You look smashing!

March 1st is World Compliment Day. That makes me think back to my first time in New York, where people threw compliments at me on the street and I was completely caught off guard. Especially coming from a deeply rooted small town mentality of “who do you think you are?” and “you must not think you are better than anybody else”. Where I grew up, these unwritten rules were much more forceful than the Ten Commandments.

But I liked them, the compliments of NYC. As I have the compliments of other places over there on later occasions as well. Their degree of sincerity doesn’t really matter as a tourist, it feels nice to just take them in and let them be a part of the experience. Because I’m more used to them being few and far between.

Still I find it hard to pay compliments to strangers. I often feel like it, just passing somebody on the street or when I see somebody trying something on in a shop, but the words won’t come out. Instead I end up staring at them, and who likes to be stared at? I guess I don’t want them to think “who does she think she is, meddling?” To my own defense, giving praise, sincere mind you, to people I know is a constant note to self.

Not everybody likes a compliment

It’s easy to think we all value and need the assurance of compliments, but according to Psychology Today, not everybody does. It depends on our self-esteem, and if it is low, we may feel awkward receiving compliments. They go against our own image of ourselves, and we tend to seek recognition for our own perceptions of the self. Also, compliments may be perceived as insincere, even offending or threatening, in this situation.

You Rule!This might be particularly visible and difficult in a relationship, where the partner with low self-esteem feels he or she can’t live up to the expectations expressed through the compliments of the other, and fears the relationship will fail. Enter the danger of self-fulfilling prophecy.

But not everyone who dislikes receiving compliments has low self-esteem, it is also culturally contingent. In some cultures it is quite simply much more accepted to give praise than in others, as the USA versus rural Norway example shows.

Some also see giving compliments as indulgent or even condescending.

The article concludes that it might be wise to think about how your compliment may be received. Which I guess is exactly why I keep my mouth shot when I feel like complimenting a stranger. And certainly, in a cultural melting pot, the cultural component of compliments matters.

I still believe I keep my mouth shot too often. Next time, I’ll tell the lady trying on a dress how smashing she looks in it – who knows, might even make her day.

By Unni Bakke Holtedahl, March 1st 2014. Illustration © Iqoncept | 

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