Compliments for Breakfast


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?

When “good morning” is not polite


Don't even pretend that is polite.
Don’t even pretend that is polite.

“Hi beh*, good morning.”

I ignored the man who called out to me — just as I do every time — but this time, he moved towards me, attempting to stop me in my tracks. Swiftly, I overtook him and pretended he did not exist while he and his friend (they are both security guards in a government office near my dorm) snickered. I gritted my teeth and clenched my fist as I walked on — that was the least I can do to contain my anger.

Being catcalled is a usual happening in my daily ten-minute walk to and from school. It has happened so frequently that before stepping out of the premises of my dorm, I always prepare myself to shift from my usual smiling face to a stoic expression so that I can ward off potential harassers. Sometimes, it works. Some men would immediately back off and give me an apologetic smile when I give them my well-practiced don’t-mess-with-me look. But still, there are those who never get the message and would shamelessly shout out to me, “Hoy, suplada! Nag-‘good morning’ lang naman. (Hey, snob! I just greeted you ‘good morning’)”

I just greeted you “good morning.”

That is what they always say. I find it absurd that they actually expect women to believe that. No woman is that stupid to believe that a ‘good morning’ from a complete stranger is a mere act of social grace. How can it be when he has that wicked gleam in his eyes that makes her feel unsafe? And does that stranger really greet every person (that is, men and women alike) he meets on the street that way? Definitely not. That “good morning” is reserved for women who are companionless, particularly those who they think are young and helpless like me. And obviously, they do not intend to be nice. They mean to assert their power over women.

Why do men do that? Thus I once complained to a male friend. He shrugged it off as if I were talking about makeup and replied, “Let it go. It’s just a compliment.” For a moment, I was speechless for I never looked at the matter that way. In fact, no woman would ever look at the matter like that. Not when it makes her feel publicly humiliated. Not when it makes her feel insecure. Not when it makes her feel oppressed. My friend’s answer made me feel dejected but at the time I said nothing further. Just as he advised, I let it go.

Now, more than a year after that conversation, I realized that women, despite our never-ending campaign for gender equality, remain unconsciously obedient to our “masters.” We always let it go. Growing up, I had observed older women being indifferent to catcalling. Therefore, when I started getting catcalled myself, I conditioned myself that it is a natural part of life. I let men have their errant ways while I make the adjustments by pretending that I see or hear nothing or by changing my route to school even when it is inconvenient.

Lately though, I realized that despite managing to stay composed amidst the hooting and unsolicited greetings, deep inside of me broods anger distress. It is just so unfair that we, women, have to put up with that kind of treatment by men who seriously believe that they are giving us a favor when they “compliment” us. But it is not a compliment nor is it a simple polite greeting. It is a derogatory comment on our existence — a mockery of our sex.

I wish I had told my friend, “That’s bullshit!” I wish I could not just let it go. I wish I have the courage to say, “Hey, you are not just being polite and I know that.” But I can’t because I know that for now it will not work. Even when we know it is not right and even when we try to speak up, we, women, end up losers in this game for catcalling has already been accepted as mere inconvenience, not a real problem. But I know that someday, if we continue to fight for our right to security, we will no longer be subjected to public humiliation masked in “compliments.” Someday, that “good morning” will be polite again.

*Beh is a contraction of the word baby. In Filipino culture, it is often used as an endearment among couples.