Once I heard an expat in Japan saying that it is easy to believe that as a foreigner in Japan you are someone very special. Japanese people compliment you on your fair skin, your pretty hair, and the stunning way you look in jeans and a T-shirt. 🙂 You can fall into a trap thinking you are awesome and unique. In my experience, that works both ways. Expats also tend to give too many, moreover, unnecessary compliments.
Here are three situations I found myself in while staying abroad:
- Germans might not tell you how awesome you look, but they like to say that your German is fine. Not only German acquaintances of mine said so, but even teachers at a school gave us too much of reassurance. I believe they meant to motivate students to study further, but, on the other hand, it gave students a false idea of their knowledge. Sometimes, finding the balance between keeping students motivated and correcting their mistakes can be difficult. Nevertheless, complimenting a student without correcting his/her problems is not a great idea either.
- We all want to find new friends after moving abroad. We want to show our interest in another person and express our good intentions. Sometimes, our politeness can be extreme. A friend of mine said to me ‘Du sprichst schon gut Deutsch’ too many times. I know this is not true. I do not know how to react to the compliment I did not deserve. I wish she stopped saying that, but I understand she just wants to be friendly. We spend most of the time at a language school; consequently we speak about learning the language mostly. Maybe she is not sure what else she can talk about; maybe she really believes what she says. In any case, I have a theory that she would not give me so many compliments if we met in other circumstances. Winning friendship abroad can be tricky. Unconsciously, you might exaggerate and overdo things. This behavior can scare people away despite your best intentions.
- I feel ashamed for complimenting my first German teacher here three times with the same sentence ‘Sie sind unsere beste Lehrerin’. I blame myself for making her uncomfortable. I felt really happy seeing her at a school again after I started a new course in a new group of students. Seeing someone I know made me feel comfortable, I genially wanted to talk to her, but because I did not find a proper topic for a small talk I slightly embarrassed her. Complimenting her two times, after I left her course and at a meeting with the students some time later would be fine. Why did I need to repeat the same tacky stuff again some months later? That’s my honest opinion, but I made it sound as if I was saying it in order to win her sympathy. Which is partly true. I want to make new friends in Germany, and I forget that too much of enthusiasm can scare some people.
Overdoing things is wrong. Giving too many compliments does not bring you true friendship. Receiving too many compliments does not indicate the true state of things. Good intentions might hurt too. Less said, the better. I want my teacher to correct me and tell me about my mistakes honestly. I do not need to hear about my ‘good German’ to be friends with you. And I wish I found some other topics to chat about rather than ending up giving a lame compliment to a person.