| Violetta Kuhn |
Berlin (dpa) – Rosa Stark has a mission: “I want to make the world a better place,” she tells a dpa reporter in a Berlin cafe.
Stark is a most unusual German: she dishes out compliments with almost Mediterranean abandon.
Every day the 23-year-old pays a sincere, unselfish compliment to a stranger and later blogs about what she said, how they reacted and her own feelings on her website, A Compliment a Day.
The psychology student got the idea at the Gare du Nord railway station in Paris. In the middle of the crowd she saw a woman.
“She was waiting there, not doing anything, she just looked incredibly lovely,” says Stark. At first she didn’t dare approach the woman, out of her very German fear of making a fool of herself.
But Stark refused to let that put her off.
“You know, you look like a work of art,” she finally told the lady, who was delighted and hugged Rosa for being so sweet.
Since June, Stark, who wears her hair up in a loose bun and is fond of bright red lipstick, has paid 133 documented compliments to 133 people, complete with photos. The aim is to reach 365.
She translates the compliments into English for the blog.
“You know everything about Dusseldorf and your thoughts on life are super wise!” she told a garrulous taxi driver in that western German city.
And she complimented a fellow student on his sense of style: “Sitting across from you is always an aesthetic pleasure.”
Last December, she wrote her sister a letter detailing all the things about her that she appreciates. Apparently it was the nicest present the sister had received in years.
Not only is Stark quietly trying to alter the picky character of her native Germany. She has also exported her ideas to grumbly Norway, Denmark and France. Even the United States has shown interest.
“At the beginning, I always found it really hard,” she says. “But now I pay 10 compliments a day as a matter of course.” Everybody has reacted positively, bar one person. And she herself always feel better afterwards.
“Compliments strengthen people’s feelings of self-worth,” says Peter Walschburger, a professor of bio-psychology at the Free University in Berlin. “Most of us are independent on the approval of others. Compliments grease the wheel of society.”
The only exceptions are calculated pleasantries, he says.
“If the recipient feels used, it comes across very negatively. Flattery is off-putting.”
Strangers, especially Berliners who have a reputation for surliness and issuing put-downs to all and sundry, often react with initial confusion to Stark’s unstinting niceness.
“’What does she want from me?’ they ask themselves. And then comes the moment when they realise that I don’t want anything from them. Then they’re happy,” she says.
Whether people are pleased at compliments depends on the culture of their country, says Christoph Wulf, a professor of anthropology at the Free University in Berlin.
“In Scandinavia and Germany, people are quite reserved about paying compliments,” he says. They are made with more caution and less elaborately than in the Mediterranean countries, he says.
“But in some cultures, compliments are a necessity. If you don’t offer them, people will interpret their absence as meaning you don’t like them.”
Stark’s ground rule for a successful compliment is simple: “You have to switch off your rational side, and let your heart speak. As long as you’re genuinely impressed by something and get that across, the actual words you use don’t really matter that much.”