With our compliments ("I like your hair!")

I’m not good with compliments.

A little difficult, you might suppose, given that pretty much everything I do in my waking hours is motivated by a desire for recognition and praise. My life thus far has been punctuated by the certificates of achievement, the written pats on the head that fill countless shoeboxes in my possession. To the casual observer, I’m falling over myself for pleasant things to be said both to and about me.Not so, for in the presence of anything vaguely complimentary, I metaphorically shrivel like an apricot in a tumble dryer (don’t try this at home kids. People from Whirlpool will mock you, and nobody wants a piece of that) and wish to be anywhere but in the receiving line.

I usually attribute this to the carefully cultivated false modesty that enabled me to survive high school. It was essentially big fish, small pond syndrome (well, killer whale to plankton is probably a more accurate comparison) and it was very noticed when one was to succeed in anything. Social death could easily happen after the slightest indication from a maths teacher that your fractals were the prettiest. Actually, I’m not entirely sure fractals were ever on the syllabus, perhaps I mean quadratic equations? I was one of those precocious types to begin with – getting good grades from the most sadistic of educators, and constantly singled out as an example of how it should be done. You must all know that there are two reactions in this scenario: if it happens to you, cringe and motion for the ground to open and swallow you; if you’re mere observer, instantly loathe that crawler for daring to be better than you, not that you care because you’re too cool to be brainy. So I learnt within a few weeks that pride and a sense of achievement would be the equivalent of a ‘kick me’ sign between the shoulder blades. I adapted well, pooh-poohing even the slightest nugget of praise as being the action of addle-minded teachers who all wanted to marry me or something hideous. It worked, and I survived with nary a bruise for my troubles.

But it’s more than that. Should Mrs Lola happen to say I’m looking particularly stunning, or a friend remark upon my professional telephone manner, and I’m instantly backing away like I’ve been stung by a terribly vicious kamikaze wasp. I don’t know what to do with things like that. I might throw around compliments like cheap confetti, but I’m 100% uncomfortable being on the receiving end.I suppose there’s a book of etiquette somewhere to deal with situations just like these. Only I can put the grace into gracious after all, but I have no earthly idea how to begin.

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