Seven Shapes of Smug


So there I am, watching So You Think You Can Like to Dance, when out of the corner of my left eye, I see something strolling across the lounge wall. It is the size of my hand (at least) and as menacing as a Pikitup guy come Festive Season.

Where oh where are my heroic, strutting, spider-catching friends when I need them, I think to myself as I start packing. Your superiority is unbearable – but I need you!

Which got me to thinking about superior people: the better and the smug. We all have elements of this, of course, even if our superiority lies only in pointing out the insufferability of others.  So here goes…

Spider catchers

Yes, there are those who can and those who won’t, and those who can have every right to be proud of their courage. As one who won’t, I feel girly and spineless in the presence of a spider catcher. I watch in awe as they pop the Tupperware bowl over the intruder, slip the water and lights bill underneath, and cavalierly carry their prey across the road to the park, returning to bow modestly while expressing amazement that I can’t do it. Vaughan, Kathleen, I bow to you and you have every right to demand your place in the Annals of Animal Wrangling.

All consumers

There’s no question that it is a massive social and personal advantage to be able to eat anything put in front of you from Vietnam to Vryburg. I admire you but I don’t want to be like you. People who eat anything are always smug, always boastful – ‘Oh I’m sooo lucky. I can eat anything. Snails? Had ’em for breakfast. Tripe? Give me seconds. Sea urchins? As soon as I’m done with the lobster entrails’ tinkly laugh, wink – and always make us difficult eaters feel like …. Difficult eaters.

Difficult eaters

I confess that I am a difficult eater: gluten bloats me and makes my joints swell like granny’s; more than a smidge of butter, cheese or cream causes awkward swirly-headedness and nausea; animal fat makes me fat and achy. I am not proud of this and do not like being this way.  Some lesser souls, however, positively delight in their inability to tolerate anything other than hand-reared tilapia with home-grown kale and seasonal fruits. We get it. You are delicate, conscious. Just remember to factor in the environmental impact of getting your organic spinach from the slopes of Kilimanjaro to your wok.

The naked and the tanned

Listen, I’m as guilty of this as anyone – even though I generally sport my measly tan only in the tanning season. A tan means you’ve been places, done things Outdoors, spent money. It gives you a healthy glow that cunningly disguises blemishes, wobbly bits, wrinkles, and skin damage. A tan allows you to expose flesh that the pasty hide beneath floaty tops. And a winter tan … well there’s nothing more smug-making; you’ve had a summer somewhere bloody exotic (remind me to tell you about my trip to Zanzibar) while the rest of us are struggling with blocked flues and noses. You win. But we don’t like you for it.

Parents of a greater child

From the moment of birth, each child born is a vast improvement on all others. Their eyes are more alert, fine motor skills finer, verbal abilities more advanced… And throughout their little lives, all children are measured against all others. The top three Greater Child categories are Intelligence, Physical Prowess, and Talent. It’s the latter that saves most parents, as Talent includes Kindness, Helpfulness and Creativity. The problem is that the sole merit of having a Greater Child is not that the child is more likely to be happier, nicer or more successful; it is purely that said child gives us something to brag about. Which is fine by me.

The hidden-talented

There is little purpose in having a hidden talent if no one knows about it. What’s the point in being able to hypnotise a chicken, juggle steak knives, light a fire with nothing more than a nail file and pocket fluff if you don’t share that skill with others? It’s not surprising that the hidden-talented manage to inject ‘This pasta is delicious. It reminds me of the time I spoke Swahili so fluently that the Chief invited me to bed his daughter. Pass the parmigiana’ into the dinner conversation. We all think you’re a vulgar show-off, but long to be able to compete. I’m still looking for my hidden talent, and will be sure to let you know when I do.

The brutally honest and the piously virtuous

I’m putting this lot together because they are both equally insufferable. Priding yourself on your honesty is a euphemism for Telling it Like You Think it Is. Which often has nothing to do with how it really is. The rest of us can tell the difference. Virtuous people have never divorced; never got drunk or smoked pot; never flirted with the vicar; never eaten KFC, or taken their tops off in a bar. They are dull dull dull. And slappably smug. The upside of this, of course, is that the brutally honest and the piously virtuous make the rest of us feel rebellious, edgy and interesting. And if that’s not something to feel smug about, what is?

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