“Nice shirt,” she said.

I replied, “It is, isn’t it?”

She said, “I’ve heard you say that before. Most people, when they get a compliment, say “Thank you.” You just agree. What’s up with that? You’re polite. You know how to act in public. How come you don’t say thank you?” I explained.

I don’t say “Thank you!” in response to most compliments. It’s not that I’m not glad that somebody wants to say something good about me. I like that part. It’s that most people seem to pay me compliments about things that don’t have much to do with me, and, for me at least, “Thank you!” doesn’t make sense

The other day at the office when a coworker said, “Nice shirt,” and I replied, “It is, isn’t it?” I wasn’t rubbing her nose in the niceness of my shirt. I was agreeing with her sensibilities and aesthetic judgment. I think it a nice shirt, too. That’s why I bought it and wear it as often as I do.

But that’s all I did—buy it and wear it. I didn’t design it, I didn’t make the cloth, I didn’t construct it, and since I didn’t have anything to do with its creation saying “Thank you!” seems like taking credit under false pretenses.

All I did was buy it. Any moron can buy something. Why would I thank her? I suppose I could say “Thank you!” on behalf of the people who were involved in the creation of my shirt, but I’ve already thanked them mutely many times for the excellence of their efforts, and that seems like enough.

On more or less the same hand, I think pride should be earned, not only out of some sense of Newtonian action and reaction, but because that’s when it feels best to me.

I see people who are proud and arrogant about where they were born, as though being born in that particular place could be achieved only through grueling effort, great intellectual prowess, and steely resolve, when actually they had nothing to do with it, and it was probably years before anybody even told them where they were.

Some of us are proud of the way we look, as though chiseled features or sensuous lips or a fine ass or whatever it is we’ve got going for us was just part of the set we wisely assembled from all of the possibilities.

It seems to me that a lot of misery could be avoided if we just quit being proud of our homeland and our culture and our religion and all those other things that are largely thrust upon us, and that are far easier to accept or cheer on than to examine.
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Posted Thursday, December 4th, 2008 under patriotism, Uncategorized.


  1. Oh Tony, she was just complementing you on your good taste. Like how I liked your squash soup. Maybe you didn’t make up the recipe (did you?) but you chose to make something that was good. Sheesh!
    Love the blog.

  2. Oliver Steinberg says:

    If you just say, “Thanks,” it is adequate for routine exchange of signals on the automatic, superficial level which makes up quite a bit of the human-to-human chatter. Your response shows a little more reflection, or even a scintilla of actual thought process occurring, so your interlocutor ought to be flattered, herself, or at least mildly pleased.

    Interesting topic, though, the business of compliments. How to receive a compliment graciously? It is difficult for a lot of people. What movie was it where the actress says: “Oh, this old thing? I just put it on when I don’t care what I wear.”

    So if people tell me, “That’s a nice haircut,” I should reply, “I’ve got a talented barber,” or something like that. Modesty by the complimented person about his or her own traits or achievements is what’s “proper.” But false modesty is annoying. Books used to be written about how to behave well in “society.’ Probably they still are.

    Of course, graciously receiving a compliment is merely one part of the equation. I like to quote Mark Twain about the rest of it:
    “…the happy phrasing of a compliment is one of the rarest of human gifts, and the happy delivery of it another.”

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