Flatter Me Silly


Ever since I was a child, I have lived in fear of being labeled as 'smart'. My pre-college years were spent attending relatively small schools with a relatively low number of advanced students. In grade school, I was teased mercilessly whenever I scored well on an exam, and my only high school boyfriend dumped me when I was announced as valedictorian (he admitted that it would "look bad" for him to associate himself with someone of such academic success). Subsequently, I always enjoyed attending Public Undergrad and Grad Universities, where I could satisfy myself by attending prestigious programs, but there was blissful anonymity in the university name.

Working at Brilliant University is another story. Ever since making the move to my new city and academic home, I am often asked about my occupation by new acquaintances/complete strangers/etc. Something along the lines of, "So what brings you to New City?" I then tell the questioner that I have recently started a position as a postdoctoral researcher at Brilliant University. If the person is not an academic (as most random people are not), s/he will almost always reply with some variation of, "Oh, my! You must be so smart!"

Given my life experiences, this comment makes me cringe every time. How to respond? I submit to the reader the following options:
"Oh, no I'm not!"
"Yes, I am very smart."
"Actually, I am f%!# brilliant. I will win a Nobel Prize by the time I am 30."
"Thank you."
Here are my corresponding opinions:
This is my instinctive answer. To plead, "Don't hate me, I'm just like you!" Unfortunately, this answer is false. And I am anything but a liar.
This answer is true, but I don't like it. I think it's rude to talk about being smart, especially around people who might not be as smart.
This is how my Most Arrogant Colleague at Brilliant University would respond. I would have to be drunk to even consider giving this patently asinine (and false) answer.
At first, this seems to be the most gracious reply. However, by accepting the compliment, I would feel that I am really answering with Option #2.
In reality, I have found all of these answers to be unsatisfactory. The only solution, I decided, would be to invoke Humor while also being completely truthful. Now, when someone says, "You must be so smart!", I simply smile and reply, "My husband tells me otherwise."

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