Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Whining and dining

(Published in Business Standard on November 16, 2013)

Many things about college were scary, such as discovering that the long reading lists they regularly handed out were not just friendly suggestions. Or realising that one day they were going to lend me a hat and gown, give me a piece of paper, and then give me a little push in the small of my back. They’d have to push hard. Nobody in their right mind would willingly leave a wonderland where you can walk into a room, eat limitless quantities, and walk out, without ever planning, shopping, cooking, washing up, or paying a bill.

But by far my scariest moment in college was when my friend from Oregon, turned to me and said “Quitcherwhinin’!” From what I could tell, based on tone and body language, that’s Oregonian for ‘If you complain about one single thing more, one single time more, I will pull your abdomen out of your body via your eye sockets, and if you think I’m exaggerating, I can show you the remains of the last person who thought so.” I was so frightened that I think I ran straight to the cafeteria and ate food I did not have to provide for.

But one reverts, inevitably, to type, so I resumed whining shortly after being rapped on the knuckles. In fact, I took a policy decision not to stop. Don’t you believe those people who say that a good attitude will get you through anything, look at the smile on the face of that blind vagrant who just had an amputation and a divorce. Those people know not the sweet release of keeping up a gentle burble of complaint. It’s cathartic. It’s the oral equivalent of those evil-eye-warding-off thingies. It feels good.

My Oregonian friend was the first to point it out, but legions of people since then have told me to stop whining. One blog I read says that complaining is like second-hand smoke. (It also says that whiners just want attention.) Don’t get me wrong: I totally get that not everyone appreciates the finer points of bitching and moaning, but I assure you that whine-less dinners are dead boring. What are we supposed to do, sit across the table and smirk at each other about how wonderful our lives are? That sounds smug as a bug in a rug, at best.

Plus, I’m convinced that whining brings out the flavour of food. You could be gagging on some dreadful slime slopped out into a tin cup by a cook without tastebuds, and a good old moan will make it taste a lot better. To test this theory I googled ‘benefits of moaning’ and, expectedly, the internet gave me a lecture on sexual vocalisation. Then I got a grip and googled ‘benefits of complaining’ and got an article that nailed it: whining—more accurately expressed as futile complaining—helps you feel better when the world fails to match up to your expectations. Granted, it makes you feel better the way six shots of tequila do, not the way a daily morning jog does, but then you’re whining for the same reason as you’re drinking six tequila shots: to immediately relieve discomfort. The author says a lot of nitpicky stuff about the fine line between finding a connection to the person you’re whining to, and alienating them, but the burden of his song is that it’s evolutionarily not a bad thing.

So try it out. Go out to dinner with a friend and try a nice long vent. If your abdomen ends up on your plate beside your eyestalks, change tack and go to your happy place instead.

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