DARE TO ASK: So stop your kvetching about her
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
I work for an older, wealthy Jewish woman who walks into our office and
begins by criticizing everything. I've been told this is typical of Jewish
women. Is this a culture issue?
Thirty-Year-Old, St Louis
Jewish people have been persecuted and chased out of more countries than I
have space to list. We have become survivalists. [Your boss] pays extreme
attention to detail because as Jews we are used to our decisions having
life-and-death consequences. If you aren't the best, you are dead or being sold
a one-way ticket on a train bound for nowhere.
Rachel, 24, Jewish female, Oceanside, Calif.
I have worked with many a Jewish person, and they do tend to be aggressive,
but as long as you know your stuff and do what you're supposed to do, everything
Anabwi, 42, black female, Plantation
I don't agree it is a Jewish female trait to be critical. I have to say the
Jewish culture tends to place a higher value on tolerance and respect for
diversity than average.
Laura, Jewish female, Los Angeles
I am familiar with a Jewish-European mentality that thinks the maximally
friendly attitude is to ... offer a positively critical review that improves a
situation or person.
P.B., Jewish male, Davis, Calif.
Jewish mothers raise their daughters to perpetuate the notion that whatever
they do is best. The Jewish momma dresses the best, cooks the best, observes
rules the best and knows the answers to queries the greatest minds have not even
thought of. What wondrous creation of humanity for a role model.
L.H., Jewish male, Fort Lauderdale
There is a Yiddish word for what this woman is doing: "kvetching."
Bakum, 28, Jewish guy, San Francisco
If your boss bugs you, be a mensch, get off your tuchas and talk to her! And
don't tie her disagreeableness to being Jewish. It's a personality trait, not a
That's the gist of advice from Barbara Held, a psychology professor at
Bowdoin College in Maine and writer of Stop Smiling, Start Kvetching: A 5-Step
Guide to Creative Complaining (St. Martin's Griffin).
"What difference does it make what the cause of the behavior is, anyway, if
it disrupts the workplace?" she said.
Held, who is Jewish, distinguishes between kvetching -- complaining about
life in general -- and putting down others. While the former can be a humorous
stereotype of Jewish mothers (the masters of which might be dubbed "yentas"),
the latter isn't typically ascribed to Jewish females.
"[Kvetching] is expressing the harshness of living: 'Oy vey, I have a bad
cold! I'm never gonna get well. ... I'm never gonna finish this work,' etc.,"
she said. That's not a bad thing if it makes a person feel better and draws
others to them.
Ultimately, even if data did link kvetching or criticizing to a certain
culture, that wouldn't excuse behavior that creates problems, Held stressed.
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.