Posted by / Category London /

In my seven years in London, I think that I have been lectured like never before. I have had my fair share of condescending comments and guess what: I can’t take it anymore.  From now on, I will fight, with humoristic weapons, all condescending comments. Simply put: enough is enough! On top of this, I hate to be patronised.

In this country you see, condescending comments are made in a very subtle way, which means that the answer must be adapted. Here are a few examples and some suggested responses –feel free to add more in the comment section, we need to devise a strategy for each type of comment and fight consistently:
1.       “We need to tread more carefully with you women every month.”I confronted the author of this comment and told him that it was plain sexist. He maintained that no, it was the opposite:  he understands women and knows that they are more difficult to handle at this time of the month. I was fuming. The next time he was a bit nervous, I asked him whether he had PMT. It did the trick. He hasn’t mentioned it ever since.
2.       “He is very bright: he had a first at Oxford”. This basically implies that you are plain stupid (the Brits find it hard to believe that they are other universities than theirs in the whole world – Something to do with living in an island perhaps). You should point out that he is nearing 50, and things change in 30 years, you know. Not to mention that he hits on his 4-year old PA (what an old pig!).
3.       “I am sure that knowing X, Y or Z helped you get the job”. That one is a classic. There is no point in denying it, it would make your case even worse (“she is trying to justify herself”). The best defence, in this case, is to attack. Your various lines of attack range from “yes, we made out on the sofa last week. It was intense. You should try it, it is obviously the sort of things you have never experienced.” to “yes, and I even got my friend the Prime Minister involved. He is the Godfather of my son, you know”.
4.       “Why didn’t you tell me that we had a meeting today?” Well, if you had opened your inbox surely you would have seen it. The fact that you “worked from home” last Friday didn’t help. (“working from home”, in my company, usually means that you are in reality taking some undeclared leave. I am one of the unhappy few who is not “working from home” on Fridays. Go figure).
5.       “You can work late because you have a nanny”. Well, I actually pay for it, you disorganised moron!
The list doesn’t stop here.  There is always the old trick of saying “that’s a very condescending comment, isn’t it?”, but all it will achieve is a long-winded justification that no, it is not a condescending comment. Or it wasn’t meant to be.
I sometimes ignore such comments, just to give me a break. Is it worth educating the guy/woman who has made the comment? I wonder.
Please let me know how you fight condescending comments. We simply need to eradicate them -and frankly, I think that I have had all I can take!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London
  • ugh too many institutions are dominated by the same phenotype of middle class (mostly white) males. They dont get the need to juggle home and work as they never had too. How to change it – I dont know. We for example hold our important departmental meetings at 530pm. Why 530pm? why not lunchtime or 8am? I personally would prefer to get home to my baby after a day at work, having been here since 730am. But that would be seen as weak and female I guess.

  • I feel for you. My only advice would be to stand your ground and ask to move the time of the meeting. Make a fuss. Eventually, they will respect you for it. Or maybe, try to call them at 1am, when your little one is teething.

  • “I am sure that knowing X, Y or Z helped you get the job”.

    Alas, I am VERY familiar with this line from my past life in the corporate world. That’s what middle fingers are for 😉

  • Same here Sam. Being French, if someone else is even remotely speaking French in another department, surely that’s why I got the job. Pathetic.

  • I’m torn here. Being responsibly assertive as you stand your ground means respecting the rights and feelings of the jackass who just insulted you. At the same time, being silent isn’t an option. Sarcasm that other observers (not the jackass) would find humorous might begin to deliver the message – humorous exposing the jackass for being a jackass. You also want a clear message that you’re not one to be trifled with.

    As a male, I’ve not been in most of those situations, but I’ve seen or heard them occasionally. Good luck.

    As Gloria Steinem once remarked – you’ll have to be twice as good as a man to be considered his equal, but fortunately it’s not that difficult.

  • @ Thom – Thanks for your comment. I have to say that such comments may come from male or female colleagues. Being a jackass is not reserved to men. Anyway, having a thick skin always helps!

  • For some reason, I apparently give off this “intimidating” air – I rarely get such comments. In all fairness, it’s hard to condescend to someone who both intimidates and towers over you, so I’m sure that my 5’11” frame also comes in handy at times when someone might be tempted. I wonder if this is why I so rarely take offense at anything – it’s not often given, and when it is, I don’t bottle up my reaction. I have a variety of interesting facial expressions that convey just how I feel about condescending, supercilious, pushy, or stupid comments. 😉 I rarely even have to voice it. What I do have to do is exercise some restraint – a pea shooter does not deserve a barrage of cannon fire.

    P.S. LOVE the CAPTCHA code this morning on this comment: galldat. As in, “Cheeky, condescending woman! Takes some galldat!”

  • @ Holly – I will have to work on my facial expressions then. Sometimes, I am so cross that I pretend I didn’t hear/didn’t understand the comment. Doesn’t always work. Maybe I need to buy some higher heels?

  • My sister works for the same company I work for. She has been here for nearly 30 years. I have been here for 17 years….and still to this day I am told I only got my job because of my sister. Its pathetic. Also as I am in the technology field which is mostly men…..I am constantly hearing these types of remarks or spoken to in a condescending tone. It drives me crazy but it also drives me to be more awesome at my job.

  • @ Jennifer – I admire you for not blowing a gasket…I think I would have. How did you manage to stay so positive?

  • Here’s the secret to dealing with British men of a certain type: you look them in the eye, you open your mouth to speak, then wait for longer than they expect, then smile like their old nanny used to and say: “Oh, grow up, (their name, preferably in the diminutive)” Works a treat.

  • I agree completely Muriel that the Brits are no. 1 in the condescention department. It is probably a leftover from colonialism and days of Britain’s Empire, and I think you have to fight it head on like you are. If you don’t, it won’t go away and will possibly get worse.

  • I am fighting Elizabeth, I am fighting. But I am a bit tired of it all!

  • @ Deborah – I will try it tomorrow and report back.

  • Oh god, I think we might work together!! I can’t win, I’m either too girly, or too much of a ball crunching bitch. Strangely the men never get described like that

  • I have learned over the years that what works for me, with asshole people in general or people who are rude/condescending is to kill them with kindness. It was difficult at first because I’m pretty much a smartass all of the time ha, but two smartasses will just try to out smartass each other. So I adopted the kill them with kindness method. If the person is especially disagreeable, this makes them crazy. It’s kind of fun to see them lose their cool more and more while you’re just being sweet as can be 🙂

  • I liked 3 the best. Humor works, I think. I don’t have this experience w/ the Brit men so let us know how Deborah’s approach works out. 🙂
    However, I get a lot of condescending comments, usually from bitchy women. I like smiling at them. They seem put off by that and like it irks them to think I recognized their condescending comment and am NOT HURT by their stupid idiot remark. Sometimes I even giggle a little which seems to piss them off more. They can’t seem to stand that I am still happy even while they thought they underhandedly insulted me.

  • Being a successful woman in the workplace is not easy, but there’s a reason for your success and they can’ take that away from you. Pick your battles as it may give them the satisfaction to see you rattled. There is always a way to strike back when they least expect it. ;p

  • As a non-assertive Asian, I think such situations would be doubly hard for me. I can totally understand your frustration as I go crazy myself when I end up bottling my feelings and keeping quiet when someone offends me and I don’t get the opportunity to assert my self. Since the Brits are known for their dry humour and sarcasm, I do picture myself going with Sam’s suggestion above…the middle finger would probably be my best friend and give it with a an equally sarcastic smile that will confuse them. Good luck on this Muriel! And kudos to your for having a game plan!

  • So glad I found your blog through lucylastica!

    I have tried the ‘educating them’ route following a condescending comment, but tend to find that it makes me more irate, and doesn’t change their view at all. I’ve now taken to highlighting their stupidity on my blog – it is really very therapeutic, even if ‘they’ never see it…and it gives the added benefit of others commenting and reassuring me that it is not me who is failing!

    Sam x

  • I, now, always deal with comments like this by asking questions, relentlessly: “I’m sorry I can’t quite see your reasoning, can you explain it?” And then I repeat back to them their explanation, which will invariably be illogical and contradictory. Most people don’t have any reasoning behind such remarks, they are emotionally driven, so when asked to explain they get themselves in a pickle. They are also forced to examine their prejudices, and no one likes to do that.

    I’ve never felt stupid on being told someone has a first from Oxford. It’s just one of those things people say to convince one of another’s intelligence, and not generally a comment on the intelligence of the person they are speaking to.

    Came via She Writes, btw.

  • Ooooo you got my blood boiling with the meeting thing. What about sitting in a meeting room for 15 minutes waiting for everyone to show up, then going back to your desk since no one had showed up after 20 minutes, only to be called 5 minutes later and asked ‘Where are you? We are all here waiting.’ grrrr

  • You crack me UP, Muriel! The ‘disorganized moron’ bit, especially!

    I find that laughing in return (as in AT them) always helps. If for no other reason than it makes them wonder if you are crazy. No one likes to mess with a crazy person. On top of that, I wish I could give you an arsenal of one-liners to bury them with wit! Hold your head high, dear Muriel. They only attack when their foundation is crumbling and they see someone else standing firm.:)

  • I am currently out of the work force, but I remember receiving comments that sent me through the roof. I must admit, I was not very diplomatic. Usually I attacked and with limited success. Hang in there and don’t let these ridiculous comments get you down.

  • I’m a self-employed writer, so I work at home – no really, I actually work at home. That helps tremendously with reducing condescending remarks, even though I still spend plenty of time around people. I think it’s because I’m no longer part of a political hierarchy, in which people who lack confidence attempt to increase their social standing by making others look foolish. When I do confront condescension, I usually only bother with two defenses: 1) giving a withering stare that says “I know what you’re up to, but I care too little about your opinion of me to bother with a reply,” and 2) consistently doing my work better than they do – I find that’s not too hard, as condescending people rarely behave that way because they’re superior. I also try to ensure I have witnesses to my efforts, in case their next step is to try to take credit for my work.

  • At some time or other, I’ve heard all the above comments. Like you, I’d fashion brilliant retorts in my mind that rarely if ever were used. I did like what someone commented above, “Grow up.” Or the American, “Get a life.” Or other short, cutting rejoinders. Maybe make a list and haul them out as needed. However, a certain type of Brit (female as well as male) has hundreds of years of ingrained genetic training in condescending comments. And lecturing you or telling you off is in their blood. I rarely could find the right words to stand up to them. To this day, I’m often left with the words on my lips so I can’t tell you how to fight back except maybe say, “Don’t patronize me.” I have said that to some effect and got back a gurgled excuse – sometimes.

  • Do you think the condescending comments are only happening in London, I think not, many of them are universal and unfortunately the majority of them come from our male counterparts.
    I work from home building up my business, its not economically viable yet but it will be. I encounter the ‘work from home’ put downs regularly. I try to propose counter arguments but to no avail!!!!
    The answer = undeniable results that might silence them!

  • Funny I should run into your post at this very moment. I was just at my son’s doctor, and after each over-the-counter medication he suggested I try for my son’s rash, he asked, “Do you know what that is?” as if, a.) everyone on Earth should know what each piece of medicine available to man is, medical degree or no; or, b.) I’m a complete moron. Of course I know what hydrocortisone cream is. I can’t list off the ingredients or FDA’s list of uses, but I’ve seen it, asshole!

    Anyway, sorry for MY little rant. This is about YOU, not me. I have that problem sometimes.

    I’m a fan of throwing back in people’s faces how asinine their comments are (Except when it’ my mother-in-law. I have to bite my tongue then, and believe me, that’s a lot of tongue biting!)

    Alas, I digress, AGAIN. While sarcasm is my way of handling such comments, I’ve heard it’s not the best thing to do from those who seem to have their lives together, so maybe you should just ignore me. Upon further thought, yep. I’m positive. Pretend I was never here.

    P.S. Visiting from She Writes 🙂

  • Hi Muriel –

    Have you ever considered to just smile back at them and ask, “What can I do to become better?” Let’s see how they respond back. Maybe you can play this one: “You know, I agree with you and you’re so much more brilliant than I am. What would you do?”

  • @ Maggie – yes, we must work together. Which floor are you on?
    @ Lalia – good technique. But teh thing is: I am not patient at all. I am not sure I could do it. How do you find the patience?
    @ Stacey – I think I need to move to the US. the Brits are all about condescending comments.
    @ Sweepy Jean – You are right. I need to pick my fights. But sometimes such comments really push me over the edge. Maybe I need a holiday!
    @ Joy – Glad I am not the only one in this. Somehow I am not bold enough to use my middle finger. Maybe I should…

  • @ Sam from Sconch textiles – writing a blog is therapeutic isn’t it? I hope that, one day, they will read it!
    @ Eryl – believe me, the Oxford thing was a comment on my intelligence. And I didn’t like it!
    @ Janine – Do we work in the same company? What you are describing is a classic!
    @ Brynne – Thanks for your kind words. I am starting to wonder whether I am cut out for the Corporate world…