Q. A woman friend I know quite well claims she "cannot tell a lie" when asked her opinion, e.g., "Do you like my dress?" She stresses that she will say, "It is a pretty color" or something devious, but never will she say she likes it if she really does not.
I tell her I do not consider this breaking one of the 10 Commandments (she is not an overly religious person). I consider it being rude. I say it is better to tell that little fib. First, the person has paid her a compliment by asking her opinion. Second, what is wrong about making someone feel happy and assured?
I say this woman, known to have been devious, or shall we say "less than forthright," about some very important matters, is simply jealous. She gets few compliments herself because she simply has not the knack of getting herself well put together.
She is a successful businesswoman and has the means of obtaining the best advice on clothes selection, hair style, make-up, etc. She has few friends. Her lifestyle is almost totally within the family circle. Hence, she visits few homes to observe how other people live or furnish their homes. She is short on the gracious remarks or paying any kind of compliment to anyone. There is no reason for this particular life style. Her children are grown and away from home, so she has no dependents to care for.
Personally, I am never concerned that she pays me no compliments--I know that I am always well put together, my make-up right, and my hair looking good and I am quick with compliments and praise.
The question is, would you consider this to be rude (as I do)? I do not think it ever hurts to pay a compliment--well deserved or not.
A. How fortunate it is for your friend, being devious and badly put together, lacking in friends and an approved life style, filled with jealousy and gracelessness, that she has you, who so strongly believes in saying nice things about everyone. And with your make-up on straight, too.
Allow Miss Manners, who needs a break now and then from the tediousness of a life of spreading cheerful encouragement, to get you both with one deft blow.
What you and your friend share is the misapprehension that people mean to offer themselves up for general criticism and are anxiously waiting to hear what the critics will think of them.
Even when they seem to be inviting evaluation, they are actually merely requesting harmless pleasantries of reassurance. Miss Manners has no patience with people who take everything literally. "Do you like my dress?" is not an invitation for a fashion critique, but a way of saying, "There's nothing wrong with the way I look, is there?" and only a serious and constructive criticism, such as "Wait a minute--the seam in back is split," justifies withholding the required reassurance. In other words, "Yes, it is lovely" is not a fib or a lie, but a true answer to the question that had actually been asked.
In Miss Manners' opinion, however, "It is a pretty color" serves the same purpose.