Ignore the Benz, that's not really me...
November 16, 2009 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by the recent thread outlining what it takes to "be a man" I've always wanted to know what it takes to be "down to earth". With the assumption that being down to earth is a good thing that people would admire, what things should one (read: I) do to be that guy/gal?

Food for thought:

Can you be down to earth if (hypothetical examples):

...you don't give a hoot about the environment?
...you drive a $50,000 car?
...you dye your hair to hide grey?
...you chase women 25 years younger than you?
...you own 100 pairs of shoes?

Or, re-phrased in another way, what should one be willing to discard in their life to achieve that moniker?
posted by teg4rvn to Human Relations (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I think lies, self-aggrandizement, and showing off are all contrary to being "down to earth."

The specifics are going to vary from person to person: driving a $50,000 car makes sense to someone who can afford that car and who values particular high-performance qualities of the car. Driving a $50,000 car to look cool is not "down to earth."

Similarly, dyeing your hair because you think it's fun or flattering could well be "down to earth" but dyeing your hair in order to deceive others is not "down to earth."

Not giving a shit about the environment just makes you a sociopath, which is a different axis than the "down to earth" to "total fakewad" continuum.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:55 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think that being "down to earth" is about caring about things because they actually matter you instead of because they are supposed to matter. Sidhedevel has it mostly right: a down-to-earth person could dye their hair because it looks better, but not because everyone else is dyeing their hair. They could order a $200 dinner if they really valued that dinner, but not because they hoped someone would see them at the restaurant and think, "what a cool person that is!" This can make it hard to tell which activities make someone "down to earth", but when you meet the person you find out pretty quickly.

It's a lot like that old saw, "the most important thing in life is honesty. If you can fake that, you're in!" If you are down to earth, you don't have to give anything up because of it; if you aren't, you could give up everything and still not be.
posted by goingonit at 2:01 PM on November 16, 2009

I always thought "down to earth" was a synonym for "sensible". So whether or not someone who is "down to earth" would do those things depends on what you think is sensible.
posted by muddgirl at 2:06 PM on November 16, 2009

Not just sensible, I guess, but also "holds realistic expectations about the future".
posted by muddgirl at 2:08 PM on November 16, 2009

I am often called "down-to-earth," (although sometimes I suspect it is a nice way of saying that I'm kind of a jackass!) and here are some qualities about me that I think lead to me being described that way:

-I don't wear a lot of makeup and my hair is pretty natural. I do dye it to cover gray but other than that I let it do what it does. I dress pretty casually as well.

-I have a good sense of humor.

-I'm very honest, sometimes brutally so, but mostly I try to be kind about it.

-I'm not a snob. I don't judge people by how much/what they have, or what their occupation is, or their taste in movies/music/books, etc.

Some negative stuff:

-I curse a lot.

-I often do not think before I speak.

-I don't care about impressing people (this can actually be a negative or a positive depending on the situation).

Hope that helps, but honestly, I think the best way to be down-to-earth is to not worry about it. Just be yourself, warts and all.
posted by weesha at 2:17 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

i think of "down to earth" as more synonymous to "relatable" than to " eco friendly earth mother". A down to earth person relates to all others in the same manner, regardless of social or financial difference. Usually the phrase is applied to someone who is successful but does not flaunt their success, maybe even to the point of downplaying said success. A down to earth person does not condescend, patronize or "forget where he came from." He respects others and their opinions, even if he disagrees. He says thank you to wait staff and flight attendents and listens patiently when a lonely elderly person tells a story for the 1 millionth time. He never gets caught up in a game of one upmanship, even if he could demolish the competition. He never brags about his good deeds, but applauds others when they do good.
posted by domino at 2:17 PM on November 16, 2009 [16 favorites]

I have a similar take to Sidhedevil and domino - 'down to earth' to me implies someone who looks at the substance of things, not the surface. So their lifestyle choices and interpersonal interactions are governed by genuine feelings rather than swayed by social expectations, and nor are they isolated in some rarefied bubble far away from the everyday concerns of the world around them.
posted by Abiezer at 2:23 PM on November 16, 2009

"Down to earth" = why the lady is a tramp.
posted by aquafortis at 2:27 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

For me, being "down to earth" is about seeing the bigger picture and seeing things in correct proportion. A down-to-earth person is calm and reasonable, and is unlikely to do things they'll later regret, or to regret things they can't change. Such a person values a simple, straightforward approach to life, and has a fairly clear understanding of what they need (and don't need) to be content. A down-to-earth person won't be the most exciting person in the world, but you'll always value their advice.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:29 PM on November 16, 2009 [6 favorites]

+1 for domino
posted by mmascolino at 2:30 PM on November 16, 2009

I think this is one expression that could be clarified by looking at its inverse. What would the opposite of "down to earth" be? Flighty, unrealistic, remote? I hear "down to earth" and I think that a person is accessible in an immediate and personal and appropriate way that reminds others that the person in question is a real person who shares a similar grasp on reality as themselves.
posted by hermitosis at 3:00 PM on November 16, 2009

domino's (excellent) definition also works for "class," i.e. what makes someone classy (as opposed to classist). Not a perfect overlap of course, but they have much in common.

And if we're doing theme songs for down-to-earth, ain't none better than Guy Clark's Stuff That Works? (Hint: it's not just about stuff.)
posted by hangashore at 3:19 PM on November 16, 2009

grrrr stupid questionmark
posted by hangashore at 3:22 PM on November 16, 2009

I'm not sure this is really 100% responsive, but...

To me, being "down to earth" seems like a strange thing to aspire to. In my experience, the phrase is usually applied to people who are famous or fabulously wealthy or royalty or some such. Where the idea is that despite being so exceptional/unusual/privileged/whatever, they're still, well, down to earth. The vast majority of people are already, by default, down to earth.

From the other answers, maybe I'm in the minority here... but anyway.
posted by Perplexity at 4:37 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Perplexity, I think you are mistaking "down to earth" with "common". Someone who is down to earth does not have his or her head in the clouds. They accept the here and now, and work within realities to accomplish their goals, and they treat people respectfully. They do not put on airs or engage in pretentiousness, nor do they judge others on anything but their individual behaviors. The may not be 100% ego free or be perfectly humble, but they accept that and treat their own desires as equal to those of others.

Doesn't matter what their class or wealth level is.

(In reference to the wine and food mention, I'd suggest that someone who is down to earth may well enjoy the finer things in life, but would never or rarely enjoy them *at* someone. I've met many people who I am sure genuinely enjoy their finer things for no other reason than that they are fine things. Yet they are aghast when someone else doesn't know what they are talking about, or is self conscious about it. Someone who is down to earth would probably recognize the ignorance or discomfort and invite the person to try and learn and experience that thing, rather than let them twist in the wind.)
posted by gjc at 4:57 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

My feeling is that down to earth is absolutely either a class-based thing [i.e. someone of a higher class can relate to people not in their class] or a cash-based thing [ditto] or a status based thing. So as a sort of weird example, I meet a lot of MeFi people and there are definitely some people who think "gee for someone in charge of a big old web site, she seems really down to earth" i.e. I enjoy hanging out with spazzes and nerds (and am one myself, actually!) and shooting the shit and whatever else. I see the "down to earth" statement as being a little bit "Hey, they're just like me!" whatever "me" is in this situation.

Can you be down to earth if (hypothetical examples)...

Nothing personal but those sound like fight-picking examples in a lot of ways. I agree with Sidhedevil and others who say that sure, it's possible. The whole thing is about being sincere in your beliefs and honest in your assessment of your life and your motives. Put another way: I have a stupid-expensive laptop (which I got from work) and I bring it to my drop-in classes and use it so that I can create a wireless cloud so my octogenarian students can use an open wireless network which the school doesn't offer otherwise. Depending on how you know me, you may or may not think that I'm "down to earth" or not.
posted by jessamyn at 5:42 PM on November 16, 2009

I think "down to earth" means that you generally consider realistic probabilities and outcomes of any given circumstance rather than focusing on the ones that you would most want to happen. I think there are some people who are very practical who don't get regarded as "down to earth," however, because this term is usually applied to someone who seems like (based on their aspirations, actions, or general outlook) they might be easily disposed toward fanciful idealism, but manages to avoid this anyway.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 5:57 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sidhedevil said it perfectly.
posted by Bergamot at 6:04 PM on November 16, 2009

Can you be down to earth if (hypothetical examples):

...you don't give a hoot about the environment?

...you drive a $50,000 car?
...you dye your hair to hide grey?
...you chase women 25 years younger than you?
no, unless you catch one
...you own 100 pairs of shoes?
posted by crazylegs at 6:21 PM on November 16, 2009

I am occasionally told I'm "down to earth", and I think it's meant in the way of solipsophistocracy's comment.

Either that or I'm so full of myself I'd like to think it applies.
posted by yohko at 6:28 PM on November 16, 2009

Yeah, I was going to add, someone who is down to earth would never say "Ignore the Benz, it's not really me." They would either be driving a Buick, or be proud of the Benz because they think its really cool. But never in a showy way.
posted by gjc at 6:31 PM on November 16, 2009

In contrast to other answerers, I don't see "down to earth" as a class or money-based classification exactly. I agree wholeheartedly with Sidhedevil's answer, actually. A person who is down to earth lives their life in a way they enjoy, and find satisfying and correct, and they appreciate that others are trying to do the same, even though that may look very different. I think someone who is down to Earth gets to where they are through honest work, and is proud of that, but doesn't brag about it. They are also unabashed about their fortunes, whether good or bad.

Down to Earth people see people as people, and not as bank accounts, houses, job titles, political ideologies or automobiles. It's not that they lack opinions or are unassertive, they merely understand that people are complex and motivated by different things.
posted by !Jim at 7:28 PM on November 16, 2009

IMHO.. Just be decent to everybody no matter their station in life, no matter who they know or don't know, or where they work, & don't pay much regard to whether or not they have more or less money than you, in the way you treat them. Aside from avoiding putting anyone in an awkward situation where they might feel obligated to spend too much just to fit in, that's not very gracious.

I like domino's answer, but in my experience.. people who don't have lots of money can still engage in serious one-upmanship, like if you're from a brokeass town and people do stuff like try and one-up you because they can afford to go out to dinner at the local hotel restaurant (that isn't even good) while your family can only afford Pizza Hut. It can get a little comical with the material things people will show off about because they think they're really special and a big deal & this happens on most all stages of the economic ladder & it's the opposite of down-to-earth IMHO. It's like small differences in income and status become hugely important and produce the same effects, you know? Neighbors one-upping neighbors over who has the nicer above-ground backyard pool.

I remember talking to this girl once who made a huge deal of informing me that one of her close relatives was fabulously wealthy and owned a Park Avenue apartment and it's like.. almost a decade later I have no opinion on the apartment but still recall her as one of the tackiest/snobbiest people I've ever met. Conversely I also used to know someone (acquaintance, from school, didn't know well) whose mother is a fairly well-known actress & grew up with all the advantages and money you could want, and she was completely sweet and kind to everyone, never put on airs, didn't dress in show-offy clothes, no attitude at all.. you'd never know where she came from.
posted by citron at 9:06 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Why discard anything? Silly.

Be willing to eat strange foods, look strange people in the eye, and talk to children.
posted by kathrineg at 9:27 PM on November 16, 2009

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