Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Congratulations vs. Best Wishes

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am in my early 60s and have worked in my profession for over 30 years. I recently wore my hair pulled back, and a co-worker (with whom I get along) commented that my hairstyle was “cute” and that it made me “look like a little girl.”

I thanked her, and said that I knew she meant the comment as a compliment (I wanted to at least show that I’d give her the benefit of the doubt), but asked her politely not to call me a little girl. She asked, in a surprised voice, “Why not?”

When I said that I considered it disrespectful, another co-worker who was standing near us asked, in a challenging voice, “in what way” it was disrespectful. We resolved the issue when I said it was OK to say I look “cute” (I don’t like that either, but I wanted to end the conversation).

I told another co-worker, a friend, about the incident, and she again questioned what was wrong with the remark. The lady who made the remark might, indeed, have been trying to belittle me, and reacted defensively, with backup from the second co-worker.

But why would my friend not acknowledge the veiled insult? I consider her a close friend; I have socialized with her outside of work, and we share confidences. Could it be a cultural thing? Can you provide any insight on the matter?

GENTLE READER: You started out so well -- realizing that a compliment was intended, and responding graciously. So then why pick a quarrel with a co-worker who was trying to be nice?

Admittedly there are times when that characterization would belittle you. But in this instance, it was just the awkward compliment of someone who unfortunately has bought into the idea that all grown-ups want to pass as young -- even, in this case, ridiculously young. Miss Manners recommends dropping the grievance and the topic.

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