DEAR MISS MANNERS: In a large department store, I noticed a woman wearing a particularly attractive blouse. As I walked by, I said, “Nice blouse” and walked on. She immediately caught up to me and said, “That was a VERY personal remark.”
I told her that I was sorry she was offended, but she continued on about how inappropriate the remark was. I didn’t apologize for the remark, but truly was sorry she was offended by it. Was I wrong?
GENTLE READER: Any suggestion that you were wrong would bring on the defense that you meant your remark kindly, that the recipient of it was rude, and that the world would be a better place if we occasionally said pleasant things to one another. And Miss Manners acknowledges all that to be true.
Nevertheless, she believes that you should be aware of the discomfort that this might cause to some people. A man making such a remark to a strange woman might seem lewd, and anyone commenting on someone in professional circumstances would seem to be valuing her appearance above her work.
Nor is it necessarily pleasant to think that one’s looks are being evaluated, even favorably, when going about one’s business in public. We have the fiction that we can move about anonymously.
Miss Manners hopes that this does not discourage you from spreading goodwill, only perhaps you might do it a bit more selectively.