With his red suit, white gloves and heart-shaped umbrella, Jean Til is certainly a man who stands out in a crowd. As he wandered towards me in Antwerp’s Stadsfeestzaal shopping centre I reached for my camera.
Standing well over two metres tall, Jean Til is a big man. It’s rare for anyone to tower over me. Particularly in flared trousers.
Ideally, I’d have started this blog post with Jean Til’s opening line. You’d probably have been blown away for subtle charm of his compliment. It was outstanding.
A memorable moment in Antwerp
No doubt I blushed. My knees may even have buckled momentarily because of the power of his words.
It was the kind of compliment that should be used with caution in bar room situations. As a chat up line its success rate must approach 100 per cent.
If people were still in the habit of meeting others in person, rather than using only dating websites and apps such as Tinder, I reckon there’d be hits on this website purely to filch Jean Til’s inspired words.
Yet I can’t remember them. They’re gone.
I travelled to Antwerp for a day out with two friends. We were all within arm’s reach of Jean Til as he began speaking. They confirmed they’d also heard the line. It was genius. Sheer brilliance. We all commented to that effect in the immediate aftermath of our two-minute encounter.
Yet within the 30 seconds it took me to reach into my jacket pocket and fish out my notebook the words had evaporated from my brain. They disappeared from all our brains.
Perhaps that’s just as well. It’s unlikely that anyone would be able to deliver them with anything approaching Jean Til’s polished charm.
The champion of the world
“I am the three times world champion at compliment giving,” he revealed after his impressive opening line. Until that moment in the Stadsfeestzaal I had no idea that there was a such a world championship. But after our meeting I can’t think of anyone who comes close to Jean Til in giving compliments.
Let’s face it, he wasn’t even giving them in his mother tongue. The majority of Antwerp’s residents speak Flemish as their first language. A few moments of Facebook stalking, following our meeting, revealed that Jean Til studied at the prestigious Paris-Sorbonne University.
In French, of course, Jean Til’s name sounds very much like the term for ‘polite’. That’s one of his characteristics. So too is the ability to bring laughter and make people feel good.
Compliments and laughter
“Do you know why the Stadsfeestzaal is so big?” he asked. I immediately began to think of the building’s historic use as a municipal festival hall. “So that it can fit in your smile,” he said, answering his own question.
I didn’t need a flash for my camera, he reckoned, because of the brightness of my smile.
He was going to get a magazine for me to stand on. Because I should be on the cover of Vogue.
A string of compliments headed my way. But none matched the sheer genius of his opening line.
As we said our goodbyes Jean Til invited me to unclip one of the scratch cards dangling from his umbrella. Beneath the silver-grey box that I removed using the edge of a coin was another compliment. A memento of a memorable chance meeting.
Perhaps Jean Til’s opening line will flash into my mind months from now? Wouldn’t it be fitting if that occurred on 1 March — World Compliment Day.
The Stadsfeestzaal shopping centre is on the Meir, Antwerp’s main pedestrianised street. It is open from Monday to Saturday from 10.00am to 6.30pm and from noon until 6pm on the first Sunday of each month.
Find out more about the charming character I encountered on the Jean Til website.
The Visit Antwerp website is a useful source of information about things to do and see in the city.
Visit Flanders has tourism information relating to Antwerp and the surrounding region.
Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.
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