The number of times I had walked away from an unsatisfactory situation without saying a word is epic. I then spend hours if not days replaying those situations in my mind and getting aerated. I come up with snappy responses to whatever the other person said or funny put-downs to make me feel better. All I do in the process is to leak energy.
We have a local delicatessen shop/cafe my husband and I visit for lunch from time to time. They have delicious food and a friendly staff. Except for Ms Surly, the nickname we use for a middle-aged woman who thinks her job is to make customers wrong. Every time we visit the cafe, we dread her presence. Even without saying anything in particular, she exudes the air of animosity. We usually make excuses for her: perhaps she is deeply unhappy; or maybe she is tired; perhaps she is not a very self-aware person; perhaps she thinks what matters is the job she does and not connection with people around her. We try to feel compassionate towards her and to put ourselves at ease.
Today, as soon as we were seated at one of the tables, she swooped in and told off the other staff member for sitting us by the window.
‘We have a party of 10 people coming at 12:30.’
My husband and I rolled our eyes. Here we go again. Not satisfied with telling the young man off, she approached us and said that we should vacate the table by 12:30.
‘We were shown to this table,’ I protested.
‘You can move somewhere else,’ she said.
‘How gracious of her,’ my husband chuckled when she was out of earshot. ‘I think she got the message that you were not happy.’
‘I wonder whether to go and talk to her. To say, listen, sometimes, we feel unwelcomed in this cafe, even though we love this place and keen to support your business.’
‘You could say that if we were in a touchy-feely workshop. I don’t think she is open to having such conversations.’
But I am still entitled to say how I feel, I reflected gloomily chewing on my beef lasagne. Every time the woman entered the room, my appetite plummeted.
When I went to pay, we hardly had any eye contact. As she handed me back my credit card, I seized the opportunity. I asked her name and then told her how I felt.
‘I politely asked you to move to another table at 12:30,’ she said. ‘It was you who was off with me.’
My attempts to communicate that this was not the only instance when we felt unwelcome were not heard.
‘How did it go?’ My husband smiled at me when I exited the cafe.
‘Well, she had a chance to vent out,’ I smiled back.
Sometimes, speaking up is enough. I didn’t expect to achieve a soul connection with this woman. I just wanted to say how I felt. Perhaps, the fact that she could express her feelings means that we could be friendlier towards each other in the future. Or not. At least, I wasn’t walking around for the rest of the day having imaginary conversations with her.