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Jonathan's Coffeeblog: Kvetching

2:53 PM Thursday, December 4, 2008

[It's the economy, stupid.]

What, Me Kvetch (Coffeeblog)

A joke: Somewhere, back in Russia, a traveler gets on a train and sits down next to an old Jewish man. Before long, the old Jewish man starts muttering, "Oy, am I thirsty." The traveler ignores him, for a while, but the old man persists: "Oy, am I thirsty. Oy, am I thirsty." He keeps it up and finally the traveler can stand it no longer. He gets up, walks to a car where drinks are sold, and buys a bottle of water. The old man accepts it gratefully, drinks it, and settles down. A few minutes pass. The traveler can feel the tension building up in the old man sitting next to him. Finally, the tension gets the best of the old man, and he blurts out, "Oy, was I thirsty!"

What was going on there? Kvetching, that's what. Yes kvetching is a kind of complaining. My laptop's Apple thesaurus lists these synonyms of the verb "to complain" - protest, grumble, whine, bleat, carp, cavil, grouse, make a fuss; object, speak out, criticize, find fault, kick up a fuss, raise a stink, bellyache, moan, snivel, beef, bitch, sound off, gripe, kvetch. Kvetching, however, is not merely complaining. That is the fundamental error of the new website kvetch.com, which takes complaints from Twitter and posts them on an ever-changing screen. Complaints though they might be, they do not rise to the level of kvetching. I will attempt to give an example: The battery is half-empty on my laptop, and I have to keep my eye on the level meter before it runs down completely. That's a complaint. Three dollars and ten cents for a medium latte which is smaller than it is medium and this fershlugginer cafe doesn't even have a place to plug in my laptop charger. That's a kvetch.

Why, you might ask, would I be blogging about kvetching now? Why not a year ago, or next year? Excellent question. The answer is simple, "It's the economy, stupid." That phrase became a campaign slogan for Bill Clinton in 1992. Stupid, of course, refers to those people who are unable to grasp the connection between kvetching and the economy. Icelandic bankers, in this context, are not stupid. Bailed-out Russian bankers who are sending their assets offshore, in this context, are not stupid. Detroit auto executives who are now carpooling on their way to Washington, in this context, are not stupid. Even Saudi oil execs, who have seen the price of oil drop to the level it was when I was writing this, in this context, are not stupid. The economy has provided an endless supply of material for kvetches (a noun referring to those who kvetch) around the globe.

I just wrote that the word kvetch has a cultural context, and for those who want to learn the whole cultural context, I recommend this book by Michael Wex. If you can't afford to buy books now because of the fershlugginer economy, you can preview parts of it free on Google Books. However, I have my own take on the evolution of the concept of kvetching within Jewish culture. There is a song, Dayyenu, meaning "for us it would have been enough," which is sung part of the annual Passover celebration of the liberation of Jews from slavery. Dayyenu is actually a series of kvetches in reverse, in my opinion. Each verse thanks God for doing one thing for the liberated Jews, for which they are thankful, without doing the next. Example: "Had He taken care of us for forty years in the desert without feeding us manna, Dayyenu." Well and good, but I can hear the kvetching right now: "Forty fershlugginer years in the desert with nothing but lizards to eat, and lizards aren't even kosher, and they're all eaten up already!"

And that was before the Babylonian captivity, the Seleucid king Antiochus, the destruction of the Second Temple, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And now a rabbi and his wife murdered by mujahideen in Mumbai. Have we Jews earned the right to kvetch? I believe so, but for the rest of you who are not Jewish, feel free. Kvetching is probably good for you. It's better than hitting your wife or dropping thermonuclear weapons.

You can tell when a Jew is preparing to kvetch when you hear the word "oy." It is basically a kvetch alert. Very well, my battery is almost run down and I am going to stop writing. But first I am going to google the phrase "economic recovery plan." There. I just did.


Keywords: context down economy kvetch kvetching oy stupid Coffeeblog

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