Brief Encounters of the 2018 Kind

Disclosure here – after 5 weeks of traveling, sharing buses, buying tickets, asking for directions, waiting for transport, sleeping on hard seats, smelling airport loos and tripping over bags on the floor… I am becoming a little sensitive to stranger encounters and this is a bit of a rant-like post 🙂 I’ll add photos of my séjour in Madrid via parks to add some visual relief.

Throughout my 6 week trip (and quite honestly for a few years now) I have noticed there are two types of people you meet. I’m not talking friendships, relationships or anything deep, i’m actually talking about the people you meet for 2 or 5 minutes each day in your lives, as you travel, as you go to the grocery store or post office.. even as you might grab your coffee on the way to work, jeez, even the person sat next to you on your way to work.

These people pop into your lives for the briefest moment and yet, they can affect the rest of your day, your mood, or even a much bigger factor that can change a life decision or lifelong opinion of an entire nation. The latter happens far too often, in fact and unfortunately.

I shall describe my most recent encounter, alas, this being a negative one before counter balancing it with a positive 🙂 Balance always helps.

Then, I’ll try to explain these two different people and experiences and therefore – my friggin’ point.

My last day in Madrid, having said goodbye to a very good friend of mine the night before and feeling twitchy to leave as the airport was waiting.. I had to go to a bank, I shall name said bank because, well, maybe if they see this they might reconsider how to communicate with clients in the future… BBVA. I shamed them. Oops. Meh – doubt they’ll come across this page any time soon.

Anyway, back to my story. So i’m a little sad to say goodbye to my friend and just want to leave town but I know i’ve had some letters over the past year from them telling me to close my account since I no longer live in Spain, as my correspondence was a UK address and I live in Canada, I received all these letters just this month and here I am to settle my account in person (nicely done!) Yet, the documents are all in Spanish, and anyone will tell you that even if you’re pretty darn comfortable in a second language, official documents with lots of important jargon need a little extra help explaining.

So I waited patiently in the very long queue as only one out of 4 kiosks was open, arrived smiling at the lady behind the desk (I always hope that if I’m nice, they’ll mirror it) and here’s how it went (in Espanol)

“I’m here to close my account, and I have some letters that I w..”

“You want to close an account?” insert fast mumbling.

“Yes, I also have some letters that I don’t quite understand and would like to be explain..”

“What did you open it with?”

“I’m not sure but I have these papers to check and i’m sure that…”

“If you don’t have your account information theres nothing I can do, you need to have you passport or …” Lots more fast mumbling continued. I waited until she finished.

“I understand, and I can get my information, but I also need to show you my papers as they will”

And I’ve lost her. I get cut off again and she grabs the papers saying they aren’t necessary (without having looked at them).

I notice that she is beginning to raise her voice and has sat back in her chair – clear body language of refusing to hear my case and just wanting me to let her be.

I tried very calmly and clearly one last time “The thing is, I don’t quite understand the letters and would like your help explaining the content” she’s violently shaking her head at me, eyes closed.

I try to justify my plea.

“Well, i guess if you cannot help me I will have to call the main offices and ask someone who can”.

“I can’t help you”. Just incase I hadn’t understood.

I wanted to say so much more, oh, so much more. Like “your body language and entire attitude will simply create more hassle for everyone involved, you have not once listened to me and even though you should be trying to help me, even if just to tell me what to do next time, you have given me nothing” then I should have asked to speak to someone else in that office.

But I did not. I whispered ‘gracias’ and left pulling my poor abused wheely suitcase out the door into the crowds of busy Madrid.

I feel sorry for the rest of the clients who had to see her today.

I had to stand outside the bank for several minutes to breathe slowly and focus back to my surroundings, careful not to carry the negative experience with me all day and further pass it to others.

This, friends, is type A.

Now for type B.

When I arrived in Dover, after driving 4 hours from Troyes and having sadly said goodbye to my uncle that morning, I arrived at a petrol station to fill the car for another 4 hour drive north to Lincoln.

I bought myself a coffee and went to pay in the shop, ‘Insufficient funds’. Oh crap.

Me “oh right, okay, sorry, can I just go grab my phone to transfer money”

Lady at desk “yes, thats fine”. Smiling. SMILING!!

And no! I need wifi to transfer more money from my savings to current account but having a Canadian phone can’t use internet or data. I tried looking for wifi, no wifi, I tried switching on the little lighthouse icon (I’m still slow at iPhone understandings), still nothing. I thought about calling a friend for advice, still same problem of not being about to communicate to anyone.

A few minutes passed and I try not to panic, searching in my brain/on my phone for an answer. Finally, some other icon looked familiar, perhaps a roaming thingy… I pressed it and yes! Roaming charges applied!! Which meant it would cost an arm and a leg to use but at least I could access my bank account to transfer funds and pay for the petrol i’d already filled my car with.

Went back to the front desk lady “okay, I think it’s sorted, thank you for waiting”

“Not to worry” Pause. “Would you to get yourself another coffee for free, yours might be cold by now”.

I felt a warmth and gave a huge smile. I didn’t get a refill but just her way of treating me like a human, and potentially a tired one who’d possibly been traveling all day and had had to say goodbye to family just made my day. Made my week. In fact, that was 2 weeks ago and i’m still smiling about it!

She is Type B.

Beautiful Parque del Retiro

Type A is the person who doesn’t step outside the lines, they know what they know, they follow the rules, they ‘do their job’ but never go the extra mile, never try to understand or humanise their interactions.

Type B follows the rules but also realizes that people aren’t perfect and things might need patience or explaining slowly. That people can be tired or mistaken and simply smiling or offering a helping hand can make all the difference.

I realize that perhaps this particular bank woman may have just heard bad news or was suffering from the flu or it was her 8th day in a row at work with no break and I had just come in at the wrong time.

Yet, does she need to take it out on a customer?

We’ve all had that soul sucking experience from a stranger where they’ve refused to listen or accommodate you, and it’s affected you far more than a tiny exchange of words should.

I’ve worked in customer service, I’ve shown up ill, sad, hungover, tired… whatever have you..but i’ve always tried to be as decent as possible to my clients, or customers. Knowing that my behavior towards them, my attitude and even my facial expression will directly affect them. And it was not in the least, their fault.

And this stuff travels…. it spreads from person to person. Bad moods spread like wildfire.

I think kindness does too.

This Type B lady is often on my mind, and I want to be like her. Just be nice and patient.

Another nice experience I had with a Type B lady – when at the Tate Gallery last week, I had my same battered wheely suitcase and decided to put it in the cloakroom as my back was getting sore from pulling it through London. I had just managed to pop out one of my sunglasses’ lenses and it had fallen on the floor because of the awkward way I was holding the suitcase up for inspection and was worried about the damage i’d done.

‘Donations of 4 Pound please’ on the cloakroom sign. Ah crap. More money pfffft. Okay, I checked my wallet, looked for coins but not enough. A gentleman behind me notified me that I was being signaled to go to a side door for my luggage and I quickly (unsmilingly) stumbled toward this door, wheels and all.

“Erm, I’m sorry I don’t have enough coins” I admitted. Feeling flustered and scrounging around in my pockets.

“Don’t worry about it dear. Just enjoy the gallery and all it’s art”

I looked up wide – eyed.

A young lady was looking right back at me. Big friggin’ smile.

“Oh really? Oh thank you so so much.” I made sure my grin was horrifically over-exaggerated.

She took my case, gave me my ticket.

A wonderful type B!

As I walked back to my friend I looked for the previous gentleman, made eye contact with him and made sure he too, received an over-exaggerated smile to express my gratitude at his help. Better late than never I thought.

Blossoms at La Quinta de los Molinos Park

But this is not a cultural thing, a gender thing, a nationality thing as (for example) – all weekend I have been trying to get some pain medicine for my father that apparently you can get in Spain but not the UK. Not too sure how I feel about about getting a drug that probably has bad side effects and that’s why you can’t get it in England but my want to help my dad is far stronger than my worry of potential side effects. It’s his body. And I want the praise of effort 😉

So I try, the first 2 pharmacies both said no as I needed a prescription for the drug. They listened to my quest, and explained the different ingredients within the drug and why one of those (I forget the name) has been used for home abortions (wtf?!) so needs a prescription for it to be released. Both polite, both listened and gave detailed patient answers and I felt good leaving, even if without the prescription.

The third, not so lucky. She cut me off without listening to my explanation as to why I was there. Saw the box of the medicine and kept repeating – you need a prescription for that. No smile. No sorry. No try elsewhere if you want. Nothing.

Not even a thank you or goodbye. A Serious Type A.

This is not a blog about assholes and good samaritans – because maybe this lady is a wonderful family woman, loves her kids and would do anything for her grand children. And maybe those other previous pharmacists aren’t nice to their families or cut people off whilst driving, or even…litter. The same of it.

A 4th pharmacist also told me I wasn’t able to get the drug without a prescription, but she smiled the entire time and looked up the medicine, listening to my questions. Type B.

But this is about interaction and respect for your fellow human being. Especially, if you work in the customer service world. It’s about just being nice to others for that brief conversation.

I wrote this in the airport whilst waiting for my flight back to Luton after Madrid. I wasn’t able to use internet so just kept it as a draft. Funnily enough, once in the UK I waited for the shuttle bus to car hire area at the airport, arrived in the rain to a full bus and the bus driver looking at me through the window. I made a sign with my hands of ‘can I hop on?’ He looked at me blankly and did some sort of washing machine movement with his hands, tired and a little jaded I just stared in confusion right back at him. Sorry mate, I’m too tired to play charades. I stood there, gloomily. ‘Fine then. Don’t help’. Another type A.

But then, a miracle happened! He unwound his window, signaled for me to approach and said ‘the gates locked so I can’t reopen it, you’ll have to get the next one”.

“Oh right! Thank you!” I gave him a big smile. He didn’t smile back but he did help me and just giving me that little extra interaction, helped.

I noticed another man just arriving, also looking confused. I decided to be the Type B, I smiled and said “oh, we have to get the next one as this one’s full”

He replied immediately but I missed it.

“Sorry?” I asked. Still smiling.

“Did he say how long?”

“Oh! No, he didn’t actually”

He then tutted and looked down at his phone. Clearly annoyed.

Well, you can’t win them all!

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