“Always Be a Little Kinder Than Necessary”

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I’m young and naïve; so people tell me. My parents say that to me on a daily basis. Although, in my short 21 years of life, I like to believe that I’ve discovered a simple truth in life. If you’re good to people, then people will be good to you. This is my life’s philosophy. I think I heard it in a movie, but I can’t remember which one. Even though I’m blanking on the source, this idea has always been the guiding principle for my actions. Luckily, my parents also believe this philosophy so it’s ingrained into my way of life since birth. Although, as I get older, and have already had many wonderful life experiences, I’ve seen this idea become a reality. I’ve met so many people who are just full of love and compassion, and open to connection. At first, I just thought I was insanely lucky. I’d share my stories with friends, and they’d always say how I always had the good fortune of meeting such wonderful people. But lately, I’ve been thinking it’s more than luck. I like to think now that the reason I’ve connected with so many incredible people is because I was open to them.

My favorite example of this is of a local restaurant here in Boston called Café 472. It opened up my sophomore year at BU, and from the moment I tried their frozen yogurt, I was hooked. It’s a small place comprised of a very small and international staff. The employees are mostly Middle Eastern and even though they’re all from different countries, they somehow communicate in one language that’s not English. My friends and I went literally once a week for their froyo. I refused to go to any other froyo place in Boston after I discovered Café 472. It got to the point where after establishing ourselves as dedicated customers, my friends and I convinced the owner to buy a jar of Nutella just for us, to create a Nutella froyo flavor.

My relationship with Café 472 changed the summer after my junior year of college. A Starbucks opened up on the same block, and I got transferred to work at that new location. One morning, I saw the owner of Café 472 come into Starbucks, and I got so excited to see him just because he’s always been so kind to my friends and I when we go to his restaurant. If I like you, then you get free Starbucks from me. So I gave him a free coffee with a big smile, because I was genuinely happy to see him. He initially looked really taken aback and confused, but appreciatively accepted the small gift.

I went to Café 472 that weekend like I normally do, and he gave me my frozen yogurt for free. I would’ve jumped up and down with excitement, but I didn’t want to scare the poor guy. Since then, the owner and every other employee has never let me pay for any froyo or food. But, it’s become so much more than the exchange of free food. When I go now, I greet and talk to everyone. When I left to study abroad at the end of the summer, I went to say goodbye. Everyone hugged me, and one of the girls even started getting teary-eyed, which caused me to get teary-eyed. They’re my friends now. When I told them I’d be moving to San Francisco after graduation, one of the women said that they were all going to miss me. Another girl said she’d love to come and visit me someday. They’ve told me they’re excited to meet my family when they come for my graduation in May.

This wonderful group of friends that I’ve made came from simply being open to connecting with them. For two years, they were just people I saw once a week who sold delicious froyo and food. Now, they’re all good friends who I’m going to miss when I leave.

I believe that people respond to kindness. I’m not saying I’m a saint, or that I haven’t had moments where I’ve acted like a bitch when provoked. Everyone has bad moments. But it’s something to strive for. I just think it’s important to live with the mindset that you should always treat people with compassion and love. It’s such a simple statement. One that everyone claims to already know, but I don’t think that everyone lives by it. If they did, we wouldn’t have half the problems in the world that we do today. I don’t know, people tell me I’m young, naïve, too optimistic like those are bad things to be. So I may be all of those things, but I wouldn’t want to be anything else. I’d rather focus on seeing the beauty in people than concentrating on the rougher edges. And I must say that people also tell me that I’ve had the “luck” of having great experiences and forming these random wonderful relationships with people. So I must be doing something right, no? Try it for yourself and let me know what happens.

 

Not My Cup of Tea

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British people don’t joke when it comes to tea. Watching English movies as a kid, I knew that they liked tea, but I didn’t know how ingrained tea is in their culture until I studied abroad in London. I had an internship at a boutique PR agency where my colleagues drank 6-8 cups of tea a day. There was a whole etiquette that went with drinking tea. The most stressful part about my first day at my internship wasn’t keeping up with all of the training that I was receiving; it was learning how everyone interacted when it came to tea. My first day I quickly learned that it is good manners to ask the entire office if they would like a cup of tea when you feel the urge to make one for yourself. It was a small company, and the entire top floor was all women. The space was also completely open, there were no cubicles separating us. The office had three large tables, one for each different department and then a large desk for the founder of the company. Everything and everyone was out in the open and exposed. I worked in the Beauty department, which was comprised of two other interns and two full-time employees. Since there were only about 15 of us in total, it was expected that you extend the tea offer to the entire office, not just your own department.

On my first day my boss, the head of the Beauty department, offered to make me a cup of tea, which I thought was so cool of her since she’s so much higher than me in rank. I quickly realized why English people love tea so much, it tastes so much better over there! I wanted to make a good impression on my first day so when I was craving my second cup of tea, I did what I had been observing everyone do the entire day, I extended the offer to the entire office. Normally I’d noticed roughly three people request a cup of tea when someone extended the offer since it was made roughly every half hour. However when I extended the offer, eight people took me up on it and requested a cup of tea. Eight. I was freaking out. I didn’t know how any of these people took their teas and honestly since I wasn’t an avid tea-drinker myself, I didn’t really know how to make an excellent cup of tea. Trust me, it’s an art for them. I went as low as taking out a piece of paper and pen to write down how each person takes her tea since I’d just met them all that day. My boss made it clear that she was the pickiest of them all. She said, “I want milk, but not too much, just a splash, because I hate it when it’s too milky.” I was terrified of failing.

Making tea is something simple enough that any competent person should be able to do. However, making tea at Starbucks where all I do is throw a teabag in a cup and add hot water is totally different from the way people make their tea in the UK. I tried the best that I could, but I’m pretty sure my boss hated the tea I made her on my first day, because I noticed that she barely touched it. However, when you get it just right, you earn yourself a lot of praise. I’m not joking when I say I watched all of my co-workers to pick up on their tea habits so I knew how often they drank tea, what they said when they were going to make themselves a cup of tea and how each person liked to take her tea. This whole tea culture was completely foreign to me. Although, I assimilated quickly, because the tea over there was delicious. It didn’t take long for me to get to their level of drinking at least six cups a day.

One day however, when I thought I’d already fully adapted to the tea culture, I was in the kitchen cleaning up the plates I’d used for lunch. I had an urge for a cup of tea. It seemed silly to go back to the office area and announce that I was about to make myself a cup of tea and ask if anyone wanted one, since I was already in the kitchen. I made myself the tea and walked back to my computer, which is literally right next to my supervisor’s computer. She immediately saw my cup of tea and scoffed, “I see you made yourself a cup of tea and didn’t offer to make me one. I ALWAYS offer!” I was speechless. She literally called me out in front of everyone for not offering to make her a cup of tea on this one occasion. My blood boiled. I couldn’t talk back to her, because she was my boss, but seriously? I know how diligent I’ve been with asking the entire office if they wanted a cup of tea, since it was such a foreign custom that I had to consciously make the effort to integrate well. This was the first time that I hadn’t offered everyone a cup of tea while I made myself one, because I was literally already in the kitchen when I got the craving. I didn’t think it would be such a big deal. I was wrong. I bit my tongue to avoid saying anything I’d regret, and simply apologized to her for not making her a cup of tea. What else was there to say?

I wasn’t the only person my boss called out for having bad “tea etiquette.” A few weeks later she yelled at another intern for the same thing, but the intern actually talked back and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I always offer to make you tea!” My supervisor got so angry that she started yelling at the intern and the CEO who sits roughly five feet away from us intervened and told my supervisor, “Enough is enough, back off with the whole tea thing.” My boss quickly shut up after that. Although, it still baffles me how she could get so angry over the rare occurrence of not being offered to a cup of tea. At the end of the day, she has two hands and two feet that work perfectly, and the kitchen is about ten feet away. Make your own damn tea!

Lost At Sea…but Not Really

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To say that my mother is overprotective is an understatement. My mother had nightmares my freshman year at BU from watching too many cop shows, which convinced her that me living in a city would result in my horrible death. I understand where she’s coming from, I’m her baby girl and her rock. But, even now that I’m 21 I feel like she treats me like a 12-year-old. However, I’ve come to accept that this is going to always be an issue for my parents and me. At this point in my life, with everything I’ve achieved and with the fact that I’m an adult, I would like to be treated like one. My parents simply say that’s it’s part of their job description to worry about me, no matter my age. My father even said once, “Ariana, it doesn’t matter if you’re 50. I’m always going to worry about you so get used to it.” It’s touching, but also kind-of overbearing at times.

I say all of this as an introduction to what happened the last time my mother and I went to Ecuador together. On this trip I was 19 years old. My hometown is a small city on the coast of Ecuador called Esmeraldas. Most of my family lives there. Since it’s a beach city, when we go to visit our family, most of our trip is spent at the beach.

One day my younger cousins wanted to rent one of the kayaks that they saw and go kayaking with me. We all asked our parents for permission and then my 15-year-old cousin, my 13-year-old cousin and I got ourselves a kayak to split for an hour. We kayaked out to sea in the flat water. There were no waves and I didn’t feel a pull from the tide at any point. The three of us pushed ourselves out as far as we dared to go, and then took a quick rest to enjoy the view before we kayaked back. You know, it’s like I have a sixth instinct when it comes to my mother. I felt like something was coming and sure enough, when I turned my head around, I saw a fishing boat coming out toward us.

I couldn’t see anyone on the fishing boat yet, because it was too far away, but I immediately knew that it was meant for us and that my mother was on it, pissed. It eventually got to us, but before it even arrived, I could already hear the profanity that my mother was screaming at me from a distance. I was in for it. The local fishermen on the boat quickly helped us off the kayak as if our lives were in immediate danger, and then brought the kayak on the boat. The shouting in my face began. It was so bad that the fisherman felt the need to intervene and tell my mom that she didn’t need to use so many curse words when speaking to me. They clearly didn’t know what my mom looked like when she was angry. She’s an unstoppable force. I just stood there and quietly took it trying not to laugh, because honestly the whole situation seemed ridiculous to me. We hadn’t even gone out very far and yet my mother felt the need to hail a fisherman boat like it was a taxicab and force them to come and get us.

My mother then went from conveying anger to fear. Sobbing she said, “I just pictured you drowning or getting eaten by sharks.” It was hard to yell back or try to justify my actions when my mom was clearly just scared shitless. So I just shut up and hugged her while she let it all out. I assured her that no shark was going to eat me. The captain of the fisherman boat originally said to my mom and I that my cousins and I were at a safe distance away from shore. Although after one look from my mother, he quickly changed his statement by saying that we were in a very dangerous situation and could’ve easily been killed. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one my mom can intimidate, but I love her anyway. She just suffers from caring too much and how can I possibly complain about that?

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.

“The More I Move, the Better I Feel”

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As a graduating senior at Boston University, one of my major goals this year has been to get out of my comfort zone and see more of Boston before I move on to the next chapter of my life. One of my close friends at BU named “Tracy” is a very spiritual and open person; in short, she’s pretty much a hippie. I love her for it. She’s the friend I go to when I want a completely new experience that takes me out of my comfort zone in every way, and one Friday night she delivered. Tracy is a hardcore yogi, which is a term I learned from her meaning that she does an insane amount of yoga and is very involved in the yoga community. I was unaware a yoga community even existed before I met Tracy. She found out through her fellow yogi friends about a yogi dance night that featured a DJ and a space where people just danced barefoot any way they wanted to. She excitedly told me about the experience and invited me to go with her to another event that the same DJ would be hosting.

I’ve never done yoga in my life, nor have I danced barefoot anywhere else besides in my living room. The idea itself didn’t sound too fun, but Tracy insisted that she had such a great time and convinced me to give it a shot. So, on a Friday night Tracy and I made the “long trip” of crossing the Charles River into the Cambridge side, which during a Boston winter is a huge feat, I think. We found this small church that was the address. I didn’t know the event was being held at a church, and I’m far from religious so already I was uncomfortable. My discomfort intensified once I entered.

There were 20 people before me dancing barefoot who I swear must’ve been the original hippies from the ‘70s. They were older than my parents. Tracy and I were the youngest people there by like 30 years. I didn’t know what to say. Tracy and I had already made the effort to come all this way and we each paid $5 to get in so we’d already committed time and money. Although with one look Tracy knew I was extremely uncomfortable. She looked surprised as well, but was determined to make the best of the situation. Seeing my expression she immediately responded with, “C’mon we already paid and we’re here so let’s at least stay for an hour.” An hour never seemed so long to me.

Once we arrived, it seemed the rest of the group was ready to “get the party started” by sitting on the ground and forming a circle. The hostess started the night off by having each person introduce themselves with his or her name and hometown. Everyone else seemed to already know each other. Afterwards, she felt the need to include some rules. She warned, “If someone is dancing too closely to you and makes you feel uncomfortable, please just come and find me and I’ll handle it for you.” Tracy and I couldn’t hold in our laughter from that comment, which got us some dirty looks. Unfortunately, I laugh when I’m uncomfortable in order to try to make the situation less awkward, but it normally has the opposite effect.

With introductions and the rules of the dance church party out of the way, the first dance was done with the whole group staying in a circle formation and holding hands. It was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life; I had never been so out of my element. Luckily, the group dance only lasted for one song, and then everyone separated and started to boogey in his or her own way. The dance church party quickly went from being extremely uncomfortable to really fun! It was such a liberating experience to be able to dance in public the way I only let myself dance in my living room in private. No one cared what the person next to him or her was doing! The environment that they created was completely judgment-free. Tracy and I thought we were only going to stay for an hour and we ended up staying the full four hours just dancing the night away. There was one particular man who was a bit older than the average 50-year-old. He was also a bigger build and dressed a bit more old-fashioned wearing a white buttoned-down shirt, nice black trousers and suspenders. He sat on a small bench in the dancing area just watching as everyone moved, and he seemed to want to join in, but didn’t. When the DJ played a waltz, I walked over to the man and asked him if he would dance with me. He immediately got up, and I could just see the happiness in his eyes as we waltzed around the dance room. He was a natural. We chatted a bit about the event, and he revealed that it was his first time attending as well. Then he said the most adorable thing, “You know, the more I move, the better I feel.” It was true. After our waltz, he stayed dancing, and I realized the beauty of this event.

I entered full of judgments of the people there and the purpose of the event, but I was wrong to do so. These people created this space free of judgment where people could express themselves with their bodies and relax. It was so liberating! I left feeling happy, and I met so many genuinely kind people. A night that I thought was going to be terrible based on first impressions, ended up being one of the best nights I’d had in awhile. The dance party ended with one last dance that was again done in a circle with everyone holding hands, but this time it wasn’t uncomfortable. By the end I felt connected to everyone there, and the communal dance was full of love. Yea, I know I sound like a hippie, but that’s what dance church does to you I guess. It was a new and different experience that I’m glad I tried, because what’s life without some spontaneity?

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.