We all know the One-Upper, right? The person who always owns something a little better, did something a little more interesting, knows about something a little more in-depth than you do. Those one-uppers know how to bring a good conversation to a screeching halt. You just can’t compete. They win, they always do…
How about the One-Upper of Suffering? Have you met this person before? In a way, I guess they could be called the One-Downers (formerly know as Debbie Downers, but let’s stop picking on Debbie).
Whatever you have, the One-Downers currently don’t have and are making do without. Whatever frustration you’re feeling, they have more legitimate reasons to be frustrated. Whatever you don’t have at all, they somehow have even less of it. Much like the One-Uppers, you can’t win with the One-Downers. Or maybe you can’t lose? I don’t even know anymore.
A conversation might look like this:
Me: I’m not going to lie, I was a little bummed today when I realized our local grocery store was all out of their imported Dr. Peppers. I guess that fountain of brown sugary goodness has officially run dry.
The One-Downer: At least you have a grocery store. All we have are open markets in our city. I’m lucky to get lettuce that hasn’t been chewed on by a rat.
Or how maybe you’ve had an experience similar to this one:
Me: We found a new house to rent! I’m so excited. The walls will need some paint; especially in the front room …it’s bright green. Hideous, am I right?
The One-Downer: At least you have color on the walls. Our walls are white and the owner won’t let us paint them.
Here’s another one of my favorites:
Me: Today hasn’t been so great. We were supposed to be getting two care packages in the mail and we only got one. I’m pretty sure one of the post office employees swiped it because the tracking number shows that it arrived here. I just hate that people put so much work into getting that package here to us and we didn’t even receive it.
The One-Downer: Oh, people still send you care packages? That must be nice.
A note to the One-Downer:
OK! You win! …or lose, or whatever! Tell me, because I’m truly curious, what is the intent behind all of your statements? Do you want me to know that you have it worse? That your decision to live abroad has brought about a greater sacrifice in life than it has in mine? Is there a hint of passive-aggressiveness in your “at least you have…” remarks or are you simply trying to redirect my thoughts from sadness to gladness and bitterness to thanksgiving? I have news for you: the latter is not happening thanks to your poorly placed reminder that “it could be worse.”
I know it’s a perk to have a supermarket or a Starbucks in town. I know one care package is better than no care packages at all. I know my broken kitchen appliance is a “first world problem.” And yes, for the love, I know it could always be worse.
But can we please stop belittling our fellow expats’ struggles and momentary hardships? Can we please just give a listening ear and let them vent? Or lean a shoulder over for them to cry-it-out on? And if they are having a moment that’s worth celebrating, don’t be the rain cloud.
Please and thank you.
We’re all on the same side, people. This isn’t a contest. No one should be trying to win the award for “Expat Who Gave Up the Most When Moving Abroad”.
Good ol’ Theodore Roosevelt knew what he was talking about when he so eloquently reminded us, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This expat life isn’t for the faint of heart. We all gave up a lot. We all took a big risk. There will never be a good time to compare what you have or don’t have to another fellow expat. Not only will you rob yourself of joy, you’ll yank the joy right out from under your friends too.
Living in a culture that’s not our own comes with its really gloomy lows and its really awesome highs. Let’s be that expat friend that meets people where they’re at. Celebrate with them when they find an imported treat. Feel bummed with them when the culture is stressing them out.
And should any of us be so lucky to have a friend or two like that, we’ll know they’ll choose the moments wisely when they (being full of grace and wisdom, not contempt and bitterness) give the well-placed reminder, “Hey, it could be worse.”