupid girl
. And I know this is internalized misogyny, but it wouldn't be internalized if it weren't a cultural belief in the first place and if people weren't judging women on these grounds. Often I will have a running monologue going at the same time of what I sound like, and pop culture unfortunately has plenty of examples of stupid-girl monologues to cough up. (Lately it's the Chainsmokers' "Selfie," the entire joke of which is listen to this stupid girl and her stupid girl conversation.
It doesn't help that I have a very similar voice to her.) It doesn't help that I'm overweight, because there is definitely a parallel stereotype of the "stupid fat girl." It is the sort of stereotype you carry around in your gut everywhere you go, and you are always conscious about whether you resemble it.
If these seem esoteric it's only because it's one example one time. It's always something different. One time it was a record label I liked but that I didn't know all the bands under and got called on. One time it was the upcoming local election, which I'd read some about but apparently not enough to be essentially quizzed on the spot about. One time it was when Occupy Wall Street was a cultural topic, an entire argument where he had statistics and everything at the ready, no Google or anything. I was at a guy's house once and he started quizzing me about world capitals. It would be funny if it weren't so loaded at the time. And of course I don't know the capital of Cameroon or Djibouti or Uruguay off the top of my head, and every time I would say I didn't know, he would say things like "but it's so easy!" and look at me with this distinct contempt. Maybe it was imagined. I don't know. It eventually got bad enough to make me cry, and only then he stopped.
I suppose I'm interested in two separate problems:
- How does one become more informed these days? I don't think
I'm particularly uninformed about the world - I read news, and I try to keep up with the cultural conversation - but clearly what I'm doing is only informing me on a shallow level. How the hell does everyone else know what they're talking about all the time? (Please don't link me to whichever Vaunted New Media Explainer Startup of 2014 you might want to link me to, as I find most of them go all the way in the opposite direction and treat their audience like morons.)
- Barring that, how do I come off as if I'm smarter? Are there just tricks other people are doing that I'm not successfully pulling off? Obviously this is a lesser option, but it might end up solving the immediate problem of me coming off as a moron.