Thanks, compliments and other awkward things
Everyone likes to be thanked. So much so, that we tend to get a bit sniffy if someone forgets to thank us for something. Children are constantly reminded to say “Thank you”. So why is thanking often such a thankless task?
The after-dinner speeches at weddings – the main participants’ only chance to formally express their gratitude to family and friends – are dreaded by many of the guests, some of whom pass the time by placing bets on their duration. The tearful thank-yous of award recipients on Oscar night are mocked and satirised. Thank-you cards are the Cinderella of the greeting card world, much bought (good intentions and all that) but little used, often lying forgotten at the backs of drawers.
Personally, I am a thankophile. I get a warm fuzzy glow from thanks of all kinds – whether I am the intended recipient or not. I devour the Acknowledgments sections of books. (Why? Do I secretly hope to find myself in them?) For me, the credits at the ends of films are part of the entertainment. (The cleaners in my local cinema hate me – I stay until the screen goes blank and the house lights come on, while they pointedly sweep up the popcorn from beneath the seats on either side of me.)
Compliments – now they are a different matter. I blame genetics. Being Irish, and a woman at that, I am simply not in the right gene pool to be comfortable accepting compliments. As anyone who has met any Irish woman knows, compliment her and you will receive a self-deprecating eye-roll followed by a rattled-off summary of where she bought it (invariably the cheapest, nastiest bargain-basement place in town), how much she paid for it (next to nothing), and the ways in which it successfully hides her hideous figure (it’s basically a potato sack with buttons so it covers everything).
What is the effect of this tirade on the hapless complimenter? As Gil Gonzalez says, rebuffing a compliment is “the equivalent of giving a gift to someone and having them go on about how you shouldn’t have”. The complimenter feels rebuffed, of course – after all, he has basically been told that he is wrong. He is unlikely to compliment the recipient again. Worst of all, he may feel prompted make a re-assessment and conclude that actually, yes, you do look hideous.
Having recently become sensitised to this bad habit among Mná na hÉireann, I have turned over a new leaf. Now, when a compliment comes my way, I suppress the wave of purchasing information welling up inside me. Instead, I pin a smile to my face and say “Thank you”, even if it is through gritted teeth.
People with religious beliefs are likely to be more familiar with the therapeutic properties of thanking, in the form of prayer. As a child, I bothered God on a nightly basis with a list of thanks and acknowledgments that would have put any Oscar recipient to shame. Now that any notion of God and I have permanently parted ways, I have discovered the concept of “gratitudes”. Gratitudes are like prayer in that (ideally) you say them (usually to yourself) first thing in the morning or last thing at night, or both.
To whom is my gratitude addressed, you might ask? For me personally, gratitudes are a way of enabling myself to feel gratitude for the good things in my life; they are not directed at specific people. Any specific thanking that needs to be done, I like to do in person.
A related issue is the use of terms such as “No problem” and “No worries” to respond to thanks. Now, these statements are appropriate to some degree – at least they are an acknowledgment that thanks have been given. However, as I recently read somewhere, these statements are still off the mark, as their underlying assumption is that there might have been a problem or a worry to begin with. They introduce a negative slant to what should have been a completely positive interaction: thanks given, thanks received. A much happier response to thanks is a simple “You’re welcome” or its more refined cousin, “It’s a pleasure”.
Back to thanks. I recently spent some days in bed due to illness. With the help of family and friends (including my very good friend, the internet), life in the Curmumgeon household continued pretty much as normal while I recovered. All attempts at thanks by me were rebuffed with responses along the lines of “Sure what kind of parent / friend would I be if I didn’t help out?” Which is a very canny way of putting an end to my thanking overtures.
I might have to don a fluffy pink dress, go on TV and burst into tears to show them I really mean it.