Three Ball Paul

Three Ball Paul is not really called Paul, though he is someone I know.

I’ve picked up that phrase from some letters I saw in a newspaper, where people were describing people they knew at work who were always bragging, always having to be one up on other people’s comments and experiences.  (So it’s obviously a common phenomenon.)

In one letter a man described someone at work who was now being referred to as ‘Three Ball Paul’, “because if you mentioned that you had two balls, he’d tell you he had three!”

Someone else has commented to me that this doesn’t really work – since all (most) men have two balls, it would make more sense that if someone announced they in fact had three, ‘Paul’ would have to say he had four.  So maybe it should be ‘Four Ball Paul’.

Anyway, it’s a thing about exaggeration, about always being one better.  People slip into it, and it can build up and get quite chronic.  You’d think it would be too much of a cliché, too much not the done thing, to brag in this way, but it’s surprising how many people do it.  They may try to be subtle, but people read between the lines.  If one person talks about having bought a car (say car A, worth x), the bragger won’t completely blatantly say, “oh is that all you can afford? I’ve got a B worth 3x”.  He will say things like, “oh yes the A has got really good steering, but I think the B has got a more reliable gearbox”.  Or, “Where did you get it?  Oh really, I got my first B from a place near there”.

I’m amazed how often people volunteer the price of their property whilst chatting at work.  I suppose there’s no point having a million pound house if you’re not going to brag about it, but I can’t imagine why they think people are going to be impressed, rather than resentful.  Second homes often get seemingly accidentally slipped into the conversation.  “I know the road you mean – we drive that way when we go down to our cottage in Cornwall.”  (Just so you know we’ve got one!)

It happens most readily when it comes to holidays.  I was once on a cruise where three couples spent virtually every conversation comparing and contrasting their various previous cruises.  It became most tiresome.

You must have heard the sort of thing.  One person starts describing a particular exotic holiday, and someone will chip in with a comment about the same place, just to make the point that they’ve been there too.  Then they might mention somewhere else.  “Oh yes, we loved Egypt, but really the best holiday we’ve had recently was our tour of China – I’ll never forget the Great Wall, such an amazing experience.”

Oh dear, the first person has never been to China, but no problem.  “I don’t really fancy China, I’ve heard it’s just so busy on the tourist trail.  We’re in love with Australia at the moment – have you done Sydney at New Year?  Oh, you mustn’t miss it!”

I know how easy it is to slip into this sort of thing, I’ve felt the urge myself.  Of course if someone mentions somewhere you know, you want to chip in with your experience of the place, with your own personal memory.  But right from early on I’ve always been very aware of this sort of thing, and not wanted to be seen as the sort of person who name drops about places all the time – so I make a point of not always responding, of not playing the game.

The Three Ball Paul at work shows no such restraint.  The other day there was a conversation about safaris.  I’ve never been on one so I kept my mouth shut, though I was interested to hear of other people’s experiences.  But it escalated so ridiculously, it was comical.

She had been to Kenya twice.

He had been three times, and had now visited all the main national parks.

Had he ever stayed at Treetops?

Yes, and wasn’t it much better since it had been refurbished!

Had he managed to see ‘the big five’?

Yes, every time, and he’d even seen a very rare black leopard.  (He offered to show photos, so this must have been true.  I did consider winding him up, though, and announcing that I’d once seen an albino giraffe.  He, doubtless, would have seen a herd of them – sweeping majestically across the plains.)

His female colleague had also spent time on the coast near Mombasa.

Of course he had too, but he actually preferred nearby Zanzibar as a beach resort, it was a bit more exclusive.

Someone else had been on safari in Botswana.

Oh yes, Botswana was good for elephants, but South Africa was really the best place of all, the scenery was spectacular.

The trouble with safaris was the discomfort of the little minibuses though.

That’s why he always insisted on a private vehicle, these days.

It’s a ‘game’ I’ve heard described as ‘mine’s better than yours’, and people need to realise they’re playing it and STOP, because it makes them immensely BORING.

I can hardly talk to ‘Paul’ any more, because every single thing you say, any comment you make, even if it’s just a pleasantry, results in a response which informs you of his opinion on the topic, or his experience of the place, or his take on the matter.

You try to turn the conversation back to your own experience or opinions at your own peril.  He will soon be offering his own angle again, talking over you in his haste to affirm his own superiority.  The thing is, he probably doesn’t see it like that.  He would just think he was having a conversation.  Somebody (not me) needs to take him aside and tell him how tiresome he’s being, try to get him to LISTEN a bit more, and not always to want to take over the conversation with his own experiences and opinions.

The other thing Three Ball Paul has started doing is finishing your sentences for you.  I’ve come across a few people who do this – it becomes a sort of habit with people, they probably don’t always realise they’re doing it.  But it’s an awful habit because it makes you come across as if you know better than the person themselves, what they’re going to say.  And worse than that, that you’ve thought of that already and are just reaffirming their thought.  And that you are the fount of all knowledge and nothing they could possibly say would be something you might want to hear!

No doubt we can all sometimes guess what the last word of someone’s sentence might be – but we don’t always voice it out loud!

Having your sentences finished for you can result in a weird sort of verbal battle, where once you realise that someone is going to cut in and finish your sentence, it annoys you so much that you deliberately change the word you were going to use, so as to make the other person wrong, to show them up.

Talk about games!  This is one I don’t like to play but I have done it on a number of occasions with Three Ball Paul.

You’d think he would’ve got the point by now!

“That’s the frustrating thing about it, people can’t tell the wood from the – ”

“ – from the trees.”

“ – forest.”

“Well I can see the point, but it really is just a matter of – ”

“ – matter of opinion.”

“ – people’s point of view.”

“Hey, Paul, isn’t it infuriating when people interrupt you to finish off – ”

“ – to finish off your sentence.”

“ – what you’re saying.”


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