1. I’m British. Self-deprecation is a national past-time.
2. I don’t know how. I’ve never been nominated for an Oscar so have never had any reason to spend hours in front of the mirror practicing my gracious acceptance speech.
3. I’m suspicious. I suspect you have a motive for something. My work colleague bought me two oranges this morning. He had an agenda. I think of your compliments as those oranges and am trying to work out the agenda.
4. You are complimenting me on the wrong things. Do I need a compliment on how nice this dress looks or how good my language skills are? Why do you never compliment me on the things that matter? Like when I made you a cup of tea without any cat hair floating on the top, the fact my hair doesn’t look horrendous although I couldn’t be bothered to shower that morning or that I stacked my collection of different sized post-it notes into a pleasingly aesthetic pyramid.
5. I’m not sure it is a compliment. ‘You’ve lost so much weight, well done!’ Is that a compliment? Is it just highlighting that I needed/still need to lose so much weight?
6. I’m cynical. I don’t believe you. I too have tacked on a ‘that looks really nice’ to a comment that was meant to stop at ‘oh, you have had your hair cut’ but was then followed by an awkward pause that needed to be filled.
7. I don’t want to reciprocate. Accepting the compliment may make me feel obliged to compliment you in return and lying is a sin. I’m not going to hell because of social conventions. Other reasons, sure. But not social conventions.
8. I have low self-esteem. You are probably mocking me. I’m going to find a nice corner to cry in now.
9. I have a god-complex. Your compliments are meaningless to me. Does the boot care if the ant thinks complimentary thoughts about it as it stomps the ant out of existence? No. Go waste your worthless compliments on someone who thinks you matter.
10. I don’t want to scare you off. Your compliment was lovely actually but if I say thanks in a way that truly expresses the overwhelming inner joy I feel with Cheshire cat grin and shiny eyes open-wide to frightening proportions and glistening with the tears of joy about to fall, you will not only never compliment me again but will probably move to a different country just to get away. Much safer to grumble a non-acknowledgement and move on.