Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Price of Being Nice: Paying a Compliment Is Full of Pitfalls, Unless You're a Master of Making and Receiving Flattering Remarks, Warns Annalisa Barbieri

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Price of Being Nice: Paying a Compliment Is Full of Pitfalls, Unless You're a Master of Making and Receiving Flattering Remarks, Warns Annalisa Barbieri

Article excerpt

Paying someone a compliment is a curious experiment. You mean well, and they're pleased, but somewhere in the middle it all goes wrong.

"That's a nice outfit," you start. "Oh, this? Well, it was the only thing that was clean this morning. I don't usually dress so smart. It was only [pounds sterling]20--it was reduced. I never go shopping. I used to go shopping loads before I put on weight but now it's such a nightmare. I never have time to do the ironing since Esme Grace was born ..."

This then forces you to address some of the defences they've put up. "You haven't put on weight/Actually, you often look nice, but it was just today that I commented ..." et cetera, et cetera. This then forces them even further into denying the compliment and before you know it, the sun has set and the last train has pulled out of the station. You meant well, and they will go home pleased, but far, far more words than you had anticipated have passed between you.

The more you receive compliments, of course, the easier it becomes just to say thank you. A friend of mine who must get at least ten a day responds thus: "Oh, thank you, darling, it's Martin Margiela," thereby in one deft sentence acknowledging both your words of kindness and giving you a bit of information, should you wish to "get the look", too (and also paying tribute to the designer). It is somehow less painful to take a compliment well if it's for accessories--shoes or a bag, for example--because these are not seen as being part of "you" in the way an item of clothing is, so it's like accepting a compliment on how cute your dog is. …

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