Sunday, June 26, 2011

Observations != Compliments

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a little bit fussy when it comes to etiquette. It serves an important purpose; etiquette is observed so that people are comfortable and respected. Many argue that in modern society etiquette is outdated and unnecessary and perhaps in our every day lives knowing how to correctly set a table isn’t critical information, but that doesn’t mean that all social graces should be ignored.

image from

A case in point. Compliments are lovely. I enjoy receiving them and I certainly try not to be stingy in giving them. Compliments on one’s appearance are tricky, especially when given to a stranger. The gentleman behind me in line at the cafe who told me I “have a very sincere smile” got it right, the guy that hung out of his soccer van window to tell me my shoes were “hot,” not so much.

Lately though I’ve become perplexed by the non-compliment. These are observations that are said as though the person saying them is paying you a compliment.

For instance there was the fellow who told me in an appreciative tone “Those are some very high heels.” Well, yes, maybe they are, but you’ve left me flustered for a response because “thank you” hardly seems the correct response for your observation. Perhaps an observation in return? “The rise of your jeans are very high as well.” No, that would be impolite.

No, President Obama didn't comment on my shoes, but he does rock the high rise jeans!

Another (shoe-related) non-compliment I get is “how do you walk in those?” Well, one foot in front of the other usually, unless I’m feeling silly and moon walk instead. I don’t like being glib with my answer, so instead I take a defensive stance, “Oh, I’m so accustomed to heels, I hardly notice anymore.”

Once at the grocery store I finally had enough and told the non-complimenter who was scanning my groceries, “If you would stop putting my green tea on the top shelf I could wear flats, but you’ve made your store entirely unfriendly to those of us under 5’4”.” I was in a cranky mood.

I always take whatever comment is made in the spirit it is given, but it never hurts to think about what we say before we say it. And for the love of all that’s holy, never comment on a person’s weight!

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