I finally had that inevitable run-in with my Legendary Ex and, because we live in a polite world, I found myself shaking hands with My Replacement. I thought she was inoffensive enough (a leggy thing with youthful hair and a bright smile) until she opened her mouth and said
I was speechless for a moment. I did a mental review of what I was wearing: a white funnel-neck Lemaire shirt, my
Was this baby-woman being condescending? Or am I being condescending by thinking she is a baby-woman? I recovered right away due in part to my many years of experience in small talk. I told her that it was also a pleasure to meet her (it was not) and excused myself. “These Coral Charm peonies need a large vase filled with water. Have a good day.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines condescension as “
Genuine compliments (like apologies) are naked. When you add a condition to your compliment you are criticizing.
I am going to give My Replacement the benefit of the doubt because sometimes people do not
Truly Rich Readers, to help you avoid the pitfalls of unknowing condescension, let us first identify the different kinds that exist in today’s social circles. Do not engage in the following.
The Qualified Compliment
“You look great for your age.”
“You look beautiful today.”
“You’re smart for your age.”
“You throw well for a woman.”
Genuine compliments (like apologies) are naked. When you add a condition to your compliment you are
The Nitpicky Remark
No one likes being corrected. Interrupting a friend because she misattributed the line, “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart,” to Robert Frost (it was William Woodsworth), or misremembered that you had porchetta on Sunday (we had it on Saturday), or spelled every day as one word (it’s two words unless used as an adjective) makes her feel inadequate. When this is done in the company of other people, it also humiliates.
When can you correct? It's tricky. I always weigh the situation. Are my intentions good? If I genuinely want to help Gretchen, and not just make me feel like the better person who knows Frost from Woodsworth, then I would proceed to advise her. Also, is the oversight serious? I mean, will it kill Gretchen if she keeps calling her
The Disingenuous Dears
I have to confess that I’m guilty of this. Sometimes when I ask a sales associate for help, I refer to her as “Dear.” As in: “Dear, can you help me find these items on my flower list?” This term of endearment, along with “Sweetie” or “Hun,” when used by a person in power to address someone else can be read as
Being Creatively Mean
“This looks like it’s a little big for me so you can have it.”
“Oh, I see you're into thrift shopping!”
“I am so glad you bought new shoes.”
“I know a really good hairstylist you may want to visit.”
“Let me recommend a foundation with good coverage for you.”
Sometimes posturing is unavoidable. When another party is being hostile, the creative use of words is sword and shield. But though it is advisable to use veiled remarks to take down foes (you will not come off as mean—at least, not right away), employ them sparingly. Remember, it’s always best to play nice. For example, I could have told My Replacement, “Your makeup looks great,” but instead I chose to walk away.