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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Get You Some Culture

I recently met someone new and after a five-minute chat, I believe this person was left with the impression that I was cultured. We had discussed the symphony, classical music, and jazz. Those are all things I can legitimately discuss. This did not stop me from feeling like a fraud. I wanted to shout as I was walking away:


I can play at intelligent and cultured. At times I enjoy it. But at other times, ugh, it is just exhausting. Actually using my brain to say intelligent, thoughtful things? When I could be, all like, "Reality show, youtube video, so funnies, haha, JT on SNL skit, blog, cute animal pics, snarf!"

It's okay though. For those times when being cultured proves difficult, I can now refer to Anton Checkov's 8 qualities of cultured people.  And surprisingly, loving cheesy pop and being able to consume vast quantities of information on the internet are not listed.

Anton Checkov's 8 qualities of cultured people via Brain Pickings (which is without a doubt, one of the best brain food sites on the internet!):

"Cultured people must, in my opinion, satisfy the following conditions:
  1. They respect human personality, and therefore they are always kind, gentle, polite, and ready to give in to others. They do not make a row because of a hammer or a lost piece of india-rubber; if they live with anyone they do not regard it as a favour and, going away, they do not say “nobody can live with you.” They forgive noise and cold and dried-up meat and witticisms and the presence of strangers in their homes.
  2. They have sympathy not for beggars and cats alone. Their heart aches for what the eye does not see…. They sit up at night in order to help P…., to pay for brothers at the University, and to buy clothes for their mother.
  3. They respect the property of others, and therefor pay their debts.
  4. They are sincere, and dread lying like fire. They don’t lie even in small things. A lie is insulting to the listener and puts him in a lower position in the eyes of the speaker. They do not pose, they behave in the street as they do at home, they do not show off before their humbler comrades. They are not given to babbling and forcing their uninvited confidences on others. Out of respect for other people’s ears they more often keep silent than talk.
  5. They do not disparage themselves to rouse compassion. They do not play on the strings of other people’s hearts so that they may sigh and make much of them. They do not say “I am misunderstood,” or “I have become second-rate,” because all this is striving after cheap effect, is vulgar, stale, false….
  6. They have no shallow vanity. They do not care for such false diamonds as knowing celebrities, shaking hands with the drunken P., [Translator's Note: Probably Palmin, a minor poet.] listening to the raptures of a stray spectator in a picture show, being renowned in the taverns…. If they do a pennyworth they do not strut about as though they had done a hundred roubles’ worth, and do not brag of having the entry where others are not admitted…. The truly talented always keep in obscurity among the crowd, as far as possible from advertisement…. Even Krylov has said that an empty barrel echoes more loudly than a full one.
  7. If they have a talent they respect it. They sacrifice to it rest, women, wine, vanity…. They are proud of their talent…. Besides, they are fastidious.
  8. They develop the aesthetic feeling in themselves. They cannot go to sleep in their clothes, see cracks full of bugs on the walls, breathe bad air, walk on a floor that has been spat upon, cook their meals over an oil stove. They seek as far as possible to restrain and ennoble the sexual instinct…. What they want in a woman is not a bed-fellow … They do not ask for the cleverness which shows itself in continual lying. They want especially, if they are artists, freshness, elegance, humanity, the capacity for motherhood…. They do not swill vodka at all hours of the day and night, do not sniff at cupboards, for they are not pigs and know they are not. They drink only when they are free, on occasion…. For they wantmens sana in corpore sano [a healthy mind in a healthy body]." 
What do you think? What makes someone cultured? 


  1. Well, classical and jazz music are not a bad place to start! But I think Chekov sets the bar too high. I think someone is cultured (in this context) when they are thoughtful about the art they consume. Some people listen to concert music because that's the cultured thing to do, which makes them snooty, not cultured.

    Wasn't Miles Davis low culture at some point? Maybe Spears will have her day.

    1. I am on the fence about whether I am honored or humiliated that you read this, but setting that aside: I think the appeal of Chekov's standards is that they address the inner person and behavior rather than status and entertainment preferences. I could argue that he doesn't set the bar too high, but rather modern society sets the bar way too low. On the other hand, I certainly don't meet his standards so I would do myself a disservice by arguing that. : )

      As for horrifically awful pop music, let's hope it never has its day. My triumph would make me insufferable.

  2. I have not read this on Chekov before (frankly, I don't even know who he is - how's that for not snooty), but I most definitely find it worth further review. Love, Netty