This is baseline, bedrock, Cheap and Cheerful. In fact, it’s Free and Cheerful. Complimentary and Cheerful. It’s something with such tremendous force for good in the world, but I didn’t really understand its power until my early forties, when I saw it in play with the most outgoing person in my life, my mother.
Mummy was the Queen of the Compliment because it was strictly targeted, which made it so much more meaningful to the recipient. It wasn’t just “You look great!” It was: “You’ve always had great hair, but I’m going to worm out the name of the stylist who’s given you the greatest haircut since Peggy Moffit and Vidal Sassoon!” She’d admire, enthusiastically, the ensemble of the lady ahead of her in the checkout line, the berries at Mme. Rochon’s stand at the market, the prowess of a cab driver.
A boost from family, friends, or a great boss (you know who you are, G.) is a cupcake on a cloudy day, but a compliment from a stranger is manna from heaven. I know all of us have a couple we cherish — here are mine. Yeah, a compliment on physical appearance is special to one as shallow as I.
When I was walking to work at Crate and Barrel in my early twenties (when there were only three stores) a couple of smartass young cops called to me from their squad: “Lady, you got a licence for those legs?” Twenty years later, in Marshall Fields, a salesgirl rushed up to me and said “Ma’am, do you know you have a perfect nose?” I remember those folks with gratitude, and well, my nose hasn’t changed much.
A sincere, (non-creepy) compliment to a stranger is one of the cheeriest actions you can take in a grey world. If the checkout girl has a great manicure, tell her. If the guy down the street has the ultimate in privet hedges, tell him. If your librarian’s a hoot, tell him. If the dude at your local gas station is sporting a swell new turban, tell him. My husband admired the new counter at the Speedway and the clerks were chuffed. It didn’t get him a free package of puffs or Ice Tea, but the young clerk beamed. (Lou said it took him fifty years to learn this.) This isn’t hard lifting mes amis, it’s just opening your heart and your mouth.
I know you all cherish a random compliment from a stranger — do tell.
When you see a great piece of cheese in the cart ahead of you in the checkout line: “Great choice! I love that stuff.” Compliment good behavior from a child in a restaurant. If a kid down the street dunks a great ball, tell him. And in the great, disintegrating web of civilization, make someone’s day. It’s free.