Oscar Wilde apparently always had the perfect words on the tip of his tongue. "If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me," he once said. I laughed the first time I read that, and I immediately knew what person living or dead would be at the top of my dinner guest list if I could indeed invite the deceased as well as those still among us.
If I could invite fictional characters as well, cutdown queen Karen Walker on Will & Grace would be No. 2 with a bullet.
But as much as I appreciate a witty cutting comment, and have made more than a few in my time, I do have my limits.
The other night I had an interesting conversation with my friend Andrew about blunt honesty and social obligation. He made some exellent points, but I'm not sure that I agreed with anything he said.
In his view, we owe it to our friends to point out warts and all to save them from themselves and a lifetime of embarrassment. That argument might hold more weight if we are talking about chronic bad breath. Now I don't really understand how anyone can have horrible breath and not know it (it is my greatest fear, and I'm always fully aware of whatever odor is coming from my mouth -- maybe they just don't care), but I'd prefer to be subtley handed a breath mint under the table than be told to get thee to a toothbrush and toothpaste pronto. I suppose, though, if I were oblivious to being one bad sniff away from a halitosis diagnosis, I'd want someone to speak up.
But what if I'm wearing something that you don't particularly care for? Is it really necessary to let me know that you've seen me in better? What exactly are you saving me from? Your own ridicule? Just because you don't care for the orange-and-green combo doesn't mean the rest of the world sees it that way. Though I'm not condoning talking behind my back, I'd rather you voice your displeasure elsewhere, while I sashay about town totally misguided -- if, indeed, I look as awful as everyone wants to say I do.
At the end of the day, it comes down to cultural differences. Andrew is a Londoner, and here taking the piss out of your friends -- lovingly cutting them down to size -- is a national sport second only to football. In the U.S., we tend to skew a bit more hypoctrical. "Wow, you look beautiful," we say to someone's face while taking internal notes on how we can rip them apart most effectively as soon as they are out of earshot.
Andrew, my other British friend who currently lives in Sydney, Australia, and whom I met in Rio last month, had the first tiff of our vacation romance over a related topic. His straight shooting came a little too close to bullseye for my comfort, and I took offense. He explained that Aussies are even worse than Londoners when it comes to telling it like it is. He had a lot of trouble with it when he first moved to Syndey but has since become accustomed to it.
I'm not sure why he felt the need to sharpen his tongue on me, someone who obviously is not accustomed to it, but I explained to him that the risk of pulling such stunts on me is that I give as good as I get. And I usually make it personal. In a nutshell: It'll end in tears.
Yes, I can be a rhymes with witch. My friends say I'm as direct and blunt as anyone they know. If only they realized how much I keep to myself. At the end of the day, I don't think it's my business to make people feel any worse about themselves than they probably already do. And if the breath is kicking, I grin, hold mine, turn my head and tell them they've never looked better.
That's what friends are for, right?