So today post-gym Starbucks run afforded me the chance to do one of my favorite pastimes, which I do just about anywhere if there is no one to chat with and it would take too long to get out my Kindle : People Watching.
I consider myself a sociologist and anthropologist and several other ologists, based on sparse courseload in those subjects in college but INTENSE field study. And today, line too short for Kindle extraction and no one to chat with so I got to observe two girls discussing a third girl's purse. Here is transcript:
Girl A: "Ooh, her purse is SOOO cute."
Girl B: (Slight toss of hair, slight sniff of nose, eyes narrowing) "Yeah, it's cuuute."
Purse Girl: No idea, I hope she was not paying attention. (But I think she was, more on that later)
Professor of Lots of Ologys Allison declares this a situation worth observing and possibly interjecting: Because what you have here is the tricky, complex, Mandarin Chinese level of complexity of one word meaning a billion different things based on tone, inflection, situation, audience: CUTE.
I hate to make gender calls on this, but I really think the extreme trickiness of the "cute" is a female thing. Not exclusively, and certainly guys get into word wars involving things like "breh" and "yeah" and stuff that I can't translate without a guidebook, but I don't think guys get trapped in the "cute" thing.
I feel like for guys, pretty much, if anyone calls you cute, unless it is great-aunt ruffling your hair and giving you a quarter and remembering when you were THIS big, is compliment. You are not on the front lines of the Cute Wars.
You are maybe not in the Cute War at all (unless forced into a "Do you think that/she/he/it is cute?" conversation and here is a Tip From Allison: Change Subject ASAP. If Cute Discussion persists, go to the bathroom or leave or fake a phone call. You cannot ever answer that question right, you will not have the intricate, situational, years of experience of navigating the Cute, so RUN.)
This advice also applies to all genders and species when stuck in Forced Cute Conversation, it is just harder to run bolting out of a baby shower or click your heels three times and not be a high school junior in the bathroom with Front Line Cute War D-Day Scenario Happening.
So when Cute Becomes Four Letter Word, Weapon Wielded For Assorted Purposes, Girls, women, ladies, whatever, navigating or interpreting or being subject to a Cute Conversation is whole other thing.
It is not always bad, right? Cute can be good! There is the cute that is easy to figure out, such as puppies and little smiling babies and Trina Turk top in perfect shade of coral that is fab. That is a no-stress, positively sent and received "cute." But there are more.
And as my tea was taking a while, I could kind of plunk them into different categories. This is serious business, people, and if it turns into a Thing I want total credit.
Allison's Analysis of Girl Talk, Cute Edition:
1. Above noted usage meaning the thing or object or puppy or shirt is cute. Meant positively, received well. And then it gets trickier:
2. The chat with friend or co-worker who asks you about what you think of her (Note: Totally clearly making her feel uncomfortable or she would not ask, she would wait for the cute or know it was cute and not need affirmation on its barometer of cute) shirt, hair, sparkly blue feather earrings, whatever. Here is where both the asker and the answerer are nervous, as they both pretty much know the thing is NOT cute. So this one goes like:
Asker: " Do you like my new blue feather earrings, I got them on sale, I'm not sure, I don't know ."
(Note: This is awful thing we do to ourselves where we insult something in order to get compliment or reassurance that bad earrings are not in fact bad, which they are, and we all know it, take them off, chalk it up to life experience)
Answerer : (With just a bit too much pause, followed by a bit too much enthusiasm) "Oh, yeah, they are CUTE!"
(Inflection just a bit up on the end, too, like a bit of a question is lingering)
If the earrings make you feel weird, take them off, don't force others to say they are cute, if you like them, rock on, you don't need anyone else's Cute Verdict. If you do need that, you secretly do not think the earrings are cute, stop wearing them. Forced Verdict of Cute makes everybody feel weird, and there is no Cute Credibilty at all.
3. The overheard chat in a ladies' room, gym, high school, wherever, when girls morph into characters from Clueless Otherwise Known As Emma By Jane Austen But With Modernized Now Dated Insults (Subnote: Jane Austen's are actually better, for real)
Girl A: (Note: This is normally the whatever, boss girl, queen bee, I hate all those terms and the books are horrifying and I have three daughters and please make it stop)
"So, right, she's got on that purple top, like it is CUTE?" (Followed by eye-roll, may include mascara application at same time, and Tip From Allison: You do not need to re-apply mascara at 9:30 in the morning before third period or whatever, it will clump up and bother you all day)
Girl B (also may include Girls C, D, E): "Yeah, right (or whatever thing is current terminology, I try to avoid high school girls bathrooms out of abject fear of flashbacks),like, it is Soo Cute."
(Note: Followed by more eye rolling or hair tossing or gloss applying or whatever grooming ritual is going on)
Please do not let purple top girl overhear this, sometimes these Cute As A Four Letter Word Discussions are meant for group-think reinforcement of pack order or something like that go read about wolves, without actual Cute Attack Victim Humiliation.
Sometimes, it is totally on purpose, intended to upset purple top girl, and it probably means in reality the purple top is in actuality, Totally Cute, and Bad Acting Girls would like one for themselves but it is not on prescribed current approved outfit list and would require a group summit and eleventy frantic texts while at Forever 21.
So if you are Target of Cute As A Four Letter Word By Pack Of Yuks, that sucks.
I hope you get into awesome college and Jake Ryan from Sixteen Candles pulls up with a birthday cake for you and there is a slow take of Bad Acting Girls, eyes wide, as you in your fabulous purple top ride away with him to a school they could not get into due to incessant being horrible cutting into study time. Or whatever scenario works for you. I'm just offering the below evidence:
Ok, enough Googling Jake Ryan (PS: High School Allison Says, CALL ME!!!)
Next Battle in Cute War:
4. Dreaded in-law gift exchange, or office gift exchange, or baby shower you were forced to attend and do not know anybody, you can imagine the scene:
People sitting around, holding beverage from tea and saucer to highballs, depending on crowd and time of day, Gift Receiver opening gift, exclaiming over it, passing it around, to general enforced delight of all. This is how it is supposed to go, everyone. ALL the gifts are CUTE. But yet:
Gift Receiver When Opening Gift Giver's Gift: (Note: opens box, gears her face up for some sort of reaction that is attempt at not spitting on the gift, touches it with one finger, really fast, and then does NOT pass it around for general enforced delight of all) "Ohhh, how cuuute."
Gift Giver: "Well, I hope you like it, I thought . . .(Note: at this point sentence drifts off into social hell and everyone knows she did NOT like your gift and it was not cute and you are terrible gift giver go hide in shame, or take very stiff drink of what I hope is not just tea)"
If forced gift opening and admiring is going to happen, This Is The Law Of Allison, People Of The World Hear This: Gift Receiver better BRING IT.
Be on your A Game, Gift Receiver. You owe it to the masses of shower attenders who got same blanky as person whose gift just got opened, sisters-in-law who are passive-aggressive targets of misplaced rage, office party where you don't realize co-worker is allergic to all scents and your lovely holiday candle is A DEATH TRAP.
Gift Receiver, open that gift, that same blanky you just got and also got three gifts ago, and make sincere conversation about how great it is that blanky can be in crib, one in carseat, one in bassinet, whatever, wing it, make it good, do it for the team, we've all been third blanky girl and it sucks, Bring The Sincere Happy Cute. Is good karma, Will make whole room collectively breathe sigh of relief.
Candle of Doom Receiver, FAKE IT! You don't have to light it by your bedside and sneeze the rest of your life. Do NOT go into your allergy. Smile, be cool, put it in bag after showing it to others as cute candle, move along, no need for anyone to lose an eye.
I am now realizing that I have spent a whole lot of time writing the word CUTE, google imaging pretend high school True Loves from Awesome Movie John Hughes Was Genius RIP, and having flashbacks to really awkward holiday exchanges and attempts at being hijacked into a Cute War of whatever variety.
And there are more, probably a majillion, Do Not Get In A Cute War.
Detente. Peace Treaty. Run.
Or, be Awful Allison Who Dislikes Mean Girls In Starbucks Being Bitchy and Having Cute As Four Letter Word War on Other Girl With Purse:
Apres Bitchy Cute As Four Letter Word Girls Sniff and Toss Hair, over the other girls' purse, I look around them to purse girl, and have a very extended conversation about how my big September Vogue issue just arrived and it is humongous and I love it and was just noticing that her purse looks exactly like a Balenciaga bag that just came out and has two year wait list.
Did not look at Cute Abusers but have Spidey Sense of Rude Girl Terror Of Possible Fashion Miss, Who Do Not Realize People Watcher Cute War Hater Allison Has Many, Many Such Tidbits To Share With Uninformed, Rude Cute War Wagers On Perfectly Lovely Girl Who Was Not Bothering Them And If It Was Balenciaga, rock on, if not, is still awesome purse.
I say Purse Girl Wins Cute War, and now I am going to make that one of my pretend jobs, Ender of Cute Wars. I wonder what kind of purse I will carry? I want a wand at least, and also Jake Ryan as chauffeur.