You tell a friend you are going on holiday to New York. This person is most likely to exclaim (at least in England), “You lucky thing! I wish I were going!”
You may find this reaction offensive on two fronts. Firstly, the suggestion that you have done nothing to deserve the holiday. Secondly, the blatant, unashamed expression of envy on the part of this friend.
Once again, I turn to my faithful desk companion, The Concise Oxford. It defines luck as success or failure apparently brought by chance. In other words, something that happens to you without the slightest contribution on your part.
The annoyance you feel about your friend’s remark throws a momentary damper on your excitement. Is he or she sneakily implying that you do not deserve your New York holiday? You decide to smile and let it go.
Actually, no, you will not let it go.
You reply, “Actually, this is my first holiday in six years,” or “I lived like a monk for a whole year to save up for it.”
You restrain yourself from snapping, “Lucky?! What the hell do you know about my life, to assume this has just fallen into my lap?!”
Then, there’s the second barb: “I wish I were going!”
Short, seemingly anodyne – but full of those tiny, sharp thorns which remain embedded in your skin after pricking you.
A friend of mine has recently walked out of his job; a decision which – given the current economic climate – is seen by some as an act of great courage and by others as an act of great stupidity, though all agree that it is an act of madness. Yet, on his final day in the company, many of his colleagues told him, “You’re so lucky you’re leaving this place.”
Now this comment could be appropriate if he were quitting his job because he had just inherited a fortune, or won the lottery. He did neither. He simply made a choice and, with it, a number of sacrifices. A choice his co-workers were equally free to make but which, for valid reasons of their own, they opted not to. There was nothing lucky or random about this man’s decision. He simply exercised his free will.
People are quick to say how lucky you are, without knowing what having or doing something is actually costing you – whether financially, mentally or emotionally. Everything comes at a cost – sometimes high, at other times negligible.
I find this slight put down reaction to someone else’s success or happiness particularly common among the British, for some reason. A Middle Eastern person would not like to be told he or she is lucky, lest the remark – clearly born of envy – should cast an evil eye on you. In Italy, you would be congratulated on your luck if you had just – at the very least – narrowly escaped being hit by a car.
The English – masters of self-deprecation – are often prompt to justify their assets as “luck”. “I’m so lucky to be married to this person” or “I’m lucky to live in this house” or “”I’m so lucky to have ‘this’ or ‘that’”. I hear this daily and listen out for the gratitude in their voice but cannot detect it. Instead I sense a subtle apology, as though they do not feel they really deserve that thing they have; almost as though it is bad manners to have something wonderful.
As for the friends who react to your good news with “You lucky thing!”, you are lucky they have let their true feelings slip. It allows you to look away from them and direct yourself to those friends who will, instead, say, “I’m so happy for you! You deserve it!”