My dad told me when I was a little kid that giving compliments are important. Once at a drive-thru, he took his bags from the cashier and right before he drove away he said:
- Keep smiling, you look good.
I only saw her for about three more seconds as we drove away, but she was beaming. All I could see was flushed cheeks and teeth as I looked out of the back window. My dad handed me the bags of food and dropped some knowledge as I waited for an opening so I could ask for a french fry. He told me that giving compliments is a small thing that means a lot. According to him, that one sentence took a second for him to say, but it made her day. She could have been having a bad day, but him telling her to smile made it better. Compliments were important. I was amazed at this gem of wisdom. I would definitely start saying nice things to make people's day. It would be awesome if everybody remembered me! I nodded in complete understanding.
- Can I have a french fry?
My mother wasn't as nice at fast food restaurants, but I still learned from her. She has a very keen eye for detail. She can describe someone's mouth and facial expressions to you after a short conversation and can execute most accents/dialects (besides Swedie's) to near perfection. It's embarrassing that she does it mid-conversation with people. Talk about offensive! So if some girl with a few extra teeth messes up her order at a fast food restaurant, you'd better believe that girl won't forget Expat Jon's mom that called her:
- SHARK-MOUTHED HEFFA!!!
Or the guy who came up to her at Subway with a booger in his mustache.
- Welcome to Subway, may I help you?
- No, not with that booger in your mustache!
Only to turn around embarrassed and wipe it off with a napkin.
- I'm sorry. How can I help you?
- I didn't see you wash your hands!
Once she even had an all-out temper tantrum in McDonald's and started throwing cheeseburgers. It was when they had a special of 39 cent cheeseburgers on Sundays (39 CENTS!!!). There was a limit of ten. We had people visiting us, so ten wouldn't be enough. She went through the drive-thru and ordered ten and sent my sister in to get another ten. The worker figured it out (I'm sure we weren't the first to do this). My sister came out empty-handed and my mom went in fuming. One thing led to another and cheeseburgers ended up flying all over McDonald's. No one was injured.
I took the good from both of my parents' fast food engagements. I use my mother's attentiveness to seek out the positive attributes of people. Then I make sure to tell the person their flattering traits. I do this for the person. It's good to make someone's day. That makes me feel good. The smile on their face is all the reward I need. It can get weird if you linger. Then you have to prove that you really only wanted to give a compliment and have no other intentions. I learned not to even wait for a thank you. The smile and pleasant surprise is banked in your memory and you know you may have made that person's day. My dad got it right when he said what he said and drove off. So now I'm a drive-by complimenter.
I brought this philosophy of mine with me to Sweden. It's not as easy to execute here. Their social coding isn't built for greetings, let alone compliments! Normally the shock/surprise of the whole thing comes at the compliment. That's kind of fun. But here the shock/surprise comes at you saying hello. How dare you?! So instead of a slight smile or look of flattery, you get the utter fear and bewilderment while the person wonders if you're crazy. And that's before you say,
- Nice watch.
But when you do say, "Nice watch" to a Swede, 9 out of 10 times, that Swede will look for something nice about you to say. The other thing they may do is say what kind of watch it is and where they got it from. Like I was really going to buy it. Then they go on to talking about the weather (standard). Taking a compliment isn't practiced much here, I guess. Just say, "Thank you." Because there is now pressure on me to look good when I give a compliment. What if I look like crap that day? Then I see you have nice shoes on and I want to make your day a little bit better.
- Nice shoes!
Then you look at me, obviously looking for something nice to say about me, but I look like crap. So all I get is a surprised,
The hell does that mean? Just thank me if you must say something. Or smile, nod your head and walk away. But don't make both of us feel bad; you because you got into this terrible social interaction, and me because I now realize that I really do look like crap today. Thanks Swede who I just tried to be nice to. You're lucky there are no cheeseburgers nearby. Until next time...