x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 September 2017

Are you a humble bragger?

Learning to accept a compliment is truly a designer social grace.

Sometimes I wish I could just accept a compliment with a gracious smile and perhaps the sort of murmured "Thank you" that leads to the easy continuation of the conversation, meeting, day, night... whatever situation elicited it in the first place. Scratch that - I don't sometimes wish it, I always wish it because it is a social art that I have signally failed to master.

If there is blame to be attributed I place it firmly at the door of my Scottish upbringing and the seam of self-deprecation that runs deep within me as a result. Don't get me wrong, Scots are proud people, but we're proud of being the underdog. It's a stoic sort of pride and the antithesis of showy, self-congratulatory hubris. I'm not saying that it is better than its more flashy cousin - that would be boastful, another cardinal sin to the Scot - it's just the way it is and it's just the way I am.

So poor am I at receiving these social pleasantries that anyone kind enough to offer them runs the risk of an abrupt verbal slap-down. It goes something like this: Well-meaning friend: "You look nice." Me: "Shut up."

On the surface of it I'm not much better when the compliment is aimed indirectly at my person; ie, when it is an item of clothing or an accessory that has been deemed praiseworthy.

Take a recent snippet of a conversation. "Great jacket," said my friend. "What, this?" I replied, doing a double take at the garment in question as if unaware that a jacket had landed on me in the process of my getting dressed that morning. "It's just H&M."

Or a few days earlier in the ladies' at work: "Cute dress - very Armani." Me: "Oh, it's really old Mango." Or the time before that: "I love your shoes." Me: "They're only M&S." Or before that: "Nice ring." Me: "It's not real."

I can't remember when I didn't react like this - defusing a compliment by trotting out the high street provenance or the low price of whatever item has drawn it. My mother used to say I shouldn't tell people that something was cheap or not the designer label they had thought it to be, or that, if it was, it was vastly discounted or in some way imperfect. I used to try to follow her advice and silence the explanations that tumbled from my mouth at the slightest hint of a warm word aimed in my direction.

But recently I realised the truth - I haven't been trying to stop myself for a long time. Somehow what started as a sort of modest coping mechanism had morphed into quite the opposite. It's official. I am a humble-bragger. I like the fact that whatever I'm wearing looks expensive but isn't. It increases its value in my eyes.

Pointing out that my ring is costume or the dress isn't Burberry but Massimo Dutti doesn't diminish the compliment and return it to sender in a deflated form. It doesn't correct it like an error as if, misunderstanding cleared up, the compliment will promptly be retracted - "Massimo Dutti, you say? Oh, I see, no, it's not a great dress." All it does is make the compliment more sweet. After all, there is no surprise in a designer label looking great. A jacket that cost Dh7,000 should sit well. Frankly, if it doesn't garner praise it has failed. But when one that cost a couple of hundred dirhams is deemed "fabulous," saying, "It only cost Dh200" isn't rebutting the statement, it's tying a bow round it and holding it close.

So if, having read this, anyone ever feels like complimenting me on anything ever again... then know this: I may be standing before you, my every breath apparently running the garment you've just praised into the ground. But it's as close as I'll ever get to a gracious smile and a murmured "Thank you".

Laura Collins is a senior feature writer for The National