When 32B offers you gum, take it. You know the situation: you’re on a plane, and the guy next to you takes out a stick of gum and offers you the pack. You say, “Oh, no thanks.” Ok, if you’re allergic to gum, you can say no. But everyone other than “Johnny Allergic-to-gum,” should take the gum. 32B was offering you one of the very few small gifts a stranger can offer another stranger without being creepy.
The other is a compliment. People react to compliments in different ways. Some people love them, and will use them as an excuse to rhapsodize about their own awesomeness, and others may flat-out deny the compliment.
Bringing us back to gum. You cannot control the way others react to your gum-offer (or compliment). But you can take a moment to be aware of what is to be gained from a styley compliment or a styley reply.
A compliment is a small gift. When you offer it, offer it cheerfully.
You can be vague, “Cool hat.” You can be specific, “Wow, check out the laces on your shoes!” But offer it warmly.
When complimented, try not to be distracted. You might not have taken by surprise by the compliment, rushing to the water-cooler, but take a moment to make eye contact.
Reply to the compliment with a smile and a measure of enthusiasm in the same ballpark as the compliment itself.
Why are we talking about compliments? Isn’t this manners 101?
It is, but there’s more to it.
When I was about 12, my grandfather opened his wallet and offered me a 10.
“I can’t take this,” I said, probably parroting a trope I’d learned from movies:
kneeling besides the fallen, bleeding comrade, receiving from quaking hands some beloved artifact. “I can’t take your trusty Bowie Knife / Zippo / Lando Calrissean Action Figure.
“Take it,” said my grandfather, who could be quite no-nonsense. “Don’t hurt my feelings.”
Gifts are not about politeness. Gifts are about connection. And in today’s world of alienation, isolation, and bowling alone, we need all the connection we can get.
So take the gum.
And tell the guy you like his tie.