Last week, I met one. He wears a tweed vest and a beret. He calls the grand Château de Boigne home. He was responsible for inducting me into local life here in Chambéry with an orientation tour. His name is . . . well, for the purposes of this, his name is Pierre.
It was all going swimmingly when we passed an employment office and I asked whether that was a service for foreigners as well as locals. Pierre looked at me and announced that I would not be seeking work during my stay in France. Obviously he had assumed that my intention was to seek work. Which it was not. I admit I was thinking maybe one day, if I came back maybe, maybe I could work in France. But Pierre was quick to inform me that there is a big problem with unemployment in France, and it would be very wrong for a foreigner to come and take a job away from a local. Unless, he demurred, unless you had a very specialised skill to offer, which was sought after and would contribute positively to the lives of the French. I nodded.
I decided it might be wise to keep my mouth shut and wait to find out where the supermarket was: my main preoccupation at the time. After several months without a fixed address, I was really excited to buy olive oil and sugar and get settled! A few minutes later we came to a stop outside a shop called Monoprix. Reminiscent of David Jones or Harrods, its window displays tastefully exhibited the delectable boutique wares one might find inside. Pierre looked across at me.
‘This is where you can do your shopping.’
‘For food?’ I asked, inhaling sharply. There was no question that a supermarket with window displays was out of my budget.
‘Bah oui, for food.’
So I asked him, ‘is it possible to do the shopping in another supermarket?’ He asked me why. I took a deep breath and plunged in with my basic French. ‘I find that the supermarket in the centre of town are often the more expensive. I search for something more less expensive.’ A combination of incredulity and distaste spread across Pierre’s face. ‘You want to spend less money, but if you spend less, you get less quality. You must eat well, otherwise you are a fool. It is foolish to buy cheap food.’
I tried to explain that I planned to eat well, and that in Australia it is possible to eat well within a number of budgets. It was to no avail. Pierre refused to impart any of his specialised local knowledge, and we drove back to the château in silence. (I later found out about, visited, and purchased plenty of cheap, nutritious and delicious food at two cheap supermarkets, both of which are easy walking distance from where I live).
So. Miser? Killjoy? Cranky pants? No word quite sums it up the way curmudgeon can. It lies somewhere between a critical, bitter old crone and a gently cynical, belligerent old man. In my mind, it somehow gets away without being a real insult. Maybe because its such a fun word to say? I don’t know. What I do know is that I feel comfortable calling Pierre, who I believe is a sweet old fella who happens to be argumentative, obstinate and opinionated, a curmudgeon.
No one is entirely sure about the origins of curmudgeon, so I will share my favourite of the theories I have read: the first part may come from ‘cur’, which made its way into English from the Germanic verb ‘to growl’ during the 12th century. As for the second part of the word, two possible origins are Scottish words mudgeon – ‘grimace’, and murgeon – ‘mock or grumble’. A grimacing, mocking, grumbling growler. A curmudgeon 🙂
The term ‘curmudgeon’ is usually reserved for old men, but I have definitely seen the odd curmudgeon-kitty or dog. I’m also willing to admit that I have been guilty of curmudgeonly behaviour from time to time. From my perspective, curmudgeonliness it’s not so much an age thing as an attitude, a type of behaviour. Think: generally closed minded and critical. I am confident that if you seek, you shall find a curmudgeon in your midst this week. And if you do, why not share your observation? Like, ‘don’t you think that might be a bit curmudgeonly, there?’ Or ‘now don’t go being a curmudgeon on me.’ They might appreciate the feedback! But I should mention that if they don’t, I won’t be held responsible.
If you don’t feel like ‘curmudgeon’ is really your style -perhaps a bit uncool – may I suggest you try synonyms such as crank, bear, sourpuss and crosspatch on for size? 🙂
In peace and wordliness.