Lost in Translation: How to Win and Influence Friends at the Coffee House

 

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Have you ever wished there was a reset button on a person? You know, just one of those big, old red studs in the center of their chest that take both of your thumbs to push while you yell “CLEAR!” and their mind re-boots. This sure would have come in handy this morning as I waited in line behind someone at a local coffee house who was clearly having a bad day.

Now, I’m not just talking about someone with a brown aura or body language suggesting that detonation was imminent – though I did take a quick inventory of the nearest exits and did a mental run-through of how I could reasonably escape a nuclear meltdown. I’m nimble like that..

No, this woman was in a funk. Her blouse was inside-out, she had on mismatched shoes and her hair was going nine-ways-to-Sunday. She wasn’t fully enaged yet. What I mean by that is that she (and I know this because I used to do it) was one of those folks who “got” up at 8:00 AM but “woke” up at 10:00 AM. The first couple of hours are completely auto-pilot. Listen, some of us are morning people, and others prefer to be night owls. Neither is any better or worse than the other. Our differences are the stuff that makes the world go ’round.

Back to the java joint incident.. She ordered her morning fuel of choice like a buzzer at the end of a basketball game. As an addendum, she proceded make it widely known that she always gets the wrong order here and could they please, just for once, listen to her – for the love of all that was holy. This went on for at least a couple of minutes. I did learn something from this little diatribe, though. Apparently, standard granulated sugar in an iced coffee is akin to hearing fingernails on a chalkboard. It has to be liquid sugar or the drink is swill. I made sure to make a mental note. Hey, I might be on Jeopardy someday. “What is “swill”, Alex?”

The cashier rang up her order and politely took her debit card for the customary swiping of her soul through a little black box that held her fate. Sounds really dramatic, and it was! The first swipe resulted in an eye roll suggesting that these readers notoriously don’t always work right. The second swipe turned out a quizzical look of concern that the card was not valid – now the line is nervously wondering how this was going to play out. The third (and final) swipe engaged a countdown sequence that wasn’t going to be pretty. None of us said it, but we all thought it: ABORT! ABORT! 30 SECONDS TO CORE IMPLOSION!

My ninja-like reflexes kicked in. Suddenly, I was MacGyver. I had two paperclips, a short piece of string and some bubblegum. I had this. So, I leaned in to tell the cashier that I would gladly pay for her order hoping that this small gesture would somehow have resulted in me making the right choice between the red wire and the blue wire – disarming the whole thing.

Well, it’s true that no good deed goes unpunished. Apparently, I was encroaching on her space, and summarily told that she did not need my charity. I should really just keep my nose where it belonged – out of her business.

It was in that moment, that I realized that everyone in this world has a purpose. Her’s, it turns out, was to serve as a warning to others. Another couple of minutes and she found some paper money at the bottom of her weapons cache (she called it a purse), and all the little Who’s in Whoville sang and sang…

The moral of this story, boys and girls, is that we all form impressions before the people we encounter. The first impression is often a lasting one. Sometimes the best image you can give someone is seeing the back of your head getting smaller as you walk away from them.

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