Ummm thanks: On How to Properly Receive a Compliment
My name is Freya Hill, and I have red hair. What more is there to say- it’s an objective fact. I was, in the words of Lady Gaga, born this way. I don’t spend much time thinking about the colour of my hair, and occasionally when I see photos of myself I think- oh yes, it’s quite red isn’t it.
Red hair is a bit of a buzz point for some. I’ve spent years training my father that, if he must give me a hair-colour-inspired nickname, the correct term is ‘gingy’, because its cute and has soft vowel sounds. Other words (and I’ve discovered that Australia and New Zealand each have their own ones) with their harsh ‘naaaah’ vowels are not allowed.
But this isn’t the rantings of an abused gingy (as a brief note to those who make anti-ginge comments: congratulations you’ve proved you’re not colour-blind, but you’re also proved you’re an idiot). No, this is a musing on compliments, and how we take them.
Gingyism aside, I do quite often get compliments on the colour of my hair. The other day I was at the hairdresser, and a fellow customer first made a compliment on my hair, and then just continued to stare. It become a little awkward, as- trapped in the hairdresser’s seat, surrounded by mirrors- there weren’t many places I could go to escape her beaming, if slightly manic, stares. Of course, it’s flattering to receive a nice remark about my looks, but I seems I don’t know quite how to properly respond – I’ve been known a few times to make the joke ‘Thanks…umm I grew it myself.’
My response to compliments is usually to make a self-deprecating comment to deflect the compliment, or to offer a question/compliment back to the giver. ‘I like your top’ would be responded to by a ‘Oh this old thing, I got it at Target/Warehouse/an op-shop/its a hundred years old and I found it by the side of the road with a pile of old couches and a broken washing machine.’ My other compliment-deflection technique is to volley it back to the sender- ‘Oh no, yours is lovely too.’ This works in some instances, but not all. The classic example of the compliment-volley fail is the: ‘Happy Birthday!’ ‘Thanks! You too’ . Ohhhhh
I suspect my inability to properly take (and perhaps even expect to receive compliments) comes from my British heritage. The Brits are a delightful combination of apologeticness (‘Oh no, my house isn’t tidier than yours, don’t be silly’), politeness (‘Oh why thank you. Your children are also very well behaved’) and a vague suspicion of others’ good will (‘Why yes…Trixie is a cute dog…….why do you say so?’). It’s a trio of traits which doesn’t lend itself well to a free and easy exchange of niceties between one’s countrymen
Not to continue the culture clichés, but I recently meet a fabulous Frenchwoman whose response to compliments was both the opposite of mine, and delightfully refreshing. When retelling a story of how she’s been told an outfit looked good on her, she said her response had been ‘Well of course it looks good on me! It’s on me.’ Her manner wasn’t arrogant, but rather confident. She recalled how she’d been a little surprised that the complimenter even thought to comment, because it was so entirely self-evident to her that her outfits would look good, as she herself always did. I loved her attitude, and no doubt it is the start of a positive flow of cause and effect- she believes her outfits look good, so they do- because of this attitude rather than anything to do with the materials she’s wearing.
There’s an art to accepting a compliment, in a way that both acknowledges the content of the statement that’s been made, but also the act of a compliment in itself: that is that someone is, usually unprompted and without any motive, spontaneously sharing with you something they like or admire about you. It’s a little gift, which should be properly received. Perhaps the middleground is somewhere between the suspicious Brits and the confident French- a polite and affirming response: ‘Thank you. I really like my hair colour too. It has its challenges, but now I wouldn’t want to be anything but a rockin’ redhead.’