If You’re an Intellectual, Act Like One
In seventh grade, my history teacher asked if anyone knew what the huge, fancy, painting-like carpets covering the walls of the Palace of Versailles were called. His question was met with silence and puzzled faces.
Eventually, I raised my hand and said: “Gobelin.” My teacher was thrilled. So was my neighbor. “Ooooh, go-be-liiiiin, Mr. I-know-everything.” The class erupted in laughter.
There’s something to be said here about shaming intellectuals and about a system in which being fun is cooler than being smart, but at 13 I was oblivious to both of those things — so I too erupted in laughter. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right?
This worked well for me all throughout high school and, to be fair, I had a mostly positive experience. I learned early on that being diplomatic and adapting to others bodes well for intellectuals, which, thankfully, spared me from getting shoved into any lockers.
Still, I always wondered why I got along so much better with older people, and why I often thought the most interesting conversation in the room was to be had with the teacher, not one of the students.
I thought all of this would change in college, and while it definitely improved and I absolutely found the limits of my intelligence just a few short weeks into the first semester, there still seemed to be an odd, anti-nerd kind of vibe in the air at times, which, if the only people around you all seem to be nerds already, feels kind of ridiculous.
Germany is a country of thinkers. Home to some of history’s greatest engineers, mathematicians, writers, and composers, many a Nobel prize laureate has emerged from our midst. In short, it’s a country of intellectuals.
You’d think in such a country a person would be praised for giving an answer to which half the room barely understands the question, but even at a prestigious engineering college, you’ll see the majority of eye pairs rolling when “the nerd shows off.”
Meanwhile, the nerd is only vaguely aware of what “showing off” means, and even if she is, what drove her to give the answer was her curiosity, not status. She wanted to progress…