I’m no Southern belle, but I believe in the power of Sweet Talk. Two years ago, my husband, kids, and I moved from New York to South Carolina. I remember the first shopping trip my daughter and I took. Girls don’t dress up for school in northern New York, but my daughter thought just maybe she’d pick out a sun dress for the first day at Waccamaw High School. I sat on a bench outside the curtained dressing rooms. When Allie stepped out, the saleslady said, “Twirl around, honey, let us see how purty you are”. Sheepishly, Allie twirled. “”Mmm, mmm, mmm,” the lady said. Heads popped out from behind the other curtains, and soon there were three girls, all exclaiming how “purty” Allie looked. It was just the thing to boost a girl’s confidence, and suddenly, South Carolina didn’t feel so strange anymore. It felt like home.
Since then, I’ve seen so many instances of Sweet Talk healing, soothing, encouraging. The lady ahead of me in the carwash line takes time to tell the young man (who is obviously having a kind of rough first-day-on-the-job) he’s just delivered the shiniest, cleanest car she’s ever seen. He swaggers away, proud as can be. No one minds waiting while my doctor’s receptionist spends an extra five minutes telling the elderly lady who struggled painfully up to the window how very much better she’s doing with the walker than last month. At the golf course, a wife tells her husband, who has just sliced the ball, “Yes, I know, I know, but my goodness, Billy, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you hit the ball as far as you’re driving today. What’s got into you?” He changes his sour face to a grin.
Although the most relentless sweet-talkers are female, that’s not to say that men can’t do it. My husband says, “Wow, another raise. Sure pays to marry a smart woman.” It makes me feel bigger than the tiny cost-of-living raise ever could. But I honestly think sweet talking is something men should do more. So I try to show my son, not just tell him. “Honey, I don’t think you’ve ever played that piece better.” He beams, and practices a few minutes longer. Nor is Sweet Talk practiced solely in the South (although I do think the art is most honored down home). My mother, an Italian from the Bronx, was a superb sweet talker. I’m in a position to know, since her comments about my smarts pushed me right through school to a PhD. I couldn’t have done it she hadn’t found a hundred different ways to say, “You are just the smartest thing.”
Sugar, if you want my advice, start sweet-talking. You don’t have to lie. You just have to be alert for the hundreds of little opportunities that come along to make someone’s life more pleasant. I’ll bet you’ll agree after trying it out, that sweet talk can make the world twirl ‘round a little smoother.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.