We’ve all been in the situation before; you’re making small talk with someone at a party and all of a sudden they begin to bring up all of their ridiculously impressive accomplishments. A shiver of self-consciousness runs down your spine, I never went on a mission trip to Africa! I never raised money to save starving children in third world countries!
Your mind races, searching for something impressive to say, but all you can seem to think of are a myriad of lame anecdotes. No one cares that you and your second cousin were in the background of a Weather Channel special, or that you renewed your drivers license at the DMV in under 30 minutes this year!
In these moments of panic, the best advice we have for you dear reader is to draw upon your intellect and pretend to be smarter than you actually are. Traveling and raising money is great, but it’s nothing compared to quoting esoteric classics or using GRE level words with passable confidence.
First, decide upon something intellectual to talk about, usually a book or major historical work. Adam Smith won’t work because, while everyone’s heard of The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith sounds like a buddy from your college fraternity who played football for one semester before fracturing his collarbone. You could quote Sun Tzu, 可是你也不会说中文也不年中文 (but you neither speak nor can read Chinese). With limited options, you’re forced to turn to one of the most famous yet vaguely understood authors, Voltaire.
Ah, Voltaire! Most noted for writing Candide (a safe choice because the only people who know what it’s about have actually read it), Voltaire used satire and his wit to attack establishment France during the Enlightenment and promoted several of the democratic rights we hold dear today. Oh, you should probably be taking notes, there’ll be a quiz at the end of this article.
When explaining Candide, even if you understand the plot, don’t get too caught up in the details. Just focus on the buzzwords like “bourgeois, enlightenment,” mention that you read a think piece on it in the New Yorker, whatever it takes to really sell the point that you’re refined and classy.
There are obviously a lot of challenges that come along with pretending to read a book. You run the risk of someone asking you about specifics of the plot, or even worse, having actually read it. If your host starts looking at you fishy or has actually read Candide, never fear! The one failsafe method to keep from being caught: quoting the original French.
If someone starts asking you questions or threatens to steal your spotlight, just blurt out “Cela est bien dit, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin.” It means “Excellently observed, but let us cultivate our garden,” one of the most famous quotes from the satire. Knowing the French immediately makes you seem really edgy and cool, like a rebellious boyfriend with both a motorcycle and tattoos.
If all these above methods don’t work, you can always spurt random phrases in French to distract the partygoers from not believing you. To boost your social status even more, you can even throw on a beret while saying the following sentences!
Tout le monde pense que si quelque chose était écrit en français, il serait raffiné et cultivé.
(Everyone thinks that if something is written in French, it is refined.)
Donc, il arrive qu’on emploie le français pour avoir l’air d’être raffiné, cultivé…en d’autres termes, prétentieux! (As a result, it happens that some use french to have a vibe of being refined, in other words, pretentious!)
Go on out there and wow everyone with your pseudo-intellectualism! And don’t forget the quiz: hopefully you’ll get at 10/10 just like this book!
Alex has an honorary doctorate from the Kim Dan Institute of Higher Learning in Book Reviews. He is also working on becoming ordained as a minister online.