I wanted to give a compliment to at least ten strangers I encountered on my day’s travels. Surely this would not be a hard thing to do, but by the end of the day I’d given a compliment to a grand total of one person. Bit embarrassing really.
The problem is it’s quite hard to approach people in London, because everyone’s in such a rush to get somewhere. Most people you encounter on the street or on public transport either have their headphones on listening to hip-hop or such genres, or they’re on phone conversing loudly about how late they are for work or how awful their date was last night, or their just reading the free newspaper The Metro engrossed in finding out where Miley Cyrus was twerking that week.
The second problem with giving a compliment to a stranger is how to do it without sounding like a sex pest or creep, saying “Hi, I don’t want to sound like a weirdo but I must say you’ve got the most radiant smile” instantly makes you sound like a weirdo. Also there’s only so much you can compliment about a stranger you’ve approached and haven’t spoken to, mainly what they look like or what they’re wearing.
I left the house with the daunting task ahead and decided to compliment the first person I saw. The first person I saw, walking down the street towards me, was women who was possibly in her fifties but all I know could have been in her thirties but just had a rough time of it. She had a fag hanging out of her mouth and coughed as she dragged on it. Her slightly yellow skin was as wrinkly as a prune’s finger tips after it had soaked in a bath for an hour; if indeed a prune did have fingers, was able to draw a bath and was some kind of animated fruit. She had a tracksuit on covered in many food or fluid stains. There was literarily nothing I could say to her. I tried quickly to think of something “You’re a pillar of the community” or “You’ve set a great example to all of us, young and old” but by the time I’d managed to muster up the courage to say anything, anything at all, she’d gone. Damn!
Where I live in Honor Oak Park, South East London, until recently there have been very few practical food shops. There were just a few newsagents that offered a miserly selection of slightly rotten vegetables, and if you hadn’t pre-planned by buying your fresh groceries from a supermarket before arriving on the train back into Honor Oak Park then you were forced to use these less than ideal shops. All this changed a few months ago with the opening of the area’s first proper convenience store Sainsbury’s Local (the one I visited recently in just my dressing gown). Ashamedly I’ve stopped spending my money in the independent family run newsagents and instead started putting my money into the pockets of the corporate giant, but at the end of the day their produce is better. However the one newsagent I do still use is next to my house, and I only visit it for their tomatoes. They have fresh tomatoes, ones like you find on a farm. The rest of their stuff is all rotten, but their tomatoes really are exceptional. Anyway, I’m going on a bit, back to my attempt to compliment random members of the British public
After walking past a few strangers and failing miserable to form anything in my head to say or have the courage to say it, I entered my local newsagent. I wanted to buy some of their tasty tomatoes for my lunch. I approached the counter and behind it was a middle aged Indian man whom I’ve never seen working there before. A stranger. I quickly tried to think of something to say. Perhaps I could compliment him on his hair, but then I thought that would be weird. Perhaps I could mention that ‘when I was in India’ I meet many Indian people and they all seemed very nice just like him, but that would be even weirder. So this is what I actually said:
Indian shop-keep: Hello Sir. That’s £1.50 please.
Me: I must say you’ve got much better tomatoes than the ones they do in Sainsbury’s. Very Fresh.
Indian man laughs in a weird way. The laugh either meant I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, or, I really don’t give shit about my tomatoes. Either way it’s a really awkward moment.
Me: Right bye then.
…and I’m afraid to say that was it for complimenting strangers, that’s all I achieved. I really did think about doing it during the rest of the day, but every time I saw a stranger I didn’t know what to say or I just got the fear.
I felt a little disappointed with my achievements but I guess I HAD complimented a stranger even if it was on his tomatoes, something I’ve never done before. It may not of meant anything to the stranger but it meant something to me.
SO ON TO THE NEXT THING I’VE NEVER DONE, AND HOPEFULLY NEXT TIME WITH BETTER RESULTS…