I think I was in college the first time I heard the phrase “bougie” (boo-gee). It was spoken by a friend of mine right after we walked into a deli to meet with a group. Evan briefly looked at the menu and then turned to me.
“I should have known when Jessica picked this place, it was going to be some highfalutin bougie crap,” he said. “I don’t want to spend $10 on a sandwich.”
“Me neither.” I said flatly.
We turned on our heels and went to Taco Bell.
That moment, along with a few others, shaped my definition of bougie. It meant high ego, high maintenance, and high priced. It described people and places that used their real or imagined well-to-do-ness as a reason to look down on others.
It was not a term of endearment.
The word had escaped my vocabulary by the time I heard it again a couple of years ago. A few members of my book club called me bougie after I set out a tray with labeled cheese and served wine in glasses instead of plastic cups. Not too long after that, a close friend explained to her dinner group that I was her “bougie friend” to erase the confused looks on their faces when I requested a wine list.
In both situations, the only person batting an eye at the comment was me. Is bougie a compliment? If so, when did that happen?
I took a quick look at Urban Dictionary to see what’s what. There were seven definitions ranging from “upscale” to “snobby.” Six out of seven were at the snobby end of the spectrum.
From what I could tell, this was still not a term of endearment.
Last week, while shopping for ground lamb, I ended up at a grocery store that has a reputation for higher prices. It turns out they don’t cost more than anywhere else. Plus, they have a bigger selection and better produce. I’ll be going there from now on. When I mentioned this to my friend, she called me bougie (again).
I lamented my frustration to a colleague.
“Just own it,” he said. “You like what you like. They’re the ones missing out, not you.”
I looked at him more closely. Tortoise glasses. Bow tie. Lint-free designer sweater. This guy’s been called bougie on more than one occasion.
“I’ve been called bougie since middle school,” he said, confirming my suspicions. He went on to say that his willingness to try new (and better) things have helped further his career and personal life. And if that made him bougie, so be it.
So be it for me, too.
One piece of advice, though. The next time you are about to call someone bougie, take a minute to check out whatever it is that brought that word to mind. You just might find something that’s right for you.