They say that a compliment is the only thing you can pay that costs you nothing. I see the logic behind this idea, but I’m not sure it’s 100% true. I think a compliment can run the risk of costing you ‘big time’ – as the young people probably don’t say anymore.

To put it simply, compliments – like babies with big heads – are tricky things to deliver. It’s so easy to think you’re saying the right thing and suddenly find yourself in what I like to call a “Marie Antoinette” situation: nice idea, shame about the execution.

My biggest problem with paying a compliment is my tone. Somehow, I’m not sure why, my voice makes whatever I say sound sarcastic – even when I’m not intending to be. It means that phrases which are meant to sound endearing have the opposite effect. “Your hair looks nice” becomes “Your hair looks ‘nice’” which isn’t a compliment at all. There’s nothing I can do about it; I’ve tried. The more I try to sound sincere, the less sincere I sound.

As a result of this curious affliction, I’m someone who really weighs up the appropriateness of every compliment before I give it, as I’m acutely aware it could go wrong at any point. Unfortunately not everyone is so circumspect. While I’m busily typing in the various cafes and coffee shops that can be found all around Devon I often overhear compliments go badly. Very badly. I’ve even seen someone end up ‘wearing’ a coffee as a result of one of these misplaced comments – thankfully the drink appeared to be cold.

Recently I overheard the following conversation, it left me wincing with embarrassment:

Brian is at the front of a queue in a coffee shop. The barista, Lisa, smiles.
Lisa: Good afternoon, sir.
Brian: It’s beautiful isn’t it?
Lisa: It really is. What can I get for you?
Brian: Before you start I just wanted to say something.
Lisa seems perturbed, she looks towards the long queue behind Brian.
Lisa: OK…
Brian: I wrote you a poem. Would you like to hear it?
Lisa: That’s nice.
Brian: I know. Do you want to hear it?
Lisa: Maybe later. There’s a bit of a queue.
Brian: They don’t mind.
There’s a lot of disgruntled murmuring from the queue.
Lisa: What would you like to drink?
Brian rummages in his pockets.
Brian: I’ve got it in here somewhere.
Lisa: Your drink sir?
Brian: Where did I put it?
Lisa: Sir, there’s a queue.
Brian: Can’t find it. Anyway, the poem was about how beautiful you are.
Lisa in noticeably taken aback.
Brian: You’re by far the most beautiful person who works here.
Lisa blushes.
Lisa: Thank you.
Brian: But then, it is a small branch and there aren’t many staff.

Chris McGuire

Chris McGuire is a Devon-based writer. He’s nowhere near as sarcastic as he sounds. Seriously
Find him on twitter: @McGuireski

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