By Hannah Reich Berman

Many people use the words “envy” and “jealousy” interchangeably, as if they have the same meaning. They do not. The difference between the two is a subtle one and, at the end of the day, it’s no fun to feel either one. Both make you feel inadequate.

What I’ve learned is that envy is when you want what someone else has, and jealousy is when you’re worried that someone is trying to take what you have. I can’t think of a single thing I have that someone would want to take from me. So it looks like jealousy isn’t my thing. But apparently, envy is. And I have a good deal of it in my soul.

I had never given it much thought and if anyone had asked me if I was an envious person I would have said that I was not. Upon further reflection, however, I have learned that I am indeed that type of person. I have also discovered that one can be envious of just about anything.

For starters, I have nail envy. What this means is that, after getting a manicure, I look around to see what color some of the other customers are using. On rare occasions, I do this before the manicurist begins to apply my color. But not usually! For some reason, I’m more likely to sneak a peek at the colors on the other girls’ nails only after the manicurist has finished doing mine and has already applied the top coat. (For the uninitiated, a top coat is a coat of clear polish that is supposed to seal in the color. It doesn’t necessarily do that, but it is supposed to.)

After that is done, and just as the manicurist is getting ready to escort me to a nail dryer, I usually decide to look around. This is the drill: as I stand up, the worker picks up my pocketbook, cell phone, sunglasses, and any other items I have left at her station, and then we’re off to the nail dryer. The dryer is a small box-like contraption with an opening, through which the customer places both of her hands. When all ten fingers of the hands, with the newly applied nail polish, are positioned inside the little box, the manicurist flips a switch and warm gentle air flows out of somewhere and helps to dry the nails.

By this time, I’ve had an opportunity to see all of the different colors that the other patrons are sporting. And that is when the envy sets in. If I have a dark color, I envy those who went with a pale shade. If my selection was pink, I’m sorry I didn’t go with red. If I used a conventional color, I stare with longing at the gals who went with a bright blue or green. You get the picture! I usually want what someone else has on her nails. But it’s too late.

Every week, I have the same internal conversation with myself. I think–but don’t say out loud–okay, it’s no big deal, but next time I’ll get that frosted purple shade that the girl sitting at the dryer next to me has on her nails. If only it ended with nail envy. But it doesn’t.

I also have menu envy! When I sit down in a restaurant, my focus is on both my companion and the menu. Sometimes we discuss what we plan to order but, until a server approaches our table, we continue to peruse the menu. When the server finally arrives, our first order of business is to ask her to remove the bread basket from the table. Fresh bread (along with the accompanying butter) is, as every dieter knows, hard to resist. At that point, we place our orders with the worker and then we sit back and relax.

Once our server leaves us, with the bread basket in hand, my friend and I settle in for a nice chat. Everything is fine until a waiter passes our table with an armload of luncheon plates. Why we bother to look at someone else’s food, I don’t know, but we do. And right away, each of us spots something that looks a lot better than what we ordered. Sometimes we wait for the server to place the dishes on the table and then, when she leaves that table and passes by us again, we stop her and ask, “What did those people order?”

We don’t always do that. If the other table is close enough to ours, we don’t bother with the server. We go directly to the source. This is done by leaning across the space between our table and the other and asking those diners what is on their plates. When it comes to food, we have no shame.

Most people are friendly and have no objection to telling us what they ordered. Invariably, we’re sorry we didn’t order it. We had looked at the menu and had probably seen it, but there is no substitute for seeing a dish live as it is set down in front of someone else–someone who was wise enough to select it.

My friend and I say the same thing to each other every time: “Too bad we’ve already ordered. Our waiter went into the kitchen about ten minutes ago, so it’s too late. We can’t change our orders now. But next time, let’s remember to try that dish.” This is an example of menu envy!

There are many things in my world besides the color of my nail polish and what I order for lunch on any given day, but those are the two that come to mind because those are the two that cause me envy. Fortunately, the envy is both unimportant and temporary but, I have to admit, it does exist. That’s the way it is. v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.

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