It may be acceptable to talk about your own achievements in some countries but we Brits (at least those of us over thirty-five, or so) have a strict etiquette on this sort of thing. At least we used to, anyway. Some of us are the last of a dying breed.
The British character has long been built on the understanding that anyone who talks up their own achievements is a show-off, and needs bringing down a peg or two. It’s what passes for entertainment in these parts. But we are being outnumbered by people who reject our tight-lipped refusal to blow our own trumpet.
As we know, social media has not only opened up the world but is also busy over-sharing a giant can of worms. Part of the problem is the sheer visible competitiveness that it has stoked. Unless you decide to opt out of social media entirely – a perfectly acceptable position to take, by the way – it’s very difficult now to quietly underachieve whilst no-one is looking.
Because everyone is looking.
We are forced to either achieve, or at least create the illusion of it, and it’s made the British un-British (you may think that’s a good thing!?)
How different the world was when I was growing up in the 1980’s and ‘90’s. Imagine sending out copies of your holiday snaps to everyone in your address book or, if you’re a cyclist, passing moody looking pictures of your bike around the pub.
It’s completely bonkers.
Admittedly, the seven-day turnaround time for the chemist to develop your photos did ruin the immediacy somewhat; for a time, Polaroids were truly cutting edge.
The fact is cycling very much lends itself to – as social was memorably described by broadcaster Giles Coren – this ‘arse parade’. If you choose to play the game you’ll quickly become swamped by announcements of ‘century’ rides, meaningless platitudes about how life-affirming cycling is (#freedom, #lovemybike, etc.), and black and white photos of bearded chaps ‘suffering’.
There is a phrase that I heard somewhere (can’t remember where…answers on a postcard): “Speak half what you know”. In other words keep your cards close to your chest and apply a filter between brain and mouth. Probably pretty useful as a human, but also not a bad way to go about being a cyclist too.
So, if someone asks you if you’ve been doing much training you say: “nah, hardly at all mate.” No point over-promising and under-delivering now, is there?
If you return from a 130 mile ride across three counties it is not a ‘century’, it’s just a bike ride. If it makes you feel like a bad-ass then that’s all well and good, but you don’t need to broadcast it.
If you’ve just bought a shiny new Pinarello Dogma do not refer to it as ‘The Pinarello’. Do not say: “yes, I spent a lovely couple of hours on The Pinarello…”
You went for a bike ride. You are calling it ‘The Pinarello’ because you want people to know you have a Pinarello.
You may think this version of the world sounds a bit dull, but the world will continue to be full of people who do participate in the ‘arse parade’. All this over-sharing and embellishing will just make your epic bike ride and your fancy bike seem all the more impressive when people find out in the general conversation of it.
Speak half of what you know.
Sometimes the bit you leave out is the bit that makes you interesting.