The Barista Fantasy

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According to my cousin, being a barista is like this generation’s sexy librarian fantasy. At first I was skeptical, because as a barista myself I don’t really understand what could possibly be attractive about my hideous black polo and huge green apron that makes me look like a 12-year-old boy. Whatever works for you I guess. I can believe her comment though, because I think working at Starbucks is the place where I’ve been asked out the most in my life. I don’t really know what to think about that, because honestly I look my worst when I’m working. I’m too lazy to put on my contacts so I’ve got my own trendy hipster glasses that scream “Hello, I’m a hipster,” and like I said the uniform doesn’t do me any favors. Yet, it’s really is the main place where I get asked out the most. It’s so odd.

This past summer I decided to stay in Boston for an internship instead of going back home. The internship was unpaid, as so many of them are unfortunately so I kept up my job at Starbucks to pay for, you know, my survival. Working 70-hour workweeks was miserable. However, the two redeeming factors of working at Starbucks that summer were that I loved my co-workers and I got a very huge self-esteem boost from getting asked out several times in that three month time period. It got to the point where my co-workers would give me crap for being too flirty. Apparently to them, friendly=flirty.

The oddest experience with a customer asking me out actually came from a professor! He was at least 15 years older than me, and a regular at Starbucks, so I was used to seeing him every shift I worked. Once I can acknowledge with a customer that we are familiar faces, I get friendlier. Instead of just saying “Hi, what can I get for you today?” I’m bold to ask how they are doing and genuinely mean it. So I was on that level with this guy. One day when we had just closed at 9 p.m., he came by the store, but we’d already locked our doors to start cleaning. We made eye contact, and I tried to signal that we’d already closed. He kept knocking on the glass door. My co-worker goes over to open the door to say that we’ve already closed, but he looks over her shoulder at me and says, “I was hoping to talk to you. How long does it normally take you guys to close the store?” It takes an hour. We close at 9 p.m., but employees don’t leave until 10 p.m. because we have to leave everything ready for the morning. He said he’d wait. He waited an hour in the RAIN at night to speak to me. I could guess what was coming.

I cleaned as slow as possible, and for the first time I experienced not wanting to leave Starbucks. Once I go outside, he instantly approached me and tried to make small talk. It’s raining, and I’d just worked a long shift so I was not in the mood to dilly-dally. I give curt responses until he decided to get to the point and ask me to dinner. I went with the classic, “I’m seeing someone” excuse. I don’t like being mean when someone has mustered up the courage to approach me and ask me out so that’s my go-to excuse. Sometimes when I use it, it’s actually true… most of the time it’s not. He looked disappointed but took it with grace, and then continued to come into Starbucks on a normal basis so that awkwardness could continue for a while. Yay…

My favorite interaction with a customer was a day when my normal 12-hour shift that I worked on Saturdays became a 16-hour shift, because a co-worker called in sick at the last minute. I was out of it. Like barely functional due to exhaustion and hunger. My lack of consciousness was even more difficult to hide, because business was slow so there was nothing for me to do but stand behind the bar and concentrate on not falling asleep. Customers noticed too. One woman even had the audacity to say to me, “You look like you need to get it together.” You can always rely on people to make you feel like worse when you already feel like shit. However, out of nowhere, when I had my head lying on the computer screen, a guy walked up to me and said the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me in my life. He just came up and said, “You know I’m really sorry you have to be here right now. You seem too smart and too beautiful to deserve to be stuck here on such a nice day and I hope you’re able to get out of work soon.” I barely had time to register what was happening before he ended and left. He didn’t ask me out or ever come back. He just said kind words without asking for anything in return.

However, my most priceless conversation about dating customers actually happened with a fellow female co-worker who was a friend. Another customer had just asked me out that day so my co-workers were playfully teasing me about it and updating her on the gossip with the whole occurrence. However, as I was sharing my take on the whole situation, she decided to share her honest opinion of me. She said, “I can’t believe another guy asked you out. I just don’t get the appeal.” This girl just called me ugly to my face. My jaw dropped. I was torn between calling her out on her rudeness, or laughing it off and moving on. I detest drama so I opted for the latter. I’d rather not stoop to her level of rudeness by being just as nasty. I just gave a small smile and went back to my job.

I don’t know what it is about baristas that could possibly be so enticing to people. I make coffee, and then I serve it to people. One of my co-workers has even started developing carpal tunnel from working at our Starbucks. There’s nothing attractive about my job description. However, my interactions with customers definitely keep the job interesting and worthwhile for me!

London Talks Back

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During my time in London, I learned to admire British culture. I’ll admit when I first arrived I felt very out of my element. The variety of accents, the bluntness of the people and even their mannerisms were so different from what I’d known that even basic interactions were a bit of a struggle for me. No amount of Jane Austen novels or Sherlock episodes could have prepared me for real interactions with British people. Within the first week I quickly adapted, but I guess it was more so the fact that I wasn’t expecting to feel the cultural divide as much as I did. I’d grown up admiring and learning about British people my entire life so I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong.

British people are the most polite group of people I’ve ever met. It’s funny though, because their bluntness I believe may be construed as rude in the U.S. or other parts, but I loved it. They were so much more efficient with conflicts, because they were much more open to voicing their opinions rather than beating around the bush. To give a quick and humorous example, I dated a British guy named “Michael” who really did in my opinion exemplify all of the major observations I’d made about British culture, and I got to experience them first hand during our relationship. One day towards the end of my stay in London, I had a childhood friend named “Ivonne” visit me for a few days so we took her out for a drink with us and a few of Michael’s co-workers. I was sharing a story about when my older brother visited me in Boston and complained about the amount of walking that I made him do. Living in the suburbs with his own car, my brother doesn’t walk much in general. After telling the humorous experience to point out how I didn’t even realize how much walking I do living in a city, Michael curiously asked, “Yea, but isn’t your brother really fat?” Those were literally his exact words. I know he didn’t say it maliciously or with the intent to insult, he was genuinely curious. At this point, I’d adapted to the bluntness so I simply replied that yea he is indeed a bit overweight. Ivonne died laughing. This was her first night in London, and she was certainly not used to this type of bluntness. She quipped, “Man, you guys really are blunt here!” Michael looked confused by her statement. I laughed at Ivonne’s comment, glad that I’m not the only one who noticed how odd it is for us for people to be that honest.

Ivonne’s two days in London were actually odd in my experience with London. It was during my last week so I took advantage of her stay to do all of he touristy things in London that I hadn’t already done. What made her final day memorable was how Londoners simply chimed into our conversations out of nowhere.

The first instance happened when I went to Sainsbury’s to buy credit for my phone. As we were exiting the grocery store, Ivonne asked me what this signal by the bars on her phone meant. I told her I didn’t know, but then out of nowhere a woman with three bags of grocery bags on each hand who was literally like 10 feet away from us, turns around and explained the signal as she continued walking away with her groceries.

The second instance was when Ivonne and I took the tube. When we arrived at Westminster station, I momentarily forgot where I needed to go and just follow the crowd. I found myself leading Ivonne to go downstairs when we were trying to get out of the station. I revealed to Ivonne, “I think we went the wrong way, but I can’t be sure, I’m just following the crowd, but I’m pretty sure that this is the wrong way to get out.” London is a very crowded city so we were surrounded by people and at this point, we would’ve been annoying if we tried to turn around and go upstairs when literally everyone was going downstairs. However, amidst the crowd a woman, who was a little further ahead of us down the stairs, turned around and responded, “Yes, you guys are going the wrong way.” With this confirmed, Ivonne and I decide to be those annoying Americans and turn around and fight our way back upstairs.

The last instance of the day was when Ivonne and I went to the bank. Since she was studying abroad in Spain, Ivonne only had Euros so she needed to go to Barclay’s to take out more pounds for the day. As we stood at the ATM machine behind this older man who was withdrawing money, Ivonne and I discussed what we planned to do that day to determine how much money she needed to take out. I said, “Well we are doing the London Eye, we’re going lunch, we’re going to Portobello Market to do some shopping and then we’re going to dinner, so you’ll probably need like 100 pounds.” Ivonne asked surprised, “Really? 100 pounds? That’s a lot!” Then I remembered, “Oh, we’re also going to get ice cream!” The man in front of us finished his transaction with the machine, and then turned around and said, “You’re definitely going to need more than 100 pounds,” and then walked away. Ivonne and I looked at each other baffled.

British people are nothing without their wit and humor. I love it. I appreciated them taking pity on two silly American girls, and helping us out when we were clearly struggling to understand certain things.

A Lack of Discretion

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When you’re studying abroad, it’s impossible for you to keep any secrets. In Grenoble, I was put with a host family, which was more of just a host mother named “Madame Siron.” She was the strongest and wisest woman I’d ever met. A survivor of World War 1 and 2, Madame Siron was clearly a woman to be respected and who understood what the important things in life were. What made her so lovable was that she had maintained her kindness or positivity. She was a happy woman with her routine and her own life; despite the many obstacles life has thrown at her. I could not have asked for a better host mother. But she was tough and worried about me like every mother does.

In the very beginning of my enchanting semester abroad, I was lucky enough to make several French friends who took me under their wing and introduced me firsthand to French culture. One girl named “Sabine” invited me to her birthday party at her home. I had met Sabine and her group of friends at a bar and had only hung out with them once before she extended the invitation, so I was extremely flattered. Sabine and her friends were exceptionally kind, welcoming and patient with my level of French. They were all so accommodating that when they hung out with me, everyone in the group would speak entirely in English so that I could understand and contribute. I seriously have no idea why people think the French are so rude or pretentious, because to me they were the kindest people I’d ever met.

Anyway, Sabine’s home was outside the downtown area of Grenoble where I lived so a friend gave me a ride to the party. Upon arrival, I realized how intimate the party actually was. The guests included Sabine’s two sisters, two cousins, her boyfriend, her two best friends and me. I’m still bewildered by the fact that I was invited, but I was touched by the gesture. Sabine said to me, “You know when I studied abroad in Australia, a group of people really took care of me and made me feel welcome, and I’d like to do that for you. That’s why I invited you.” It was one of the kindest things anyone had ever done for me, and the party was so much fun! It was very French in the sense that there were like 10 bottles of wine for eight people with a variety of cheeses, breads and prosciutto offered as snacks. It was the classiest and most low-key party I’d ever been to.

It was 2 a.m. when I realized that everyone had planned to spend the night at Sabine’s house since we’d all been drinking. One of the rules of the program is that I had to inform my host mother if I was going to spend the night somewhere else. Unfortunately, I only had the house phone of my host mother so when I realized I was spending the night at Sabine’s I didn’t dare call my host mother and wake her up in the middle of the night just to inform her I was staying out. So I went to sleep and figured I’d just explain to her what happened in the morning when I returned.

I wake up the next morning with three missed calls from the Main Program Director, two texts messages from her daughter who is the other Program Director and two missed calls from one of my friends who was in my study abroad program. I opt to call my friend Brendon first to find out what was happening, but I already knew. He immediately asks me where I am and if I’m alive. Obviously, I was since I was talking to him so I start firing with questions to figure out what’s the emergency. He explained that my host mom noticed that I didn’t return home the night before so she called the police and the Program Director this morning extremely worried. Also, because Brendon is such a good friend, when asked by the Program Directors if he knew about my whereabouts, his reply was, “I don’t know the last time I saw Ariana, she was getting a ride with a random French dude.” Despite the fact that he didn’t know I was going to a birthday party of a French girl, he decides to insinuate something much more scandalous. While I spoke to Brendon, he mentions that he’s at the Study Abroad office at that moment, and then I hear him scream out, “I’m talking to Ariana now, she’s fine.” He returns his attention to me by notifying me that the Program Directors want me to come into the office immediately.

I asked a friend at the party for a ride back to the downtown area of Grenoble since the house was outside in a more suburban area and out of reach of the public transportation. On my way, I start to panic. They can’t actually kick me out of the program for staying out overnight, right? I’m 21 years old; I’m an adult! (At least I like to think so.) I enter the Study Abroad office shaking. It’s the beginning of the semester so I didn’t really know the Program Directors that well and they didn’t know me. (Although, as a side note, they’re both two of the loveliest people I’ve ever met.) Getting in trouble so early on was not the greatest first impression. “Margot” the Head Program Director who has run the study abroad program in Grenoble for the past like 20 years was angry and ready to show it. However, her daughter “Colette,” who seemed more like the protective, but approachable older sister, balanced her out. Margot immediately started lecturing me on how disrespectful it was to stay out overnight without telling my host mother in advance. I agreed, but then explained the situation on how I didn’t know until very late in the evening that I was staying out, and due to my host mother’s age she only has a landline phone, which I didn’t want to call due to the time. Apparently, I was wrong. My host mother had a cell phone. I wasn’t sure she even knew what a cell phone was! I just assumed she didn’t have one, because when she gave me her contact information, a cell phone number was not included, and I’d only ever seen her speak on a landline phone! I was blown away.

I quickly apologized, because from the beginning I knew I was in the wrong. However, Colette seemed to find the whole situation amusing. She sat there smiling the whole time Margot was lecturing me, before she quipped, “You know Ariana if you were trying to be discreet with your affairs, this was the worse possible way to do it.” I died from laughter. She was completely right! I didn’t even bother trying to correct what I knew they were assuming with “my affairs.” I accepted the warning with gratitude and humor, and then went on my way, happy that I was able to stay in France and continue with my scandalous ways.

Going Down the London Tube

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I had the privilege of being able to study abroad in London. I studied abroad in London first, because to me London was the dream. Growing up reading Jane Austen and watching movies set in 18th century England convinced me that I was born in the wrong place and time. The history, beauty and character that England offered enchanted my childhood. So arriving in London felt like a dream. I had a Swiss friend who was in graduate school in London at the time come pick me up at the airport and take me to her place before I moved into my flat the next day (yes, I did make the effort to incorporate their vocabulary while I was there, because it’s so much cooler and sounds more proper than American vocabulary. I also spelled colour with a u, deal with it.)

With my internship, and the fact that I thought that London was going to be in two different seasons from January to May I brought two large suitcases, a carry-on suitcase and my laptop bag. Of course, I quickly learned London has one season: rain. I also made the mistake of assuming that my friend Cara would be willing to help me with my luggage. Unfortunately, she had sprained her ankle while walking and that somehow hindered her ability to roll a suitcase so she only offered to take my carry-on, which left my 5’1 frame carrying a 50 lbs. suitcase in each hand. To get to Cara’s apartment we had to ride the London Tube, which already had me jumping in my seat with excitement and amazement. The London Tube was such an amazing experience that it made me feel like I was at a 5 star hotel. It made the Boston T look like a hostel that would most likely give you bed bugs in comparison. London even has a museum dedicated to the history of the London Tube! I can understand why; the efficiency and comfort of the Tube never ceased to impress me for the five months that I lived there.

Once we arrived at Cara’s stop, I had to go up the escalators with my two large suitcases that added up to be 100 lbs., which was only eight lbs. less than my entire body weight. I’m petite and I’m weak. These are two things about myself that I’ve learned to accept, and most of the time as long as I put on a pathetic look that screams “Help me please,” a nice gentleman offers his assistance and I’m off the hook. Not this time.

There was no one behind me to for the escalator going up to scream for help with my eyes and my friend Cara had gone ahead of me with my 10 lbs. carry-on suitcase. I was on my own. Looking back, I’ll admit my strategy sucked, but I was afraid to leave a suitcase by itself in a city I’d been in for about an hour and to me running on to the escalator with a suitcase in each hand seemed like my best bet. It was a terrible idea. I dropped both suitcases and the escalator would drag my suitcases up and then they’d fall down, while I was rising up. So for the first time in my life I got to fulfill a fantasy of running against an escalator, but under the worst circumstances.

Of course, I was wearing high-heeled black boots as well because, high heels are a requirement in my life if I want to be eye-level with most people and not hurt my neck from having to look up all the time. But, the high-heeled boots actually caused me to fall not once, not twice, but more than five times in my attempt to run again the escalator in order to pick up my suitcases so that they weren’t just rising and falling on the escalator. This scenario didn’t just go on for 3 seconds, it went on for like two minutes, because somehow in this timeframe there was no one who needed to use this escalator to go up so I was alone. Although, the opposite escalator going down was packed and many people got free entertainment and apparently felt the need to immortalize this moment by pulling out their phones to take pictures and record my struggle so that my patheticness could be documented and shared.

Eventually a woman came behind me to get on the escalator and she was able to pick up one suitcase and I the other. However, I could not move on from the fact that my grand entrance to this beautiful, prestigious city that I’d dreamt about going to my entire life was probably uploaded to YouTube as “Pathetic Girl on Tube.”

The Ex Co-worker

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One of the fundamental rules when working is to never get involved with your co-workers. I broke this cardinal rule my sophomore year at college when I worked at Starbucks (which is still my miserable part-time job until May when I finally become a real person.) A graduate student named “Ken” started working with me after having just moved to Boston, and we got along great at work. He eventually asked me out and I excitedly accepted. He was the first guy in college who I was genuinely interested in dating. I’ll spare you the brief “relationship” that we had since it only lasted two months and ended awkwardly.

I was the one who eventually ended it for a variety of reasons, including the fact that he seemed unable to retain anything I said either due to stupidity or lack of attention. I made the mistake of saying, “I still want to be friends” when I ended it. I said it not be a liar, but to make working with him less awkward since we still had to work together roughly eight hours a week. However, I had no intention of actually hanging out with him outside of work. But c’mon everyone uses that line!

Luckily, we dated the spring semester of my sophomore year so I only had to endure roughly two months of awkwardness at work and avoiding his texts and calls before summer hit. When I returned as a junior we didn’t have any shifts together, and then I left campus for a semester to study abroad in London during his last semester as a graduate student. However, I stayed in Boston over the summer for an internship, and continued to work at Starbucks to pay my bills. So of course, I ran into him. Do you have those people in your life who when you see them, they never fail to remind you why they’re no longer in your life? Ken is one of those people for me. I feel bad saying that, because for all-important purposes he seems like a perfectly nice guy who means no harm, but it amazes me how little attention he puts in conversation. I think a wall pays more attention to me when I’m speaking than Ken ever did. The funny thing is that I’m not the only one who noticed this about him. After we broke up, everyone at Starbucks told me how annoying they found him, because he never paid attention so training him took double the time it should have!

Anyway, he came into Starbucks for his final paycheck since he’d already graduated and had a full-time job. I was working at the register at the time and my manager was a new worker named “Kendra” who I had just met a few weeks before this happened since I’d been gone for a semester. Coincidentally, just the week before she brought up Ken and how she knew he had dated a co-worker but didn’t know whom it was. I revealed that I was the co-worker since gossip spreads like wildfire in the food service industry. I figured I’d move the conversation along in order for it to be irrelevant quicker, and I was pretty sure she was the only person who didn’t already knew we’d dated.

When Ken entered, we locked eyes and I could immediately see his displeasure as I tried my hardest to hide mine by acting pleasant and friendly. We were catching up a bit since it had been almost a year that we hadn’t seen each other, until Kendra came over and greeted Ken. She instantly started gossiping about how she’d met the girl he’d dated. She goes on about how this girl had said all of these terrible things about him and started lecturing Ken about how he should never date co-workers. As she was saying this in front of both of us, I could feel my face light on fire. Kendra went on and on about how dating co-workers always ends so badly and that she didn’t understand why this girl didn’t like him, etc. I was stunned. It astounded me not only that this was happening, but also that someone could have such terrible memory. How could she have forgotten that the person she’s talking about is me when the conversation happened a week ago?!? Even Ken was extremely embarrassed and uncomfortable as he tried to hint to Kendra the awkwardness by mumbling, “Kendra, you don’t even know what you’re doing right now.”

To add the cherry on top of this epically awkward situation, once Kendra was done with her lecture on the problems with dating co-workers, she turned to me and asked with a genuinely confused expression, “Ariana, why are you blushing?” I was shaking with rage and as she so kindly stated, red in the face with embarrassment. Once she walked away, I had no idea what to say to move on from what just happened. My go-to strategy is to make a bad joke, and then just move on. So I sarcastically said, “Well, it’s nice to know that people still talk about how we used to date!” Ken had the decency to fake laugh, because it was a terrible joke, and then we went back to catching up on each other’s lives. But then it got much worse. Ken took this opportunity to remind me of one of the key reasons of why I broke up with him.

I think that when I had pointed out to Ken that he doesn’t pay attention to people when they speak, it struck a chord with him. Ever since, he’s tried to prove me wrong every time he sees me. It’s funny, because when he tries to prove me wrong, he ends up confirming my observation. In this situation, Ken proudly brought up how he remembers where I’m from, and states Guatemala. I’m not from Guatemala. I am from ECUADOR. They are two very different countries. There are people who have only met me once who have been able to remember that I am Ecuadorian. This is a fact that I would have expected a guy who I dated for two months to have remembered. But, it gets even better! When he got my nationality wrong, I just laughed. I wasn’t even angry! I just felt sorry for the guy, because it was pretty pathetic in my opinion that even in his attempt to prove my analysis of him wrong, he continued to reaffirm it. So I jokingly said to him, “Do you even know my last name?” giggling as I say it, because I thought I was just teasing him. Apparently, I had asked a difficult question. Ken did not remember my last name. A guy I dated for two months who seemed crushed when I ended things and spent months trying to win me back could not remember my last name. That’s when it stopped being funny and I was left speechless.

Ken tried to play it off like his ignorance wasn’t uncommon by asking me if I remembered his last name. I replied by telling him his last name, where he was from, and where he got his undergraduate degree without hesitation. You know how I did that? By paying attention to people when they speak to me. After I proved my point by stating these simple facts about him, I made it clear the conversation was over by saying that I hoped he had a nice day and then walking away. Please someone tell me that most men are not as oblivious as Ken and that there’s hope!

Avez-vous sida?

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Being in a foreign country is like being a baby. People have to speak to you extremely slowly, everything around you is new, exciting and terrifying, and you’re always exhausted from trying to communicate. Studying abroad in Grenoble, France was the most exhilarating, eye-opening, beautiful and petrifying experience of my life. I went after only having studied five semesters worth of French and unable to form complex sentences, but left France conversationally fluent. However, there were many humiliating experiences that contributed to the development of my French skills.

The most embarrassing experience was during my first week in Grenoble when I went to a bar with friends. Fluent in Spanish, one of my main strategies in speaking French was to cover up when I didn’t know a word in French by saying the word in Spanish or pronouncing English word with a Spanish accent, and hope that somehow the French would understand me. I think this tactic worked like once. However, I used this strategy at the bar when the bartender asked me what I wanted to drink. Being obsessed with cider after living in London for a few months, I wanted to know if he sold any, but quickly realized mid-sentence that I had no idea how to say cider in French. I opted to say cider in English with a Spanish accent to see if he would somehow, miraculously understand me. Instead, he gave me a look like I was crazy, then looked at other patrons to make sure that he wasn’t the only one who had heard what I had said. Everyone around me burst out laughing.

The bartender was kind enough to explain to me in broken English that I had just asked him if he had AIDS, and then responded to my question by saying that he did not. Mortified, I could do nothing else but join in on the laughter at the awkwardness of the situation and profusely apologize for my lack of French skills. But you know, you learn something new every day and that day I learned how to say AIDS in French.