When I was a kid, I read a magazine that counselled its readers to learn to accept compliments graciously. They suggested that, rather than responding with a list of all the things wrong with your hair/face/clothes/weight, you could simply adopt the attitude of a chic Parisienne; smile and say merci.
I never quite understood why they considered French women the bastions of self-posession in this instance, but I thought the advice was sound and tried to adopt the approach.
Because here’s the thing about compliments: it can be hard to take them without feeling embarrassed or full of yourself, but it can also be difficult to give them.
You might be surprised by how shy I am: it took me 3 days to pluck up the courage to go and invite the new girl at work out for lunch, even though I remember how lonely I was in that position a year ago. 3 days! I actually did that thing where you walk halfway over and then turn around and run away again. She must think I’m nuts.
So if you’re getting a compliment from me, you might want to know that I probably rehearsed it several times in my head, to make sure it didn’t sound cheesy, or like I am trying too hard, or like a backhanded compliment that is designed to make you feel bad about yourself. And even as I’m saying it, I’m probably thinking “oh no! I over-rehearsed it in my head, and now it sounds wooden and fake! Argh!”
Because even though I’ve done my best to master the serene smile and thank you (or as it shall henceforth be known, the French Method), I still end up over-analysing any compliment, to ferret out any subtle allusions or double meanings. Here’s just two recent examples:
Woman at work: Look at you! You look smaller and smaller every time I see you!
Me: I’m sorry?
Woman: You’ve lost weight, you look great!
Me: Oh, thanks! [no I haven’t. If anything I’ve gained weight recently. Why does she think that? Am I fat in the mental image she has of me, and so when she actually sees me, she’s always surprised by how slim I actually am?? DO I HAVE A FAT AURA?!]
That’s actually mild insanity on my part right? I mentioned this exchange to Ben, and before I could even comment he said “I hope you didn’t find a way to take that badly”. How well he knows me.
Italian woman of my acquaintance: Ah, you look so much like my daughter! I have a daughter your age, she is… [waves hand vaguely at my chest as if searching for the Italian word for buxom] She looks just like you, che bella! But she has two young children.
Rational Siri: all parents think their children are gorgeous. Being compared to someone’s child is a serious compliment.
Crazy-Ass Insecure Siri: I’m pretty sure she just implied I have the figure of a woman who’s had two kids, and simultaneously pointed out my failure to reproduce.
Rational Siri: Crazy-Ass Insecure Siri, you’re a dick.
As a little experiment, I asked Ben when he last received a compliment:
Ben: Yesterday, when you told me how great I look in the jacket you bought me
Siri: and what did you think when I said that?
Ben: [beatific grin]
So there you go ladies: you look fucking awesome today. Take it like a man.