“You should’ve seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days.”
It’s Burt Lancaster’s line from the movie Atlantic City, and one of my favorites. Why? Because I think of it whenever someone tells me about the best thing ever– that we just missed. Let’s say we’ve arrived in New York (or any other city) and we hear from a friend, relative, or complete stranger that if we’d only been there last week we would’ve had: a) better weather, b) nicer views, or c) a shot at getting in to see a terrific show that closed the day before we got there. And everything in the city was on sale until yesterday. Gee, too bad.
I don’t know what it is, or if it even exists, but I’m guessing there must be a German word for this type of situation: a variation of schadenfreude, which describes the satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s minor misfortune. This other word would convey the act of sucking all the joy out of someone else’s good time. There I am, enjoying the view of the mountains or the beach or the Eiffel Tower, when that annoying know-it-all says “Oh, well, you should have seen it before,” when it wasn’t so crowded, or so empty, or so cold, or so hot, followed by a sigh and a sad shake of the head, accompanied perhaps by the classic Gallic shrug.
I can’t understand why some people feel compelled to say these sorts of things to other people who are happy to be in a particular place and are having a damn good time, really, until they hear about what they possibly missed by not being in the know. Even when it comes to the little things, like getting caught in a rainstorm in a strange place and feeling good about not getting soaked to the skin thanks to the umbrella from the guy who just happened to be selling them on the next corner, and then someone says: “You paid what for that? You’re kidding, right? The guy around the block sells them for half as much.” Whatever, it doesn’t matter. These people are relentless in their compulsion to make you feel small, naïve, and worse—a victim of bad planning. Like when they buy the same pair of terrific shoes you just bought, only theirs were half off. And they tell you about it. Sad shake of the head. Sigh.
I guess we’re lucky not to encounter this type of thing in a restaurant (“Oh, you should have been here yesterday. The food was much better!”), or in the delivery room (“Sure, your baby is cute, but you should’ve seen the one who was born last week. Now that was a cute baby!”). Or, what if the salesperson takes that attitude when you come out of the dressing room and twirl around in a dress that looked a lot better on the last gal who tried it on?
My husband and I took a long-awaited and action-packed trip to New Zealand and Australia a couple of years ago. There was an admitted wow factor to this trip; not too many people we talked to have been to the places we visited, so it was relatively free of anyone’s “Oh, you should’ve seen the glaciers last week” type comments. Except for one person…
There is an all-day walk along the beaches in Sydney that we really should have done. According to this person, anyway. And that is one good reason not to check Facebook when you are supposed to be on vacation. I confess to posting a few pictures during the trip, and one of these pictures was taken at Bondi Beach, which you must see if you’re ever there, but you probably wouldn’t find a nicer day than the day we visited. (Just kidding.)
I’d been having a splendid time up til then, but that little nudge, posted as a comment below my picture of the crashing surf and crescent of golden sand (Oh, you missed the best thing to do in Sydney? It’s a shame…) put me in a funk for a couple of hours. I even researched the particulars of the walk, which is how I learned that it’s a steep, rocky, serpentine track that gets very crowded with local joggers and striders during the daylight hours. Who needs rush hour on a rocky cliff? Not I. So I dismissed the “shouldhavetried” admonition (wonder if that’s translatable to German. It might work…), and found other unique things to do during our visit. We went to the zoo, which is extraordinary, but I couldn’t help wondering if the kangaroos might have been more active the day before. Just a fleeting thought. I didn’t want to ask one of the docents for fear I would be told that I should have come later, or earlier, if I wanted to see some hopping action. (The truth is, kangaroos sleep a lot.)\
But the question remains, what is the motivation behind making these kinds of gotcha remarks? Some sort of one-up-man-ship? The “neener, neener” factor? I guess I just don’t get it. Even if someone comes to the Bay Area the one week it rains like crazy after a spell of beautiful Indian summer weather, what good would come from pointing this out? And that it’s too bad they just missed crab season, which was especially good this year. Not nice.
When my husband and I travel, or talk about travel with others, and we hear someone start to say, “Oh, did you miss the (fill in the blank) on your trip to (place we just visited and loved)?” we look at each other and think about (or sometimes say) the line from Atlantic City, and move on.