Being Badass

I wrote this months ago and never posted it, because I couldn’t tell if it was a joke or not. I still can’t tell – I’ll leave it up to you.

A while ago Midnight and I were joking around, and she asked me what my secret was – “How can you be so badass?” Needless to say, I cracked up immediately. But I did start thinking about it, and I realized that I actually do know the rules.

There are two Cardinal Laws of Badassery, and you only need to follow one. (If you are truly spectacular, you may even be able to pull off both.)
1) Be so frickin scary no one messes with you
2) Know how to laugh at yourself

Then there are two . . . sublaws, not quite as important but still useful:
3) No situation is awkward unless you say so
4) Be yourself – or at least be consistent

So. Here we go:

1) Be so frickin scary no one messes with you
This is definitely the easiest way to go for fictional characters, but in real life (and frequently in fiction), it is nigh impossible to pull this off properly. You end up just being a jerk, and no one likes a jerk. Part of being badass is that you are cool. People Brutalmay hate you a little, or even a lot, but they admire and respect you as well. No one respects a playground bully. However, if you adhere to a strict code of honor and are rigorously fair and all that jazz, it will often work, and you can be Shogun. The main problem is that you can always be outclassed by someone badder than you. There is no exception.

2) Know how to laugh at yourself
This one is much harder, because laughing at yourself is a hard skill to acquire. (Note that I do not mean laughing at your own jokes.) Once you’ve got it, though, and if you can maintain it, you are bulletproof for all time. Your detractors can mock you as much as they want; if you mock right along with them, they look stupid and you look like the bigger man. Everyone in the room can be laughing at you, but if you laugh with them the joke is suddenly on the mockers. This will often gain you respect, as people realize you are stronger – and cooler – than they expected. Bonus points if the mockers get all flustered and start shouting, because then all you have to do is keep grinning. Even more bonus points if you’re polite and sympathetic (and maybe just the tiniest bit patronizing – don’t overdo it) as they turn apoplectic and incoherent. (Make sure you actually are in a public place with some sort of authority to stop things if it gets physical, or else make sure you know karate.)

In other words, the main point is to keep your cool. Cutting wit is a definite advantage, but should be used carefully as it can make you just as much of a bully. This Cardinal Law is much more practical in everyday life, as it’s more conducive to actually having friends and such and doesn’t require Mad Ninja Skills. It’s also much harder to be outclassed by someone who’s badder than you, because you’ll probably just end up grinning at each other and going out for ice cream – especially if you follow the rule of Do Not Do Unto Others Until They Have Done Unto You, also known as Don’t Be the One Who Started It.

3) No situation is awkward unless you say so
Basically, refuse to be fazed by anything that should be embarrassing. This is easier if you haven’t actually done anything to be embarrassed about – if it looks worse than it actually is – but all it really requires is the confidence that anything can be fixed by a dazzling smile and/or that anyone who insists on misunderstanding the situation, especially after you’ve explained, is not worth getting worked up over. If you have done something to be embarrassed over, then just shrug, accept the consequences and move on. It is rarely that big a deal. This law also applies to awkward silences, where the rule is that if you don’t want the silence to be awkward, it’s not. End of story. Just turn on your Inner Contentedness and watch the clouds go by or something.

4) Be yourself – or at least be consistent
We’ve all heard this one before: just be yourself, and the world will fall madly in love with you. Birds will sing when you pass. Anything you want will be half-price. Traffic jams will never happen when you’re in a hurry. Flowers will blossom in your footsteps, sometimes through solid asphalt. Basically, Be Yourself and your life is one long happy Disney movie.

Obviously, that’s not the way real life works. But it is true that if you refuse to bend to social pressure in regards to what is the ‘correct’ way of acting, speaking or thinking, people will be impressed. (It may take time. It may also never happen, particularly if you don’t draw much attention to begin with. People are not all that observant.) Thing is, this doesn’t just apply to Being Yourself. It also applies to projecting an Image and sticking to it. Whether the Image you project to the world is the ‘real you’ or not, you ought to be consistent in projecting it.

This is where my own personal values come into conflict with my Laws of Badassery: I believe that you should do your best to Be the Person You Want To Be (by which I mean you should take care to acquire virtues and strengths that you consider important, such as patience or empathy, and make them part of yourself and not just a mask you wear). Being Badass, Badasshowever, is frequently subject to popular opinion of you, so you may wish to watch out with this one. It may be more useful to project an Image that fits you well enough that upholding it won’t be a trial. This can lead to its own problems, especially if you’re still in the process of growing as a person (teenagers, beware), but it’s a safer way to public acceptance, particularly because you can tailor your Image to suit the society you’re living in.

There are other rules, but they’re all circumstantial, depending on who you are and whom you’re trying to impress. For some people it’s things like appearance, wealth, lots of friends/followers and so on; for others it’s having a particular talent or skill at which they excel, often sports but really just anything; for others it’s standing up to authority, being a rebel, being outside of what’s mainstream. That can be important – how important depends on the society you’re in – but what really matters is how you deal with friends and acquaintances, face down challenges, and handle the world you live in.

Three Sheets to the Wind*

Getting plastered is an intrinsic part of the Danish culture. The legal drinking age is 16; people learn to handle their alcohol, or at least to recognize when they’re drunk, long before they’re given anything dangerous like a car. They serve alcohol at school parties. Some parents, when their kids turn sixteen, take them out to get drunkNot out drinking: out getting drunk.

You can choose to be shocked and disgusted, or you can shrug and accept it. I still find it repugnant when people look so . . . so pasty and awful, as if their faces were made of wax and it was melting a bit. There’s this boy in my class who’s kind of cute – I wasn’t interested in anyone, but I thought if I did get interested, it might well have been in him. Then I saw him like that at a party. It was so nasty. Completely put me off him.

Sometimes people throw up – sometimes just right there on the ground. Sometimes they have a sudden nervous breakdown, dissolve into tears and shriek whenever anyone gets close. More often, though, they just go way too wild and do stuff they normally wouldn’t. Sometimes they start making out with someone they just met. Sometimes it goes further than that. Sometimes they just lie down in a corner and sleep for an hour.

However, exactly because it’s a part of the culture, most people can hold their liquor pretty well. Even when they’re going totally crazy, many of them know full well just how drunk they are. They still have limits and standards and all that jazz; their standards are just different. They have ‘alcohol standards’.

Danes drink to get drunk so they’ll have an excuse. So they can say, “I’d never do that, I only did it because I was wasted.” That’s the sad part of this whole business, really. They need an excuse to act crazy. They can’t just go wild at parties and admit that that’s part of who they are, too. Plenty of Danes will placidly agree that this is a problem; they just don’t seem inclined to do anything about it. Then, of course, there are those who will tell you that no, they don’t drink because they have to but because they want to, and they’re perfectly capable of going nuts without alcohol, thank you very much.

This is more true of some than of others. It would be silly to say it wasn’t true at all, though, because – as far as I can tell – inebriation doesn’t usually make people act unlike themselves. They do things that their shyness or common sense would normally advise against, but they don’t act against their natures. So all it takes is not letting your shyness get the better of you in day-to-day situations. Furthermore, because Danes learn to drink heavily from an early age, they (usually) learn to maintain a certain amount of control even while under the influence of alcohol. A violent person learns to curb their anger, for example, and a clumsy person learns to get help when walking down stairs (or just walking). People learn to recognize how drunk they are, and to know whether they need help getting home. For once, peer pressure comes in handy: it’s understood that throwing up and such is a difficult-to-avoid side effect of alcohol, but it’s not cool. Falling down stairs and otherwise injuring yourself (and especially others) is even less so. Getting into fights is unacceptable. Your friends will still stand by you, of course, but they’ll be spitting mad at you for being so stupid.

“Peer pressure?” I hear you cry. “But isn’t there a terrible pressure to get totally sloshed?”

Not quite. While it’s expected that you will drink, and it’s almost equally expected that you’ll get drunk, no one insists on it. Because it’s an accepted part of the general culture and not something do to be ‘in’, you don’t have to drink to be part of the group. I mean, you have to put up with all the staggering people and the repetitive comments, and you have to be able to laugh and dance with them and generally act like you’re having fun. But the alcohol is not mandatory.

They tend to think that if you’re not loaded, you’re missing out. So they will try to coax you into drinking, but it’s out of a genuine desire to see you enjoying yourself. They don’t want to annoy or insult you; if you’re firm about saying no, they’ll back off immediately.** A few weeks ago I was sitting with some of my classmates at a friend’s birthday party and someone asked why I wasn’t drinking. “I don’t drink,” I answered with a shrug. “Not for any moral or religious reason or anything. I just don’t want to.”

“Don’t you think you should try it?” one of the boys asked with a grin. “Just once. Come on, we’d watch out for you.” I just smiled back and told him that no, I’d rather not, and of course it’s not because I don’t trust you guys, I just don’t want to drink.

“Aw, come on,” he persisted, but immediately people started jumping down his throat for pressuring me. He immediately went on the defensive – “No, no, I wasn’t pressuring her! I was just suggesting it!” I laughed and tried to say that I understood and it was really okay. I don’t need help defending my choices, but I was rather touched by how firmly they all defended my right to decide for myself.

What with all the American movies and TV shows and such going around the world, Danish teenagers are just as aware of the Evils of Peer Pressure and Exclusion as any American kid. And unlike so many American teens, they actually take the message to heart. If you show willing to be part of the group, people will make room for you. If you’re different, people will make a conscious effort to show you that that’s alright. People tend to be friends with those they resemble; but that doesn’t mean you have to put down those you don’t resemble. People here – the people I know, anyway – they understand this.

Anyway, in conclusion: Denmark may have a serious national drinking problem, but it has various positive side effects, and at least there isn’t widespread paranoia about it like in the US. There is a general societal pressure to get tipsy at parties, but no one will shun you if you refuse, particularly if you can go totally wild without a sip. Peer pressure is less of a problem when people are careful about applying it. Sometimes it even helps: it’s just as well that Danes learn to cope with alcohol while they’re still teens and thus particularly susceptible to popular opinion of themselves, as that way they learn to follow proper norms of behavior. Alcoholism is, of course, a serious problem, but drinking doesn’t always lead to it.

 

All that being said, a few weeks ago thousands of Danish high school kids went to Prague on vacation, and awful things happened. The kids were there pretty much exclusively to get drunk, and they succeeded. There were trashed hotel rooms, vandalism, and even knifings. Yes, actual knifings. I don’t remember if any of these knifings resulted in death, but they were pretty serious. This was not representative of the entire Danish teenage population, but it is still a problem that really ought to be adressed.

If only we had a clue how.

 

*Does anyone know what this really means? I found dozens of synonyms for ‘drunk’ when I wrote this (as I’m sure you can see), but this was – in my opinion – the strangest.

**Please note that all of this is based on my personal experience. I’ve been living here for about four years and have only gone to two schools (basically middle school and high school) in the same part of town. I have no way of knowing how general my experience is except what other people tell me; beyond that I have to go by reasoning and intuition, so I don’t guarantee anything.

Confidence in Friendship

One of my first posts on this blog was about how scared I am that I’m going to lose my friends. Thing is, though, I’m not afraid anymore.

It took less time than I expected. I keep surprising myself. It’s just – I feel so safe with them. They wouldn’t let me down, I know it. They won’t.

I’m not sure what’s brought on my newfound security. Maybe it’s how much fun I have with them when I see them. Perhaps it’s the way they smile when they see me. It could be how even though I can’t have a real conversation with all of them with equal ease, when we’re all together, there’s no awkwardness. It might be the way everyone is always included. No one is more important to anyone than anyone else – there are no pairs of ‘best friends’ who share knowing looks and inside jokes. We’re all in on the inside jokes. I’m not used to being in on everything, I suppose.

In the aforementioned previous post I wrote of a Harry Potter marathon. I thought that perhaps if I went to this and felt included, I would stop being so scared. Well, the Harry Potter marathon is in two days, but for weeks now I haven’t been worried at all. I trust my friends now, and I truly believe that they won’t disappoint me. And I’m ecstatic that I don’t need any specific confirmation of their friendship – that daily encounters and conversations are enough. That everyday life, ordinary as it is, is enough to convince me.

A Mild Concern

My dad reads this blog most mornings at breakfast, on his ipad. My sister drops in periodically and checks it out. My mom still hasn’t looked at it, because she can’t look at it at work and can’t stand the sight of a computer by the time she gets home.

When I was little I never showed my mom my stories, because I knew she’d critique them honestly and I was afraid of such scathing criticism as I was sure would come. It backfired, because by the time I was mature enough to take criticism, she had already been somewhat offended – or perhaps a better word would be miffed – by my reticence. Now she’ll only look at something I write if I literally hand it to her while she’s not busy. It’s a little sad, but I suppose it’s what I get.

I’ve only shown this blog to my immediate family and to Belle. I don’t know when or how much Belle reads, but I know she does sometimes. I’m a little hesitant to show it to anyone else. I want to, because I like sharing of myself with the people who matter to me, but at the same time I’d have to watch myself so much more. I want to write truthfully about what happens around me and how I feel about it, and I’m not sure I can if the people I’m writing about will be reading this.

Perhaps even more worrying is the number of strangers who are visiting my blog. Sorry. I admit I regard the whole thing rather warily, and I think this might be because of just how much of myself I’m exposing in some of these posts. Not that I’m endangering myself – I am fully reconciled with all that I’ve written of myself, and I think you’d have to be Hannibal Lecter to get a rise out of me based on any of it. Still, loner that I am, I regard all forms of attention as suspicious. Don’t get me wrong, I’m flattered, especially by the likes and the follows. Thanks for that. It may just take me a while to get used to it.

Utterly Awesome

Being nice is still not as freaky as being cool. People have called me cool a few times already, and I never know what to do about it. I’m not cool, not at all! I’m just the nerdy one who reads too much, though to be honest I don’t even do that anymore. I don’t know about clothes or sports or music, I enjoy analyzing literature and the grammatical structure of sentences, I never know what’s in until it’s nearly out already. I hate cussing; the strongest word I use is ‘drat’. The most frequent is ‘bother’, for pity’s sake! When people call me cool, I wonder what I’m doing wrong.

When I was in middle school and regularly exchanging insults with people, my mother told me that because I never tried to be cool, I would one day surpass everyone else and be ultracool. This magnificent logic failed to sway me, but sheer persistence on her part led me to consider the prospect more carefully.

After all, what’s admirable to our society? People who stick to what they believe in and refuse to bend under pressure. So maybe my mom was right, and someday I would be ultracool. Sounds nice, I thought, being ultracool. I could read in peace. Then I shrugged. It’ll never happen while I’m still in middle school, I thought pragmatically. Probably not till college, and then I’d have to start over anyway ’cause nobody’d know me. Maybe in my late twenties, when people have gotten mature.

Then I moved to Denmark. People here are different. I haven’t been teased by any of my classmates since I got here – except for the usual insults among friends, but those only happen once you get to know each other, and they don’t count. The closest anyone has come was a boy in my sister’s class who thought I would make a good target, for some unfathomable reason. I smiled tolerantly and struck up friendly conversation with his friends, and he looked ridiculous. He never really bothered me after that.

Danes seem to be of the ‘live and let live’ philosophy. Danish society is founded on solidarity, and they truly believe in putting the group’s interests before your own. This comes with its own problems, but it means that bullying happens a lot less. Or at least that’s my theory, based on my own experience. But then, half the boys from my sister’s class teased her persistently for some time, and Squiggle was driven from her school. I was lucky, in other words; I just don’t know how lucky. I don’t know if my experience here is actually pretty unusual. All I know is that no one has ever been mean to me here, and being foreign and getting good grades is enough for most bullies to go on.

When I walked into the classroom on my first day in gymnasium I saw three groups: the ‘popular girls’, the ‘popular boys’, and everyone else. Unsurprisingly, I was right – but where these ‘popular’ people would have been insufferably stuck up in the US, especially at my middle school, here they’re perfectly normal. It’s true that I don’t have much in common with them, so we don’t really talk much anyway – but if I do talk to them, they’re polite and friendly. I don’t think they particularly like me, but if they dislike me, they don’t make a point of letting me know. Danes just don’t do that, as a rule, at least as far as I can tell.

Maybe I just can’t tell. Last year 2A (which is now 3A) had an exchange student from Georgia called Erik. His dad was Danish and he wanted to experience Denmark and so on, and as it happened, he really liked singing and ended up in the school play. He had a very nice tenor voice and got the lead role – we were doing Across the Universe, so he was Jude. I didn’t have a large part, but I did have a solo at the end – All You Need is Love, actually, which was very fun to sing – and he was supposed to sing the first verse with me. Now, my voice is very deep, and I couldn’t sing the line “It’s easy.” It sounded rather pathetic and weak when I did. So I asked him if he’d be so good as to sing that line every time it came up, which is only three times. He never did, despite my asking multiple times.

Anyway, that was rather an unimportant story. The point is, he didn’t like me. I have no proof of this – what you saw just there is the best I’ve got, and I know full well that that’s nothing – but it’s true.  I recognized it in the way he never spoke to me if he could help it, in the way he grew curt when I joined the conversation. I could feel it, I could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. I knew. To be honest, I don’t mind much – he wasn’t that special – but to this day I wonder why exactly he disliked me. And to this day I wonder if there aren’t actually tons of people who despise me, and I just don’t know it because I can’t sense Danish dislike, only American dislike. It would be kind of funny, I think. Kind of sad too.

I’ve gotten way off topic, haven’t I? That’s the problem with using a blog as a diary. Right, I started off with coolness, so let’s finish this with coolness. Well, when my mother told me about this ultracoolness I would one day attain, I dismissed it as deeply unlikely that anyone my age would agree with her standards. However, on the (thankfully rare) occasions when I have been called cool, it was always because I just did my own thing and didn’t care what others thought. (I know because I always get a deer-in-headlights look on my face when that happens, prompting people to explain.) So in the long run, she was right, and it happened a lot sooner than I expected. I admit that I wonder whether this would be the case in the US, or if American kids would be more like Erik. But for now, at least, I have the pleasure of knowing that the society I’m in approves of my philosophy of living. I hope I’ll always be able to surround myself with people like that, but even if I’m not, at least now I know they exist.