How many times have you mingled at a slam poetry event, gone out to dinner with your significant other’s parents, or listened in on someone’s conversation in a Brooklyn coffee shop and felt like you were the least cultured person in the room? You’re not alone. It’s hard to put on the façade of someone who has their shit together when the majority of your day is spent keeping up with the latest memes and catching up on last week’s episode of The Bachelor. Luckily enough, you don’t have to be an intellectual to seem like an intellectual. Airtight logic there, am I right?
- As the title suggests, simply mentioning David Foster Wallace’s novel, Infinite Jest, will earn you some points. It’s one of the most acclaimed pieces of modern American literature, but it’s 1,000 pages long and the odds that the person you’re conversing with has set aside the time to read the whole thing cover to cover is slim to none. Get the general idea of the plot — which, by the way, takes the focus and determination of a tightrope walker to understand — and have a few vague questions and statements in mind. These may include, but are not limited to: “masterful writing,” “such an unusual structure,” etc. If you’re feeling bold, you can make a connection to James Joyce’s Ulysses, but be careful with that one.
- Pretend you know wine. Swirling it around in the glass and giving it a delicate whiff before you inevitably gulp it down like grape juice gives the effect of being able to differentiate between, say, a red, and…another red? Try to go with adjectives like “oaky” or “fruity” to seem like you have a discerning palate. If you want to kick it up a notch, order a wine with a French-sounding name, and pepper in an anecdote about trying it for the first time that summer you spent abroad in [insert French province here]. Who’ll know?
- Allude to going to the “theatre.” You don’t even have to specify further, just use the word “theatre.” You may substitute with “symphony” if you so choose.
- Bring up something you learned from an NPR segment you recently listened to, and the more esoteric the better. E.g. “I was listening to this fascinating NPR piece on the postmodern effects of cultivating root vegetables in New England and…,” or maybe something about the origination of the beneficiary gut-bacteria present in Greek yogurt? Those are just a few ideas to get those creative juices flowing—don’t be afraid to have fun with it!
- As an alternative, you can swap out the NPR reference with a piece [read: headline] you came across in that month’s The New Yorker. Style points if you say you read it in print, and not online. That’s more hip.
- For cocktail-party specific situations only: Pick a random person leaving the party, and as they’re walking out the door, say, “Hope to see you out on the squash courts, Bill!” Hopefully Bill is out of earshot by now and you just say it because playing squash sounds like something intellectuals do for exercise.
- Reference a Woody Allen movie. Any of them.
- If you’re looking to end a conversation, try to quote a famous philosopher (you don’t even have to get it right) and conclude with that statement before they have time to question your historical inaccuracy. Something like, “And as Socrates once said, company that enriches the mind does indeed feed the soul,” sounds classy and, who knows, Socrates very well could have said something like it.