Oxford Part 2: The Queen’s English, café people watching, and moving to Paris

Working in the Dictionaries department at OUP has allowed me to release my inner language geek, and this, as well as wandering around Oxford, has made me think about how interesting accents are. Living in Glasgow, I have become used … Continue reading

The value of an honest shopping companion

Last week, I went shopping not for myself, but for my sister, partly because I am a wonderful big sister, and partly because I have no money. In the changing rooms, as well as giving her my opinion on the clothes she was trying on, naturally I took the opportunity to have a nosey at other people’s outfit choices, and eavesdrop on their conversations.

What I observed, I have seen before, but the phenomenon continues to baffle me. Why, when your friend is trying on something that clearly doesn’t suit them and asks for your opinion, would you say they look gorgeous? In this particular instance, I was watching two girls, early twenties, one of whom was asking the other’s opinion on a skirt that looked very uncomfortable. She was pulling it down, and trying to smooth the creases produced by the fact that it very much didn’t fit her.

If this was my friend, I know, without a doubt, that my response would be; “It doesn’t fit properly”, probably followed by a suggestion of something that I think would look better. However, here, the other girl said: “Yeah, it looks great, what do you think of this dress?”

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Images from Pinterest

To my mind, there are a number of possible reasons for this. One might be she doesn’t particularly like the other girl, and wants to sabotage her appearance. Another could be she simply wasn’t paying attention and was totally focused on her own dress – observation and multitasking fail – if this is the case, I bet she’s not a people-watcher. However, my guess is the reason for the unhelpful verdict on the skirt is a strange form of politeness, a very British fear of causing offense.

I understand this kind of false flattery between strangers – with someone you don’t know, blunt honesty can easily be mistaken for being nasty or bitchy. But this wasn’t the case here; when the two girls were leaving the changing rooms, they were chatting and laughing, obviously very comfortable in each other’s company.

My next question is, am I unusual in that I wouldn’t be at all offended if a friend told me they didn’t like my outfit choice? I’d much rather have honesty, however brutal, than false compliments.

Perhaps, some people feel they can only comment positively on their friends’ appearances, out of loyalty, but to me, this logic seems a tad confused. It’s not appropriate, in fact it would be considered rude, for a stranger, or even an acquaintance to make a negative comment about your appearance. (Hence why, much as I wanted to, I refrained from commenting on the ill-fitting skirt of my changing room neighbour.) So, it falls to your friends to give honest opinions and advice. If you can’t trust your friends to be honest about something as simple as your clothes, why would you ask their advice on (arguably) more important life decisions, like relationships or career choices?

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you abandon all tact and start critiquing everything your friends say and do; if your opinion isn’t asked, chances are your friend doesn’t want to hear it. For example, I have a penchant for wearing dungarees. I realise that some would say they are a questionable fashion choice, but I quite simply don’t care. They’re fun, and if the fabulous Prince George is wearing them, they must be cool.

Nonetheless if a friend asks your opinion, as a general rule, that means they are unsure, and want advice. So, whatever this odd kind of politeness is, it really needs to stop. An honest shopping companion is invaluable; someone you know cares enough about you to be truthful, whether you need advice on what to wear tonight, or what you should do with your life. Do your friends a favour, and give them honest opinions. Trust me, they’ll thank you for it.

 

Kirsty x