In a Word . . . Compliment

I find it much easier to handle criticism and abuse, which is just as well

 

Walking along the street an “auld acquaintance” (never to be forgot!) shouted across at me: “Patsy, you look fantastic.” I almost crashed through a nearby Covid-closed plate-glass window. She crossed over, a look of stunned surprise on her face. It equalled my own.

“You look perfect,” she continued, surveying me from head to toe, a slight shadow of bewilderment crossing her features.

I noticed an empty vodka bottle beside the shopfront. Pointing at it, I said “Yours?” She laughed. I knew it wasn’t, but felt one joke deserved another.

Her street-wide exclamation, it transpired, was down to my decades-old but now rarely worn long raincoat of a pastel hue. I wore it that day to stop my knees getting wet in the rain.

By a coincidence I wasn’t aware of, it matched the cap and scarf I was also wearing. Indeed, I would have remained oblivious to this lucky combination but for her “fantastic” cry from the sunny side of the street. When there is sun.

Her yelp at my dress sense was as much inspired by shock on her part as by any pleasure at the aesthetic delight I presented that damp afternoon.

Because, dear reader, “sartorial elegance” is rarely the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to my dress sense – though I did make an effort when working from the office, back in those increasingly distant days when we worked from the office.

Since when, I do at least make a point of getting dressed every morning – I was never one to lounge around in a dressing gown – but not since I was a student has the “style” been as basic. And I like it that way.

But my auld acquaintance and her intervention reminded me once again of how poorly skilled I and we indomitable Irishry are in dealing with compliments.

I find it much easier to handle criticism and abuse, which is just as well and may not be unrelated to my day job, where both are available in tsunami amounts. My skill sets have evolved accordingly, adequate or otherwise.

But compliments leave me struggling, or reaching for a gag – such as that empty vodka bottle – to deflect, while I regain my composure. I blame the English.

Compliment, “expression of civility, respect”, from Latin complementum

inaword@irishtimes.com

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