Saturday, May 10, 2008

On gratitude

First, a story from Etiquette Hell's Faux Pas of the Year archive:

A little memory from about ten years ago, when I was working as a checkout girl in a supermarket:

It was close to Christmas, and very busy in our store, when a lady at my checkout realized she had too little money to pay for all her shopping. She paused for a second, thinking which items to take back, when the guy next in line said: "Ah, you know what, it's pretty much Christmas, I’ll pay for your shopping". (The lady had a small baby and looked a bit worse for wear as well, so I thought, such a nice gesture...)

I think a few seconds passed before the lady quickly ran back into the store, picked up a chicken, and added it to her shopping. Me and the guy were dumbfounded, and he still paid for her. I think we were still wondering "what the ...." when she was already up and out the shop.

It still makes me laugh when I think of how silent the queue was when she did that, blinking their eyes, it was so out of this world. It took a few seconds to compose ourselves and get on with things.

[chuckling] I was once socially acquainted with a gentleman who (a) treated other people with more or less open contempt for their needs and concerns, and (b) was perpetually aggrieved, no matter what personal favors one might do for him or how much personal inconvenience one might freely undertake on his behalf, by what he perceived as the world's insufficient attention to his demands. Unsurprisingly his life is littered with former friendships, including, I regret to say, mine. I remember one conversation in particular, which ran something like this:

1. He compained that I had mistreated him, by making his life harder in a specific fashion. (I doubt very seriously that he'll read my blog, and even if he does I think I can count on a sort of anti-"You're So Vain" syndrome: he probably won't think this song is about him. But still I think I'll be a bit careful with the details.)

2. I pointed out that not only had I not made his life harder, but that I had in fact gone out of my way to make his life easier, precisely by doing the opposite of what he was accusing me of having done. This, naturally, just made him angrier.

3. A couple of minutes later, as he was still carrying on with his accusatory self-pitying rant, he said bitterly, "And don't expect me to be grateful just because you occasionally [do him that particular kind of favor]!"

At that point, alas, I chose honesty, which in itself wouldn't have been so bad except that I chose a tactlessly literal way to express myself: I answered calmly, "I do not expect you to be grateful."

And now I think you can pretty well write that friendship off.

So it's nice when every now and then you run into somebody whose parents have taught them the grace and virtue of gratitude that my former friend so sorely lacks. I'll close this post with a pleasant recent memory: not long ago I had a chance to do a small favor for a young lady who works at the coffee shop where I pass quite a bit of my time. She's a very pleasant and cheerful and friendly kid, about the same age as my own daughters, and besides it's fun to do nice things for people when you can; so when the chance came up to do her this small favor I happily did so. And she said, "Thank you very much," and that was fine.

Then I came in the next afternoon, and Junior (one of the other kids who works at the coffee shop) smiled as soon as I walked in and said, "Oh, Mr. Pierce [note that it seems I have irretrievably passed on into The Older Generation], Daniela wanted me to be sure to tell you again, if you came in this evening, how grateful she is for those tickets."

Heavens alive, a young person putting some forethought and trouble into the expression of gratitude beyond a simple off-the-cuff thank-you? My word, there may be hope for this country yet.

UPDATE: Oops, it turns out that the "kid" with whose manners I was so impressed is indeed from a younger generation, but not exactly from the younger generation. [sigh]


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