Wednesday, 11 July 2012


"Visitors to Britain are rarely able to grasp - sometimes even after decades of residency - the vital distinction its inhabitants make between complaining and moaning.  The two activities seem similar, but there is a profound philosophical and practical difference.  To complain about something is to express dissatisfaction to someone whom you hold responsible for an unsatisfactory state of affairs; to moan is to express the same thing to someone other than the person responsible.  The British are powerfully embarrassed by complaining... They do love to moan, though... Moaning, a source of entertainment in its own right, is also an important psychic blanket, a way of venting resentment without taking responsibility for effecting change."
- John Lanchester, "Letter from London: Party Games," The New Yorker

I came across this quote thanks to blogger Betsy Transatlantically.  I cannot tell you how interesting I found it.  Mostly, it makes me laugh because my family has a running joke about how my brother likes to moan about things.  (Apparently Matt would fit in well here!)

I have to agree with Betsy's take on it (which I guess make us both stereo-typically American), in that moaning is irritating to me.  It isn't productive.  It gets you nowhere.   And, in my opinion, seems meaner.  I know many people would disagree with me and say that it is rude to complain and make a fuss.  While I agree that there is a rude way to complain, there is also a constructive and appropriate way to complain.  Constructive criticism promotes forward motion and is often the only way to improve things.  If people only moan (also known as "talking behind someone's back"), no one in a position to make the situation better knows there is a problem!

There is a place for a nice moan.  Whining can be a bonding thing.  It can release tension or help you feel better about a situation where you know that change is unlikely and/or complaining is futile.  Sometimes I'm able to diffuse a situation by vocally blaming my complaining on being American.  It tends to make people laugh if you call yourself out for conforming to a stereotype.

1 comment:

  1. Ha! Just read this (after seeing your comment on my blog) and TOTALLY agree! I played five weeks of shows in March, touring with another singer-songwriter ... she was English, and I tell you, by the end of it, we were at each other's throats. She was annoyed with my "American optimism" and I was driven mad by her constant complaining (about things that I perceived as really small or silly).
    That's not to say I'm opposed to "How 'bout this rain?" when you're making conversation at the bus stop ... but yes, I prefer complaints when they are constructive and about things that you can actually change:)