A minimally mature response to false compliments
If I’ve learned anything from the two short decades I’ve spent on this planet, it’s not to trust nice people. Please note: nice people and good people are distinct. Good people — your Clark Kents, your “Freedom Writers,” your grandma if she’s not a racist — carry sound judgment and noble motivation through the entirety of their interpersonal interactions. Good people don’t have ulterior motives. They’re genuinely…well, good.
Nice people, though, may pose the biggest threat to this country in a decade — outside, you know, the growth of armed terrorist cells in rural Somalia or ballooning student debt, which could be to the 2020s what the housing market was to 2008.
That’s right, I did group those things together. Terrorists, economy and nice people. Not in that order, necessarily, but I wanted to make sure the severity of what I’m trying to communicate is properly conveyed. For dramatic effect!
What defines nice people, you may ask, and what danger do they pose? I believe this may be best described anecdotally.
Today, a nice girl approached me. She had a smile stretched across her face, her hair pulled back into a perfect ponytail — only a few stray hairs falling out behind her ears. The stray hairs thing isn’t really important overall, but based on the conversation that followed, I somehow found it vindicating.
“Hiiiiiii,” she said, because nice people cloak their interactions in feigned sincerity, apparently best executed by tacking on extra vowels. “How aaaare you?”
I told her I was good, and we exchanged platitudes accordingly — in that way when you leave the conversation relatively convinced you know less about the person than you did before. Then, as we were saying goodbye, nice girl dropped a comment which would haunt me forever.*
“Get some sleep, pretty girl! You work too hard. You look really tired.”
Ugh. No. We both know that is so completely not what you meant, however Cinderella-chipper your voice may be. Obviously, you did not know you were interacting with the queen of reading subtext — as crowned by the king of insignificant life skills which won’t save you from crippling unemployment.
This is what she really meant: “Get some sleep…because that concealer isn’t hiding anything. It’s too light for your skin, and the bags under your eyes are still purple. Just because you are pale doesn’t mean you can apply White Out like it’s L’Oreal. Yes, I am deliberately playing on your insecurities, which directly correlate to my feelings of self worth. Also, your shirt looks stupid. And, no, this isn’t just about you and Chris. I could care less about Chris. How’s Chris?”
Word for word. Verbatim implication. And Chris was a one-time thing, but thanks for asking.
Most people don’t pick up on these things. Luckily, my mom left expired food in the pantry for years, so I’ve accumulated a large stock of trust issues which constantly lead me to doubt people’s intentions. I’m not just talking bread that seems safer to toast. I’m talking Spaghetti O’s that are eight months overdue. I dare you to tell me she wasn’t trying to poison me with tomato-based canned pasta (America’s silent killer). Needless to say, I was able to detect the true meaning behind Nice Girl’s words right away.
I almost could have ignored the comment if not for the usage of, “pretty girl.” Seriously? “Pretty girl?” Inconceivable!**
I know this term is demeaning, because that is what Shrek calls Fiona at the end of the movie, once she has become Lady Shrek. It sounds endearing, but I am forced to believe people can only sum up the confidence to say “pretty girl” to someone they perceive to be decisively less pretty than they are. You know, like a Lady Shrek.
I’m 95 percent sure Indiana Jones, while raiding the Lost Ark, gives Renee Beloq a once-over and says, “How are you, pretty girl?” If they ever have a diplomatic sit-down, President Obama would tell Vladimir Putin, “Pretty girl, we need to talk about the military buildup and subsequent annexation of the Crimea.” Also, my mom calls me pretty girl when serving me spoiled fruit. I’m telling you, she wants me gone.
Because this undermined the Jennifer Aniston self image thing I had going, I left the conversation feeling rather dejected. I vowed henceforth to never again let nice people get away with their wickedness.
So citizens of the free world: heed my warning. Keep your eyes peeled for the nice people among us, and call them out accordingly. Because if overreaction is wrong, I don’t want to be right.* Also for dramatic effect.
** My homage to Vizzini and a preview of the type of vocabulary I hope to wield as a grandmother in my 60s, as I transition into the stage where you can say anything and people will go, “Well, that’s grandma!”
Julia’s column runs biweekly Thursdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.