I grew up in a family where deflecting compliments was the norm and also the way you indicated you were supposedly humble and more importantly, self-loathing.
“Auntie, I love your cute dress!” I would shout out after Chanukah dinner.
“Oh G-D! I’m so fat I can’t fit into any of my clothes.” She’d gruffly reply, sounding remarkably close to Ebenezer Scrooge.
“Your hair looks so cute.” Trying again to slide in a compliment before the candle lighting.
“Oh the color is all wrong. My stylist was too busy complaining about her breakup with her boyfriend of ten years to focus on getting the right shade of Auburn around the front here.”
Then I tell my auntie, “You are beautiful and inspiring and so cool and I love hanging out with you because we have the same sense of humor and you think farts are funny.” Then she laughs and we eat all the frosting off the Chanukah cake.
That said, it makes perfect sense that even though I’ve worked really, really hard on my “Thank you very much” responses, when caught off guard and feeling just a little too confident, I feel the need to fall back on a deflection/self-effacing comment.
“Nina your hair is amazing!”
“Oh, this ball of twine? It keeps my head warm.”
“Nina you have a great smile.”
“Didn’t you notice my giant silver fillings that make me look like a boxcar hobo from the 1930’s?”
Or sometimes on occasion when I’m almost ok with accepting the compliment, but am still anxious the complimenter might find me arrogant, I’ll play down the compliment.
“You smell really great!”
“Thank you, I used soap today.”
“What a cute dress!”
“Thank you, I got it on sale for $2.99!”
I fear there was some kookoo imprinting early on that taught me if I genuinely accepted the compliment, I would somehow be offending the complimenter. But as a wise friend of mine once told me long ago, after he had spent a month being indoctrinated by some cult called, “Ist” or “Ast” or something, receiving a compliment is a very humbling experience and it’s your obligation to graciously accept it, otherwise you offend the person who has humbled themselves to you.
This is beautiful advice and I try to remember it as much as I can. Especially when it comes to my singing or anything having to do with my music. I figure if people are taking the time to drag their asses off their couch, leaving Netflix and all the creature comforts of their cozy homes behind to come see a live show of mine, which is across town, the city, the state, the country, put on shoes, made the decision to be a sober driver, taken a cab, an Uber, carpooled with someone they don’t even like that much, stayed together with their boyfriend just long enough to make it to the show, gotten a babysitter who they think eats all their food and is teaching their kid how to curse in Polish, downloading my music legally, paying for songs that would otherwise pay for their daily Starbuck’s Mocha Latte addiction or a month’s subscription to said Netflix, or The New Yorker Magazine, or Big Butts Monthly, or have gone so far as to have purchased an actual Compact Disc, the things that were once considered cutting edge technology, and they take the time to physically insert into a device that they either have to pull out of a misplaced sock repository closet or cram into their barely functioning, 1997 Honda Civic, because those are the only two places they can find an actual CD player, then dammit to hell, the least I can do is accept their compliment when they corner me in a bathroom stall to tell me how much they loved the show and that even though they’ve been hearing about me for years and can’t understand why I’m not famous yet, and why haven’t I gotten onto one of those shows that judges you on how hard or fast you sing and that I’d knock out anyone with my voice and that I made them cry and want to reconnect with their father whom they haven’t spoken to in twelve years and my songs really moved them and then they start crying in the adjacent stall while I am secretly trying to pee and not make too many offending sounds since I’ve been holding it in for the past hour.
Because of all that, I’ve learned to be still, hear them out, and just say “Thank you.” I understand that once I put my art out there, it’s not just mine anymore. It’s out there for everyone else’s consumption, interpretation, and personal experience.
So even though when someone tells me I remind them of that singer who I think is music’s greatest bore and testament to mediocrity, and my ego wants to scream out, “How can you compare me to her, she makes me want to stick my head in the oven!” Instead, I let them have their personal experience and let whatever I’ve done resonate with them, and say, “Thank you so much.” And I mean it. Thank you for…see above rant.
A complement of any kind is better than not affecting someone at all. To hear at the end of the night, “She was, meh”, might be the worst offense there is.
So go ahead humans, lay your compliments on me whatever shape they take as I am determined to accept them with grace, humility, and class. And the next time someone asks me, “Have you been working out?” Even if I’m feeling dumpy and bloated, I’ll graciously respond with, “Yes, actually I’ve been working it all out. And I think I’ve got it.”