At a Christmas party earlier this week my appearance was complimented very enthusiastically by two male acquaintances. It transpired that one had been in the pub since lunchtime and I know the other is sight impaired. Did this make the compliments any lesser? “I’d take it anyway” said a friend when I told her. In fact, earlier this year I had a small piece published in Reader’s Digest about a similar thing which happened to me years ago at a funeral. I remember a colleague of mine being distraught after her favourite skirt was admired by a woman with very bad fashion sense. When is a compliment not a compliment? Or could it be that some people are useless at being praised?
As a nation we are completely rubbish with accepting compliments: it’s just not British at all. I’ve found women of my generation in particular have been raised to be self-deprecating and modest: “Oh, this old thing, I’ve had it years”. Being thought to be conceited is horrifying. Not so with others. The best show of blatant immodesty I have come across was in my ex, raised by an adoring Turkish mother. After we split up he sent me a photo (this was twenty years ago before technology) of himself, with these wonderful words inscribed on the back: “Look how lovely I am. Look what big mistake you make.” I’ve kept it for when I need a laugh. Part of me though would just love to have one-fifth of his self-belief.
But what about having our writing complimented? I’m thrilled when someone has enjoyed something I have written, probably because, like most writers, I put my heart and soul into my work; it is my biggest passion. (Apologies to my husband and the dog). Who was it who once said “Writing is easy. You just sit at a typewriter and open a vein”? Very true. Nothing lifts the sensitive writer’s spirits more than being told how great your latest blog or article is. Even the biggest bestselling novelist loves a compliment, be it a tweet, a great review or seeing someone on a beach or train enjoying their novel. I’ve never once waved away a compliment about my writing, enquired if the complimentor is under the influence of alcohol or insisted that it was “rubbish, really”. I try to be gracious and modest whilst saving the little dance of victory for later.
To end on a lighthearted note, the muddling of the words “complimentary” and “complementary” always tickles me. I quite expect a shelf of books labelled “complimentary medicine” to spring forth and admire my new dress. (Oh, this old thing? I just threw it on!”)
Merry Christmas to all my readers!