Unexpected Acts of Kindness

I haven’t been out much because I’ve sort of locked myself inside my room, surrounded by piles of papers and notes that I need to study for finals. But I’ve pieced together this little post to keep my blog alive (for now):

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1. At Casino, I return the cashier’s “Bonjour,” trying not to dwell on whether or not she’s completely confused by my paradoxical purchase of chocolate, toothpaste, and a toothbrush.

“Three euros fifty,” she informs me after she’s rung up the items.

I fumble around in the zipper compartment of my wallet, unearthing what I assume is 3.50 euros.

She looks over the coins in her palm, and then tells me that I’m three cents short.

Heat rushes to my face, and I’m glad that, when I blush, it’s never visible. I must’ve handed her a two cent coin, thinking that it was a five cent coin.

I dig out another two cent coin, hand it over, and then fish around for a tiny one cent coin—I know there’s one hiding in my wallet somewhere.

“It’s okay,” she tells me, probably sensing my frustration.

I look up, only to find that she’s already turned around to place my coins in the register, and I wonder what sort of place the world would be if people waived money on a regular basis, even in insignificant amounts.

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2. Three of my friends and I wait patiently but hungrily for our sandwiches outside the little sandwich shop—we’ve just finished an hour of class, and lunch is a pretty exciting part of the day considering that we have another two-hour class in sixty minutes.

After the owner gives us all our foil-wrapped, plastic bagged sandwiches, we pay him and begin to walk away.

But then he shouts, “Wait!”

Since I was the last one to get my food, I’m the closest to him. I turn to see him holding out a 1.25 liter bottle of Coke.

“…drink” is all I hear, so I nod and grab it, thinking that one of my friends must have ordered it and then forgotten about it.

“He just gave it to us,” I say in bewildered English when a friend doubles back to me to see what’s happening.

“Merci!” she shouts back at him as we make our way to the crosswalk.

I should have grasped the truth then, but it’s not until the four of us are hiking up the hill to the university that I realize the owner just spontaneously gave us the Coke out of the kindness of his heart.

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3. As the cashier rings up my pan bagnat—a Niçois specialty of tuna, eggs, lettuce, and tomatoes sandwiched between round bread—she leans over and says, “Excuse me?”

I immediately begin to panic. Is there not enough money on my card? Have I somehow managed to commit some grievous breach of French etiquette while waiting for my lunch? Is she going to kick me out of the university cafeteria?

“Oui?” I say hesitantly.

But she just asks, “What city are you from?”

Uh, I think. And then I begin to panic again. Is she going to be another person who, for whatever unfathomable reason, wants to know what kind of Asian I am?

“The United States,” I say, because most international people have no idea what a Richmond is. I try not to make my answer sound like a question.

“The United States?” she repeats.

I nod.

She considers this for a moment before telling me, “You have a really pretty accent.”

Totally flustered—I’ve always been terrible at receiving compliments—I undoubtedly mangle the pronunciation of my “merci” when I thank her and then bid her au revoir.

But my smile follows me for the rest of the day, even if you can’t see it on my face.

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