‘I love your shoes!’ How should you respond to such a compliment? With gracious acceptance? With modesty?
It’s probably the influence of my time spent in Japan, but my usual tendency is to downplay any compliment.
‘Oh, these? They’re only cheap! They were reduced to $20’
For me, responding to compliments with a simple ‘Thank you’, as is common in many European cultures (including Hungary, where I am now located) goes against the grain.
Complimenting ‘is a complex sociolingustic skill’, says Holmes (cited by Grossi), and in Japanese society, a desire for modesty generally outweighs a desire for agreement (Leech, cited by Pohl). Using Japanese norms in Australian society has sometimes surprised – or even annoyed – those I’m speaking to. ‘Don’t say that!’ they respond with utter horror, ‘I don’t need to know how much they cost!’ highlighting the taboo of talking about money.
There’s a stigma attached to the word ‘cheap‘, especially when applied to a person. Something that is cheap is meaningless, to feel cheap is to be embarrassed. No one wants to be a cheapskate – someone who is labelled as ‘stingy’ and ‘miserly’. But just like the word ‘budget’, should ‘cheap’ be viewed so negatively? Surely saving money – or at least, not wasting it – is a good thing?