“Niceness” is generally considered to be a virtue. Some of you may not agree with this, but this is not what this post is about. So, being nice generally means that you are a “safe” person to speak to. You do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. You don’t want to step on any toes. And most of all, you do not want to tell a friend who has offered to show you around a strange city, that you did not enjoy that one particular adventure he was so eager that you experience. But at times, niceness can land you in a very tough situation.
I used to be a much nicer person once. But traumatic experiences can often change you. I was in San Francisco a few years back and a colleague had very generously offered to show me around the city. I knew him as a dedicated, hard-working counterpart and both of us had together led the team through some very tight deadlines. But this was the first time that I was meeting him in person. And I was looking forward to exploring the city with him.
Our very first stop was at the Ferry building where a fabulous farmers’ market opens on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The market was in full swing by the time we arrived there and I was overwhelmed with the sight of large, juicy strawberries, fragrant lavender sticks, and an amazing variety of cheeses on display. We stopped and grabbed a bag full of strawberries and then continued exploring all the while feasting on the tasty fruit.
Everything in the US was large. The tomatoes were the largest tomatoes I had ever seen, the beets the biggest ever. And besides this, there were some vegetables and fruits I had only heard about and never really seen except in photographs. We saw avocadoes, artichokes, asparagus, horse radish, rhubarb, and many others I had never heard of. I roamed around, tagging behind my friend, like a child in a world full of wonders.
And then we came to a stop in front of a curious looking stall. It smelt strange. Back then I wasn’t too familiar with sea food and couldn’t stand the strong smell. But at the beginning of the trip, I had promised myself that I would keep myself open to new experiences, even if that experience involved tasting strange foods. So when my friend told me that I simply had to try these oysters, I couldn’t say no. Besides my promise to myself, I was also bound by a duty to be nice to the friend who had been so generous. And in my mind, that meant doing whatever he insisted that I do. So I said yes. The person running the stall gave us a wide smile and handed us a couple of oysters (along with the shell) on a paper plate. I looked at the white blob in the shell and looked at my friend. I think he understood my confusion and graciously demonstrated how it was to be consumed. He did it with ease, with dignity. But the sight of that weirdly shaped shell drained my confidence in my ability to slurp the edible oyster out. Besides, it didn’t look appealing. Besides it smelled awful.
But being the "nice" person that I was, I tried and to my surprise succeeded, not as elegantly as my friend, but nevertheless…And as I chewed it slightly, as my colleague had advised me to, I thought that I would puke. But instead I swallowed it and muttered an appropriate “Mmmm”. My colleague smiled widely and for a moment I was glad that I had soldiered through that experience, but at the same time I put in a mental stickynote to remind me never to have an oyster ever again. By the time I recovered, I realized, to my horror, that my friend had ordered another couple of those slimy shellfish. All my senses revolted against my niceness, but in the end the niceness won. And I put my tongue around another one of those disgusting creatures and went through the drill. This time along with the “Mmmm” I also indicated that I was full.
The day came to an end soon after, but the memories of swallowing the slimy blob were still haunting me. I went back to my hotel room and everything on the menu was really expensive, so I wasn't able to order something substantial to eat to get rid of those horrible memories. If only there had been an application like TinyOwl on my phone back then and if they were operating in California, I would have been at least able to order something that fitted my taste and budget. But sadly, no such relief was around.
Since then, I have grown as a person. I have come to realize that niceness doesn’t mean doing things that someone wants you to do even if you don’t want to. I have understood that at times a polite “no” is much nicer than misleading a person. My friend had the best intentions and he was really kind. But that didn’t mean that I had to have that second oyster, or that I couldn’t say that “oysters weren’t my cup of tea” after having the first one. And since then, I have also warmed considerably to seafood, but I haven’t had an oyster ever since.
Of course, in this case no major damage was done. But often I have seen that I have had to live with much bigger “second oysters”, just because I couldn’t say a simple “No”. So the tiny second oyster taught me a very valuable lesson on that day at Ferry Building in San Francisco, and I am very thankful for it.