When my editor passed me this tome, Simply Charming: Compliments & Kindness For All Occasions, by one Christie Matheson, I says, what the hey? Like I need some dame’s advice on charm? I’ve been told I am, in fact, absolutely lousy with charm. And compliments? Just today, did I not just tell that idiot security guard in our building that his lizard breath was noticeably less toxic than usual today? Compliments—I pass ‘em out like caramel apples at Halloween.
Still, an assignment is a job. And I gotta hand it to this Matheson gal. She may be onto something with this compliments and kindness jazz.
Christie Matheson’s shtick seems to be you can catch more flies with sugar, something my dingbat landlady always says, and she owns the building while I pay the old crow just for the privilege of living there, so mayhap I should wise up.
The way this whole scam seems to work is that you puff up people with compliments so they feel good, and presumably they’ll do what you want. This line of thought has, more or less, been peddled for generations in a couple of crusty old volumes, namely Emily Post’s Etiquette and Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette. Matheson references both these books, matter of fact, and a quote from Post sets the tone for this Simply Charming: “We all love compliments and tend to appreciate those who give them. Therefore I often wonder why so few people give them.” I can’t argue with that one, so I gave this slim volume a chance.
What goes on here, per the book’s subtitle, is Ms. Matheson offering her ideas on how to behave with what-ya-call grace and charm. She covers a lot of situations, although saying she covers “all occasions” is a teensy bit of overstatement. What is included here can help you smooth things over, maybe even get you out of hot water, in a number of dicey situations.
Say you walk into a party and don’t know a soul (known in some circles as “party crashing”). Ms. Matheson recommends bee-lining to the bar, ordering a cocktail, targeting someone you’d like to get to know, and admiring his necktie or her handbag. Or when you’re out on a blind date and not even a cocktail (or three, as the author speculates) will calm your nerves, try talking up your date’s good looks or his or her taste in restaurants. Then order another cocktail. The author calls this, “Working the Compliment,” although you may think of it more as “dividends paid on speculative investment.” It just may be, based on the prevalence of cocktails in these tips, the author recognizes that the success ratio of these compliments may be proportional to the number of highballs involved. Just sayin’. In the main, this chapter is rich in how to spin the kind of compliments that will get you some of what costs upward of fifty bucks downtown.
Another helpful scenario, especially in today’s job market, is the well-placed job interview compliment, such as yakking up changes in the company that the interviewer was responsible for, (presuming you’re not interviewing at a company that’s been taken over by Bain Capital, in which case, the changes might not deserve a pat on the back). Ms. Matheson suggests having a few flattering remarks prepared in advance of the interview, so you can (in her words) “slide one in” such that “it doesn’t feel forced.” If I weren’t such a gentleman, I’d call “innuendo” all over that advice, coming just a couple pages after a section on “The end of the blind date.”
Ms. Matheson allows that not only in tennis can you deliver a devastating backhand, devoting a chapter to the backhanded compliment. While I’m confident she’s against doing it, including a solid gold putdown from Groucho Marx does temp a guy to view the chapter as a “how to.” Sort of reminds me of my shortest movie review ever: “I didn’t miss the premiere of On Golden Pond. I didn’t see it, but I sure didn’t miss it.” Two other caution flags Matheson waves are: not everyone can fake sincerity, so better not even try, and avoid going overboard with the compliments, lest you seem phony.
The reference list shows that the author’s done her homework, peppering the text with quotations from Seneca to Mark Twain to Oscar Wilde. A couple of these are head-scratchers–like the one from Rochefoucald, whose statements always scan like bad translations–although most seem pretty well on the nose. And if you have ever yearned to read a mush letter from Dwight to Mamie Eisenhower, Simply Charming can punch that ticket for you. His idea of giving her a kiss for each year of her age sounds sweet, maybe even kinda hot, until realizing that the occasion for this letter was her 46th birthday. Plus, she was, you know, Mamie Eisenhower.
By the end of the book, even I had tumbled to the notion that people like it when you’re nice to them. Go figure. And even though Simply Charming is obviously meant for the gals, a lot of what Ms. Matheson says could be helpful to a lug like me, cocktail consumption notwithstanding.
My old man used to say, you can’t mandate common sense, and a fair amount of what Christie Matheson espouses here falls into the common sense category. On the other OTH, it never hurts to be reminded to be nice to each other, for cry eye.