I’m experiencing a little culture shock in one particular area after one year back in the American landscape. My inward zapping is caused by what I call the American male insult culture.
The most recent experience I have had with this phenomena was at a men’s retreat at my church. In my small group I had just shared that my tendency is to be a curmudgeon and isolate myself. If I encounter problems with people, I told my comrades that I “takemy marbles and go home.”
As we finished our discussion and it was time to break up, one of the church leaders said:”Well, it’s time to take my marbles and go home.” There was laughter in the group.
I didn’t feel like laughing. In fact, I felt a little like I had been mocked. It wasn’t the first time.
Once I walked into the Starbucks that I frequent and one of the older male baristas got a look at my Baltimore sports apparel. He said to me,”There’s Mr. Baltimore.”
I didn’t think it was funny for a person in a customer service role to make a comment like that. I later told my wife about the incident and said that that man was in the wrong job.
I have been reflecting on my encounters with the American male animal since I got back and tried my hand at a little cultural anthropology. I believe I have confirmed to myself that the American man uses slams to bond with other males.
I should have known, or maybe I already did know. Once in Finland I was having a coffee break with some colleagues. During this time I was making comments to the young Finnish guy at the table.
Finally, one of the Finnish females shouted “leave him alone!” I was a little taken aback. I looked at my Canadian female colleague and said,”Tell her that in North America that we show that we like you by insulting you.” My Canadian friend said,”That’s right.” She got me off the hook.
I suppose I have become more of a European than I realized. I feel a bit of a sting when other American men make snide remarks to me. What I have to remember is that they actually are showing that they like me!
Lynn Schabe of the West Virginia “State Journal” writes:
“The putdown is the ultimate in male bonding, reserved for family and old friends as a sign of affection and for co-workers as a good-natured bid for dominance. This involves delivering the better insult. My ex-husband was a champion of this type of communication. If a good friend walked into our store, my ex-husband might say, ‘That’s a fine-looking suit you’re wearing. Too bad they didn’t have your size.’ Jumping into the competition, the old friend would respond, ‘Look who’s talking: the man who hasn’t seen his feet in years.’ This interplay isn’t malicious; it’s not meant to be mean; it’s all in good fun. In fact, this is how men show affection: the more offending the insult, the greater the bond.”
In a Washington “Post” report, sociologist Kevin Delaney notes,”Men use insults as a way to bond with one anther, perverse as that sounds. They check out whether they can insult the other guy and will he still stay with me? They are measuring their friendships.”
So, guys, if you love me you’ll insult me!