Home > musing > This is what it feels like to be a snob

This is what it feels like to be a snob

January 28, 2013

Got home from Nebraska last night, and I’ve learned an important lesson about how it feels to be a snob. Because, as it turns out, I’m unequivocally a snob in ways I didn’t even realize.

So, I couldn’t find good coffee in Lincoln. That is, in the hotel they had a coffee maker with a tiny pod, and I made myself two cups the first morning I got there, then I went downstairs and drank two more cups of the free coffee you get with the free breakfast and I swear it was hot water.

Then I looked around and wondered, where can I get something with caffeine in it?? After asking a few people this question, I suddenly realized: this is what it feels like to be a snob. Internally it feels weird that other people don’t have the same standards, but externally it looks like a smart-ass New Yorker complaining about the quality of free things.

Next: people would be walking around the hotel in what seemed like pajamas. Not the mathematicians, who came from everywhere, but the other guests in the hotel. They were young, maybe in college, and I swear they were wearing pajamas all the time. Sometimes they switched it up and wore clothes you might wear when watching a football game on the sofa.

Then I realized: people in New York spend way too much time getting all dolled up, and I used to know that, but nowadays I’m just used to it. So this is what is feels to be a snob.

Good to know, because:

  1. Next time someone who’s a huge snob talks to me I’ll have more empathy and explain the situation in clear sentences: you are looking like a snob because you have different standards, and the sooner you understand that the better for everyone.
  2. Next time I travel I plan to bring my own coffee and possibly even my own coffee maker, which I used to think is crazy  snobby but now I get it – it actually saves time versus searching on foot in the winter for a good cup of coffee in a town you are unfamiliar with. I’m embracing my snobbery, people.
  3. Although then again maybe I’ll just bring a big ol’ vat of Nodoz.



Categories: musing
  1. Rober
    January 28, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Funny. Same thing happened to me when staying in Omaha.


  2. Deane
    January 28, 2013 at 9:25 am

    I’m rather surprised that there wasn’t at least a Starbucks nearby. But what I do is carry a Handpresso (http://www.amazon.com/Handpresso-HPWILD-Hand-Pump-Portable-Espresso/dp/B0013UEFHA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1359383007&sr=8-2&keywords=handpresso) everywhere I go, along with the espresso pods it uses. I used to really need this in China, until Starbucks became ubiquitous even there. But I’ve used this even in Italy. It’s really handy, as long as you can get or make hot water.


  3. January 28, 2013 at 9:42 am

    I have a little techie travel pouch with plug adaptors, video adaptors and some cables….and now, after a few instances of my version of your “Lincoln”….I keep a stash of Starbucks Via Italian Roast packets in there….just in case.


  4. January 28, 2013 at 9:44 am

    I feel like that whenever I read something from my home town. I know I’m a snob, but considering the low standards of my past, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

    Also the caffeine pills can make you crash horribly. I’ve used them for driving and its not pleasant.


  5. Jonathan
    January 28, 2013 at 9:47 am

    I don’t think you are a snob for being picky about coffee, or to prefer to dressing in something other than pajamas. If you think that makes you are superior to other people, then you are a snob.

    Personally, I would love to live somewhere I could wear pajamas, or whatever else I’d like, all the time.

    On the other hand, I’m sorry to hear that Starbucks is ubiquitous in China.


  6. just me
    January 28, 2013 at 9:55 am

    Buy the Starbucks VIA ready brew single serve packets! All you do is add hot water, or add to weak/terrible coffee, or make yourself a trippio anytime. You can keep them in your purse or backpack. You can buy them at grocery stores and in Starbucks – stock up! How do I know? I am the original coffee snob.


  7. Judy Walker
    January 28, 2013 at 10:27 am

    I don’t drink coffee but certainly could have pointed you to the Starbucks (there are two fairly close to the hotel, actually) and also to some local coffee shops that people like a lot. In any case, I’m glad you came for the conference and hope you enjoyed it, caffeine withdrawal notwithstanding.


  8. January 28, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Wanting good coffee, does not make you a snob. Just don’t get me started on the evils of Starbucks. I believe the essence of snobbery is within the construction of the question. Therefore, “where can I find something with caffiene in it?” should also be delivered with a despairing shrug of the shoulders and a smile. Disgust doesn’t go down well anywhere.


    • January 28, 2013 at 10:40 am

      Don’t worry on that account, there was plenty of desperation to go around!


  9. Eugene
    January 28, 2013 at 11:02 am

    You can be less of a snob when you go to unfamiliar places by focusing on and searching out local things that you actually like. I used to travel to Oklahoma for work a lot, and much of the local food (the barbecue, chicken fried steak, pasta where they put cheese on top of your cheese) wasn’t to my taste, but the Tex Mex turned out to be quite good. So I just made people take me out to Tex Mex a lot. If you really need some particular thing (e.g., coffee) to be good, then, yeah, better to bring your own.


  10. Leila Schneps
    January 28, 2013 at 11:05 am

    I don’t think you’re describing a real snob – or not the highest snobbery level, anyway. What about people who oh-so-casually DROP NAMES? My mother-in-law never has a conversation without somewhere in some anecdote mentioning the time she was at some aristocrat’s chateau, or the influential assistant-to-cabinet-minister she was having coffee with the other day, or the fact that she used to know the singer starring in that fancy musical when she was just a little kid and they vacationed on the same beach… Find me a good answer to that!


    • January 28, 2013 at 11:08 am

      How’s this: I’m sure you’re just excited that you have a connection to famous people, but when you mention things like vacationing on a beach with a celebrity it comes off as a way to act like you’re part of an elite that I am not. I’m sure that’s not your intention.


  11. Jane
    January 28, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Next time you’re in Lincoln, I recommend The Mill at 8th & P!


  12. JSE
    January 28, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Interesting contrast: in your last post, you observed that the answer to “my house doesn’t look dolled up enough but I don’t want to spend the time to clean it” is “lower your standards.” Why isn’t that a good answer for coffee, too? I used to buy expensive beans and grind them fresh each morning for my coffee. Then I switched to instant. Any difference in taste disappears after a few weeks.

    I don’t drink coffee out of the math department vat, though. There are limits.


    • January 28, 2013 at 11:21 am

      I don’t mind lowering my standards on taste, but I then there’s the chemical addiction part of it.


    • Michelle
      January 28, 2013 at 12:23 pm

      I might argue that no one really likes cleaning the house, and some people really do like good coffee.

      The argument for the house stuff is that something’s gotta give, so why not give on the thing that you don’t really enjoy doing (as opposed to math or spending time with the family). The post was sort of to give permission to let that slide… I only clean to the level I do because I feel like I *should*. But if it’s OK for the house to be a wreck… ah, freedom! If you really enjoy housecleaning (really?), then it should be somewhere else where you get that time back, I guess.

      It’s true that something’s gotta give on a trip. But if you enjoy good coffee, why have that be the place where you give? Drinking good coffee is not a chore the way house cleaning is. Well, if it is you’re doing it wrong. (In my case, someone *else* gets up, grinds the beans, and makes it fresh each morning. The espresso is just for weekends, so I guess that’s one way that we give?)

      And I have to say, Jordan… I’m pretty disappointed that someone I thought of as a bit of a foodie has gone public with drinking *shudder* instant.

      I’m also surprised at all the rec’s for Starbuck’s VIA. I did the taste test when they first came out, and could instantly (hah!) tell which was which. It might be better than most instant coffees, but that’s really not saying much. I have several packs in my house, but they are strictly for baking chocolatey desserts.

      I am firmly in the camp of “google / yelp / ask a local before you get there” for finding good coffee near the hotel or conference. I always make a cup of the bad stuff in the room just to get me awake enough that I don’t get lost on my way to the place I already know about.


      • JSE
        January 28, 2013 at 12:57 pm

        I don’t know if anyone really likes cleaning the house (I don’t) but lots of people like having a clean house (I do.) And yet, I think Cathy’s advice is good — when you let housecleaning slide, because other things are more important to you, you quickly get used to a new normal and find that having a messy house is just fine. Instant coffee, at least for me, is the same way.

        (Incidental but important note: if you are a man, as some people are, you are trained to mind a messy house less, and this may lead you to let housework slide; and if moreover you live with a woman, as some men do, and if she minds messiness more, as women are trained to, she may not be inclined to lower her standards to your ideal, and “She should read Cathy’s blog and get over her unfairly high standards” is not an OK response to this.)

        As for the chemical addiction, mine is pretty locked in (3-4 cups a day, headache and crankiness if I don’t get my coffee on waking) and I’ve never had a problem satisfying the monkey with weak-ass hotel coffee. Cathy, can you be sure you weren’t psychosomatically reacting to the weaker taste?


  13. January 28, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Yeah coffee is life and without sufficient caffeine, I am NOT a happy girl. I went to a retreat once that had terrible coffee and that’s the main thing I remember from it. I had to drink 4 cups just to reach minimum levels of awake. There was a girl with a case of coke and people were paying her $20 a can just to get enough caffeine to survive. These are not standards of taste, they are minimum levels for effective cognition.


  14. darfferrara
    January 28, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    An aeropress makes a great cup of coffee and it small enough to travel well and it costs less than $30.


  15. Jeffry Norton
    January 28, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    I usually drink my coffee without sugar. I don’t want to like it.


  16. JSE
    January 28, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Also, Cathy, if you were up for getting your coffee at Starbucks, you are not actually a snob.


  17. January 29, 2013 at 1:59 am

    I find it helps to have a local assistant to take care of coffee, karaoke bars, etc.


  18. Jo Fawna
    January 29, 2013 at 3:16 am

    I always find it odd when a math conference has bad coffee. Not that all mathematicians are coffee lovers, but the caffein is an undeniable essential when watching these kind of presentations. Fact: an abundance of crappy coffee is not a substitute for quality coffee.


  19. Thads
    January 29, 2013 at 6:37 am

    “When you leave New York, you’re camping out.”


    • January 29, 2013 at 12:18 pm

      How true.


      • Deane
        January 30, 2013 at 7:20 am

        Now *that* is being a snob. But I agree 100%.


  20. Claudia Lindley
    January 30, 2013 at 10:36 am

    I love you, Mathbabe! I’ve been there — with coffee, with pajama-ish clothing on others, and, as my friends will tell you, with English usage (“drive safe,” for example — I just can’t let it go!) — but I have never described it as well as you do here. So, to indulge in an inside joke: I’ll see your coffee snobbery and raise you a missing adjective! Claudia from Lincoln


  21. KevinDiVico
    January 30, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    No, it is not what it means to be a snob.

    first, lets define snobbery and we have a choice of definitions-

    from Wikipedia we get “A snob believes that some people are inherently inferior to him or her for any one of a variety of reasons, including real or supposed intellect, wealth, education, ancestry, class, taste, beauty, nationality, et cetera. Often the form of snobbery reflects the snob’s personal attributes. For example, a common snobbery of the affluent is the belief that wealth is either the cause or result of superiority, or both.”

    urban dictionary gives us this : ‘Anyone who thinks they are better than someone else based upon superficial factors.”

    & Dictionary.com gives us :
    1. a person who imitates, cultivates, or slavishly admires social superiors and is condescending or overbearing to others.
    2. a person who believes himself or herself an expert or connoisseur in a given field and is condescending toward or disdainful of those who hold other opinions or have different tastes regarding this field: a musical snob.

    Is Cathy O’Neil claiming that her preference of coffee leads her to think that she is inherently Superior to the people she finds in host city’s of math or science conferences that she attends?

    IMO I think not. Gleaming what I can from her blog, she seems to be a fair minded individual. Have we come to the point where having standards, of cultivating an intellectual elegance as coined by iconic designer Massimo Vignelli automatically leads to being a snob?

    I hope not, for if it is then it demotes the power of the word snob, from being one that points to a person who has an ingrained belief in superiority (which can be false in its basis ) to others as well as a condescending nature or overbearing attitude.

    One can have standards, and be kind. One can cultivate intellectual elegance for ones own growth, and through such growth benefit society as a whole and not be a snob.

    So Ms.O’Neil bring your coffee, and coffee maker, wear the clothes you feel comfortable in and have your standards. But lets not call you a Snob, lets leave Snob as the negative title that it is and hang it loudly about the neck of those who deserve it.


  22. David Fasching
    January 30, 2013 at 9:10 pm
  23. MRLost
    February 2, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Plus 1 for JustMe, #9.

    Mark Twain described Wagner’s music as “better than it sounds.”

    Starbuck’s instant is better than it tastes or maybe that’s tastes better than it is. You follow my drift. Works okay in an emergency. Stupid expensive, though. Let it steep for a couple of minutes, like tea.

    And the Orcs at airport security probably won’t thinks it’s dangerous.


  24. Savanarola
    February 5, 2013 at 1:46 am

    I have used something like this – now in handy collapsible version: http://www.rei.com/product/798277/gsi-outdoors-collapsible-javadrip-slim-drip-coffee-maker

    We used to call it a Melitta filter. This is how they generally make coffee in Europe. This sucker will fit in your purse for emergencies. You can use the hotel coffee maker to heat the water, then use your own stash to make the coffee. If you generally explore “camp coffee” options, they will work without even access to the basics. I long ago discovered that I don’t operate well without a certain caffeine level, and can’t rely on my environment to supply it.

    Also, ask nicely down at the desk for an extra set of the pods for the tiny coffee machine in the room and load four of them into the machine: two caffeinated and two decaf. The coffee is only about half strength, but at least it tastes like coffee.


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