Don’t Insult Me With Your Englishness

Like most people, one of the things I learnt as a child was how to say thank you. It’s polite and the right thing to do. However, this is not always as easy as it sounds for everyone.

For example, if we are given a birthday present, we say thank you. No problem. Everybody gets that. But have you noticed what many people say when they are given a direct complement and are told that they look good or are very good at something?

– Oh, it’s nothing
– I didn’t do anything
– That’s nothing special

They not only make light of their ‘achievement’, but also unintentionally insult the person giving the complement by saying that it isn’t true.

This was a lesson I learned at 18 in one of my first jobs. My then boss who was a strong and opinionated woman from Colombia called Connie complemented me on a project I had worked on and so, I responded as my upbringing had taught me by playing it down. However Connie was quite a direct woman and took no prisoners, so she took me to task and said:

Don’t insult me with your ‘Englishness’!

She thought I had done well, wanted to say so and said that she didn’t have to do that, so had found my making nothing of it as offensive. I had never thought of it in that way before and of course apologised profusely, possibly making things even worse. Maybe in England we are brought up this way in that we don’t want to be seen as too big-headed, but my conversation with Connie has stayed with me to this day.

However, what I had never realised until that day was that it can be difficult enough offering compliments, so how would you feel if someone didn’t accept it? I know we are generally taught not to be ‘too big for our boots’ especially in England perhaps, but sometimes it’s not about you. Someone’s taken the trouble to say something nice to you, so  the least you can say is ‘thank you’ as opposed to ‘oh no I don’t look good, I look awful because blah blah blah…’

So, this post is for Connie wherever she may be in the world. I’d like to say ‘thank you’ for teaching me something that day which is still with me today. I would also like to say to her ‘You are fabulous!’

If she were here, I think her response would be something like – ‘Darling, I know. But thank you for saying so…’

PS the header image is not Connie, but Patsy Stone (played by Joanna Lumley) from BBC comedy Absolutely Fabulous. Connie worked in the PR world of the 80s and 90s and this was the closest image I could find as both Patsy and Connie are absolutely fabulous… 


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