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Sunie Levin

Resident Blogger

Kvetch and you'll lose your friends. For those who might not know, “kvetch” is a wonderfully expressive Yiddish word that means much more than mere complaining. Kvetching is constant, non-stop whining about the relatively trivial aches and pains and everyday troubles that afflict us all. It's in the dictionary. Take Charlie for example. Charlie is a constant complainer. You know the type. Oh boy, do you know!  He's the type of guy that people of a certain age used to refer to as “enjoying ill health.” With Charlie, there’s always something. "I have this pain in my neck” or “I have an allergy to dust,” and even “I have this sore throat I can't seem to get rid of." He thinks by constantly complaining people will have sympathy for him. Well, it doesn't work that way. They don't. They resent the incessant daily whining. Nobody wants to be around him. Who needs it? People have their own health problems; they really don't want to hear about the long list of others’. It gets to the point where they try to avoid Charlie when they see him. Even his wife rolls her eyes when he starts with his list of complaints. What’s the point of kvetching anyway? It doesn’t make the problem go away. 

When you meet Alice with a constant “organ recital,” you try to run in the opposite direction if you can get away fast enough.  Alice has never had a meal that she hasn't complained about or sent back. She complains that no one calls her. Big surprise; who wants to listen to her?  It is easier to communicate with her via e-mail when you can simply delete it if you don't want to read her reply. Her husband gives her 10 minutes to listen to her groaning about her annoyances, and then he takes out his hearing aid and smiles at her. 

Psychologists call it “Chronic Kvetching Syndrome.” They really do. It is a condition marked by constant complaints to anyone who will listen about anything and everything that comes into the kvetcher's mind.  

There is a difference between kvetching and voicing a complaint to bring about a solution.  If you complain to your teenager about his messy room, you are attempting to bring about a solution. Sometimes you simply need to get something off your chest. The other side is the chronic complainer: someone who constantly complains about being so busy, not having enough time, my toe is sore, etc. That type loves to talk but will rarely listen to you. 

Some people talk to their hair stylist and moan about all their perceived annoyances. At least the stylist gets paid for listening. Some people strike up a conversation with perfect strangers to complain about the weather and what a terrible day they have had. Hearing have a nice day doesn’t stop them, they complain anyway. 

When you see someone it is common courtesy to say “How are you” or “How have you been?”  Most of the time, you really don't want to know because it’s a rhetorical question. So what makes you think other people want to hear your kvetches? So what about you? Yes, you.  When you start to kvetch, stop. Nobody wants to hear it. After all, you're trying to make friends, not drive them away.  

My grandfather, who took shots every day for diabetes, had many health problems. When people would say ask him how he was doing, he would smile with a twinkle in his eye and say, "Not so bad." That’s not a bad answer. I'm in a bridge group that has a strict rule.  When we sit down at the table, talking about ailments or doctors is off limits after the first five minutes, and it works! After the five minutes pass, we talk about movies or books, or we gossip about anything else. Believe me, any conversation is better than hearing an ongoing kvetching of aches and pains. 

So what can alleviate kvetching?         

  • If you feel like kvetching, say or think “hmmm,” then put a smile on your face and talk about the weather, or if you dare, politics. 
  • When good friends complain constantly, try changing the subject. Hopefully they will get the picture. If not, try listening and say “I don’t know how you deal with all your problems.” You might get the response that, really, it’s not so bad for them. 

If you have ideas that may change the complainers’ ways, please share them. So far, I haven’t found any that always return positive results. But you get the picture. Stop kvetching and enjoy each day. The trick is, when you’re tempted to kvetch, think to yourself, “Would I really want to hear all this?”


Sunie Levin is the author of “Make New Friends…Live Longer.” She holds degrees in education and psychology. Ms. Levin has lectured and held workshops around the country and has appeared on national T.V. and radio.  Learn more about making new friends in her book