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Mind that boasting...

Is there anything more boring than someone telling you about the dream they had last night?

There is. Someone boasting about their kids. There's this guy I meet from time to time, and he has a daughter who's really good at swimming. I found this out before I found out his name, her name or anything else about them. In all subsequent meetings, he got the conversation onto his daughter's prowess in the pool within about four seconds of saying hello. This guy took the time to explain the nuances of competitive swimming in Ireland just so I could appreciate his child's brilliance.

I find this bewildering. This kid is 11 years old. How can he have gone so long as a parent and not understand that other people's kids are boring? And boasting about your kids is like arriving at a party, taking your lad out and saying, gather round people, look at the size of this thing. How come nobody has said to him: Man, boasting about your kids is boring. Shut the hell up.

The reason, I suppose, is the same reason that most Irish people don't tend to boast about their kids. We're all too polite. Other cultures are far more comfortable with telling everyone how wonderful their kids are. I googled the phrase 'boasting about your kids', expecting to come up with blog entries and articles about how rude it is to boast about your kids. Instead I came up with loads of articles and blog entries in which parents boast about their kids. I thought my kids were doing reasonably well, but after reading about two-year-olds writing their own name and six-year-olds conducting the Boston Philharmonic, I'm not so sure.

If Irish people go on about their kids, they tend to go on about how worried they are about them, how difficult it is to get them to eat, how terrible they are at maths, how they never get any sleep and so on. If you meet a parent who doesn't share the same problems, they'll be slightly apologetic about it. They'll say, no, thank God, Johnny isn't wetting the bed, and then look for an opening in the conversation to tell you that Johnny goes outside the lines when he's colouring.

In Ireland, you can only boast about your kid if you've more than one, and you can only do it by doing down the other kid.

Suppose Annie is great at swimming (she's not) but Mike isn't (and he isn't either). Then you say something like this: "Mike now, he couldn't swim to save his life, he's terrified of the water, and he's just useless like you wouldn't believe. But Annie now, Annie has four gold medals." It's very sneaky, and of course, one kid loses out. Wouldn't we all be far better off if we just said my kid's brilliant at stuff and I want everyone to know? Why hide it? In fairness to your man with the swimming daughter, he's just so proud of her, he can't keep it to himself.

But why couldn't he just say my daughter's brilliant at swimming and I'm delighted? Anything more is boring, boring, boring. Everyone hates a bore. A bore is someone who deprives you of your solitude without giving you anything in return. Surely you can let someone you know that you think your kid is great without telling them that junior swimming in Ireland is divided into four sub grades and that to retain your place in your grade, you have to maintain a minimum time averaged across four accredited swim meets?

The truth is most people just don't like other people's kids. Well, they certainly aren't that interested in them. We've evolved to think our kids are wonderful, but there's no evolutionary reason to like other people's kids. When I have to look after them, I'll be very careful that they don't get hurt and I'll feed them and do a very good impression of someone who likes them, but I'm only interested in having them around for my child's sake. My kids are the cutest, the cleverest, the best-looking kids and the kids who come out with the funniest things. They're rubbish at swimming, though.