I think it probably goes without saying that all of us, whatever our culture, value compliments from some sources more than others.
Living here in Britain, I’ve come to appreciate that by the same token, some compliments reflect social class. They may be delivered kindly but they clearly suggest that the person bestowing the compliment considers themselves somewhat superior. When we were living in the Lake District, a woman whose accent resembled that of Prince Charles complimented me on the quality of the insulation she saw I was installing on one of our outside walls, and encouraged me to continue with “the good work.”
I can tell you without a doubt that I knew far more about insulation than she did. But she fancied herself as one of the Great and the Good. She probably handed out turkeys for Christmas dinner to the peasants working on the fields of her estate. Personally I found her patronizing and pretentious.
This morning, however, after I bought our Sunday paper from our local newsstand, I had a horrible thought. The newsboy is new, from Sri Lanka, I think, and is simply lovely. When I make a purchase, I generally thank him and wish him a good day. This morning I also asked him how much longer he had to work, and when he said he’d almost finished for this Sunday, I mentioned that he had a lovely sunny day in front of him, and said I hoped he’d enjoy it.
Pretty innocuous, you might think. And it was. But I had the terrible thought, that with my American accent here in England, and speaking to a young immigrant just making his way, I sounded exactly like one of those pretentious, patronizing superior types I so despise. By and large, the English do not give out compliments the way Americans do, and I’ve been aware recently that I have embarrassed several people simply expressing my appreciation for a job exceptionally well done.
Who know how many times I’ve put my foot in my mouth?.