It is a habit of mine to pick up a copy of my favorite newspaper in a nearby convenience store after buying hot pan de sal for breakfast. It is almost always the same scenario: I am automatically greeted, “Good morning! Welcome to Ministop!” upon entering, I go straight to the papers and get one, pay to the cashier, then leave. I had never had a friendly chat with any of the storekeepers even though I have already grown quite familiar with them. Our conversations were always limited to business. That is, until one morning when one of them surprised me by asking, “Ma’am, can I compliment you today?”
I was taken aback not because I found the inquiry cocky but because I found it strange. I had never been asked so in my life. The poor guy must have confused my astonishment with anger for he quickly apologized, saying he did not mean to offend. I told him, “No, it’s fine. You may.” So he smiled and said, “Then I think you are looking lovely today.”
I will never forget that encounter. It was nothing like the “compliments” I am accustomed to. That is, those that are often preceded or followed by wolf whistles or those that are especially directed on a specific body part (e.g. “Wow, legs!”). Instead, it felt sincere (his eyes were really smiling) and was delivered in a respectful manner. And I have to commend the guy, too. When he asked me, a stranger, if he could compliment me, he took the risk of being snubbed or worse, being reported to the store manager.
Some people might say, “He’s just making a pass at you.” Normally, I would think so, too. Women are so used to harassment that any form of comment on their physical appearance is almost always taken as an offense. Maybe this is why the guy in the store immediately apologized to me. He must have experienced being given dagger looks before for attempting to compliment. I find it unfortunate that even those who have clean intention have to suffer the same treatment we feel obliged to give to those jerks who had disrespected us.
All right, some men can be really creepy. Like that pedicab driver who offered me a free ride. Even after I said “No, I don’t need a ride.” as politely as I can even when I was already feeling scared, he still followed me until I reached my dorm, cajoling me to ride his pedicab for free. Heaven knows what he had in mind.
Men who act like they are entitled to every woman they find attractive, like that creepy pedicab driver, make it natural for women to acquire a defensive response whenever a stranger throws a compliment. After all, it happens almost all the time that we eventually came to conclude that all men are the same. However, this recent experience made me rethink my opinions regarding the matter. Maybe most men tend to behave uncouthly around women but not all are like that. Maybe real gentlemen still exist.
So to that guy who works in the Ministop which I frequent, thank you for the respect. Some guys out there can really learn from you. You just proved to me that there really are ways for a man to compliment a stranger without making her feel threatened. You also made me realize that there really is a difference between a catcall and compliment and that is in the intention and manner of delivery. A real compliment is given without expecting gratification such as exchange of digits. That made me decide to always assess the situation first before acting defensively.
Thus, yesterday morning while walking to the bakery (yes, to get my pan de sal and newspaper), I did not glare at the men who stopped talking to stare at me. Normally, I would find it rude that they did not even hide the fact that they were staring. But I thought, at least they merely stared. At least they did not try to get my attention by shouting uncalled for comments. So I let them stare and took that as a silent compliment. Who would not love compliments for breakfast?