Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Two friends and I were just lolling about one hot day last week, nursing sweating glasses of iced tea and talking about whatever came to mind. One was describing an acquaintance. “He’s just a big teddy bear,” she said, giving the air in front of her a descriptive hug. Then she laughed. “Did you ever pay attention to the categories you use to describe people? I’m always alluding to folks in animal terms. I was raised on Thornton W. Burgess—remember Sammy Jay, Chatterer the squirrel, Paddy Beaver? I know some toads, some weasels, a few packrats. I’ve even met a snake or two.”

I’ve known a couple of snakes myself, people who looked at me with calculating, beady eyes before they sank their fangs in. I saw what she meant. The other friend thought people were either warm or cold. She lives in Northern Vermont so that could account for her tendency to think of people in terms of temperature. I’ve know some warm and friendly people, too, who have immediately set me at ease. I’ve known others who have turned a cold shoulder, whose glacial expressions and chilly indifference made me shiver.

After this conversation, I started asking around. One woman said she sees others in terms of intelligence. People can be smart, she says, or they can be dumb. They can be gracious or they can be crude. I’ve known intelligent people who act both dumb and crude. Of course, I’m measuring them from where I stand. Another fellow I know says he thinks of others as either nice or not. I confess I do that, too. The gauge always seems to be, how do I feel in their presence? “She’s so nice,” we say when someone shares our values and our views. “He’s not a nice person at all,” we say of someone who doesn’t.

One man I know likens people to fruit—a bad apple, a peach, a sour grape. Another says he would broaden the category to include more foods. He knows fruitcakes and cupcakes and several good eggs. I kind of like this idea. People can be sweet or tasteful or saccharine or even unsavory. Some are delectable and a few are downright yummy.

This can be tricky business, this labeling game. How do you characterize people?

PHOTO CREDIT: 22/26044351_fa9bf19dc


tongue in cheek said...

Interesting post...comparing people as a cherry on the cake or as real dogs.
You are a shining star in my book.

I have friends who are easy going,
complicated, and very much the arty farty type!

Anonymous said...

To trust or not?
That is always my question.

Love your blog.

Mother of Invention said...

One way is if they're warm and fuzzy or cold and prickly. Maybe if they're sincere and genuine,or all for show and covering up something. Whether they sincerely connect with you in a lasting way, or just do the surface stuff, perhaps use you and move on, leaving you a tad miffed. (For Poety Friday,I posted a poem about a stray cat but it was really about a person who was a user and very insincere about a connection with me, called, Moving On Without A Backward Glance)

I si remember my dad reading all those Thornton Burgess books to us at bedtime! Danny Meadow Mouse, Reddy The Fox, Jimmy Coon, Jerry Muskrat...!

meggie said...

I see people in animal plant & colour terms. By that I mean some are animals, some plants etc.
I love to sit & watch people. I love to invent a story for them.

Roberta S said...

pauline, I certainly love the title you gave this post. I tend to gravitate away from 'flat' people and in thinking about those I gravitate to, I have no word for them. It is not well-rounded, cause that seems to insinuate well-educated and traveled and that is not the case. I guess the people- without-an-appropriate-label that I prefer are people that are imaginative. People more intrigued by the dynamics of the heart and soul than a polished car or the latest style of dress. And people whose preferred toys are simply 'words'. And that, in part, is why I so like the title you gave this post.

focusfinder said...

Generally I see people as boosters or drainers. Guess which ones I avoid.

Pauline said...

TICA - love our mutual admiration society :)

anon: and how do you know for sure that you can or can't? And thank you; come back anytime.

MOI - will go read your poem. I've had that same experience but a cat was not the image I came up with ;)

Me, too meggie!

Well-rounded is a good term. I think people can be that even if they haven't traveled far, as long as they stretch their minds.

B - you're a booster with a capital B!

riseoutofme said...

Pauline, enjoyed this, here are a few from this neck of the woods....

"A fine burd" said in the thickest agricultural accent you can muster
"A bit of a ganderer" (not very complimentary reference to goosey goosey)
"A bull of a man" (could be construed as complimentary?)
"A bit of a baa-baa" (also not very complimentary)
"A heifer of a woman" (agricultural accent obligatory here also)
"A babe" (haven't worked out if this has porcine origins or not!)
"A bit of a porker (definite porcine reference)

I, too, tend to gauge people by how I feel in their presence but might be fun to put an animal tag on them! I can immediately think of some St. Bernards ....
Should've done a post instead of a comment ... sorry ....

Anonymous said...

I suppose it all comes down, in the end, to "them" and "us."


Remiman said...

Usually with my eyes. ;-)

Barbara said...

I've thought about this a lot this week as I contemplated my failed friendship. Just as in romantic relationships, we sometimes ignore the clues that could warn us about the ultimate outcome, favoring qualities like fun, interesting, unusual over just plain nice, caring, considerate. Concern for others stands out as the best way to judge other people, at least in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

hi pauline,

hmmmm - i had to think about this one for a bit. it is a good question. i tend to think about people in terms of distance. i don't know why. could be the biological dad i never knew until my twenties ... could be the fact that i studied, degreed as a landscape architect - so spatial relationships are an innate way of my 'seeing'.

or maybe it is because i view my own self as rather distant and difficult to know. with all honesty, i know people have to get closer to me to truly see the real me - then it becomes a matter of temperature: warmth and caring - empathetic qualities. i remember meeting my best friend for the first time. i thought of her as 'Snow White' - distant, beautiful and chilly. She still is beautiful, but not distant nor chilly at all. So then, i suppose it is a matter of my measuring my own distance to another - and watching that distance shrink as i edge closer and closer.

red dirt girl

Pauline said...

Barbara, I was trying more for a way of perception rather than judgement; perhaps, "How do you characterize people?" would have been a better question...

RDG - ah, interesting. Distant, close, aloof, warm, and that element of surprise when you finally let someone get closer...

Anonymous said...

yes pauline,

you 'see' it ..... you really do.

(am I beginning to sound like Sally Field's oscar acceptance speech ????)