Monday, 6 January 2020

Talking to strangers!

I bought some stuff in The Body Shop in Oldham the other day. As I put my purchases down on the counter the assistant said to me, “Oh, you look lovely!” How nice to be greeted with a compliment. Of course, it might just be my natural loveliness but I think that what provoked the compliment was my matching bright yellow accessories; beret, gloves, bag, brightening up a dull day.

Okay, perhaps I go a little,over the top with matching or coordinating accessories and maybe my daughter and granddaughters call me “the coordination queen”, with some reason, but I grew up in an age when if you bought a pair of shies you did your darnedest to buy a matching handbag. Goodness, I worked part time in a shoe shop in my late teens and we were not just encouraged but positively instructed to press lady customers to purchase a matching handbag!

Anyway, getting back to random compliments I came across this in the Guardian online. For some reason I didn’t get the link but simply copied the content. Neither did I get the name of the journalist. But here it is, all about how we find it hard to give and accept compliments:-

“When I was about 12, I distinctly remember being in a branch of Sayers the bakers. (Sayers was a very popular chain in the north-west before Greggs came along – in completely the same colour scheme, I might add – and somehow became “cool”. I don’t think this injustice has ever been fully acknowledged.)

Anyway, I was in Sayers the bakers, and I complimented a woman on her earrings. The woman didn’t thank me; she instead looked very embarrassed and proceeded to deliver a five-minute monologue about how rubbish her earrings were. How they were actually really cheap. And the colour washed her out. They weren’t real silver, either. These earrings were basically the source of all that was bad in the world. I remember it because a week before I had read in some teen magazine that girls and women very rarely accept compliments – and here was empirical proof.

I resolved then to always accept a compliment. In truth, I often add a self-deprecating aside, but, more than I used to, I will just smile and say thank you. It feels good. Is it better to give or receive? With compliments, as with sex, these are equally pleasurable. I give a lot of compliments. I love to give compliments. I compliment people on the street, sometimes weaving between commuters like the opening scene of a Bond film where he’s giving chase, to ask someone where they got their awesome top (it’s never, say, “Jigsaw last month.” Always: “Oh! A tiny off-the-beaten-track stall in Peru four years ago!”).

Most of the time, people beam at random compliments. If someone is looking great, why not tell them? Likewise, if someone has produced something you have really enjoyed, tell them. As a novelist friend recently tweeted: “If you spot a harried husk of an author looking broken in the tinned mysteries aisle at Lidl, and you are considering engaging them in excited chat about their last book… do. Made my week.” We don’t often get things for free in this world. But a compliment is free and easy. It can make a heavy heart lift. Or quell an insecurity, or remind you what a good friend somebody is, or that there are benevolent people in the world, just floating about.

I am writing this on the decking of a cafe, pavement-side. A man just walked past looking very dapper. I told him so. “Thank you very much!” he replied. I can see him walking into the distance, grinning.” 

There you go! And here is a link I did get, Gaby Hinsliff going on about how we don’t talk to people on buses and in cafes.

And here is Daniel Lavelle, on the same subject. Now, personally I talk to people at bus stops and on public transport all the time.. And it has led to some very interesting conversations on aeroplanes as well. But I am aware that this is a little unusual. It’s just me

However, I rather object to the suggestion that I hear all the time that this reluctance to talk to strangers is a particularly British trait. I have travelled quite a bit on Spanish buses and trains and find that Spanish travellers are just as reluctant to communicate with strangers as their British counterparts. The same applies to people sitting in bars and cafes. As a rule people sit in their little groups and communication only takes place between tables if something unusual takes place.

The exception, of course, is when you sit on a terraza and have to fight off the onslaught of silly pigeons and aggressive seagulls seeking to eat your free tapas before you do. Then people talk, but only to moan about the flying vermin!

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