Coffee, Coins, and Compassion (And a small request)

A story about an act of kindness that is making me want to do more

Hey folks, I have a quick story and then a small ask.

Earlier in the day I brought my daughter to the neighbourhood cafe on her request and something happened.

This was the same cafe that I would go roughly once a week to do work-work on my company-issued laptop with a cup of brewed Ethiopian coffee. I’ve always liked changing environments when working and I really appreciate its presence in the neighbourhood.

It’s Friday, and I’m on leave, and I feel relaxed. Just father and daughter hanging out, eating croissants and a carrot cake. I narrate everything that Charlotte sees in the cafe, like the bandage around the barista’s wrist, the pssssssshhhhhhh!! of the steam wand, the uncle sitting at the next table waving at her.

As she forked generous pieces of carrot cake into her mouth, an elderly man came in. He walks slowly, his feet almost not leaving the ground as he does, like he’s shuffling forward in tiny steps. I noticed because… well, I’m not sure why but I always notice the elderly. It’s probably an ingrained thing from my childhood to be respectful towards them. Much bigger topic for another time.

So, this old man walks to the barista and places his order. Black coffee with a lot of milk or something like that, I hear. The barista listens and with practiced composure, informs him that he needs to place his order at the counter, which is maybe 20 steps away from her. (For him, it was more like 40.)

A red light comes on in my head. In many parts of Asia, if the cafe was setup like this, the barista woman would have walked over to the counter and placed the order on the man’s behalf, or at least come around to guide him over to the counter and repeat his order to the staff. I make a note in my logs on my phone.

The old man shuffles to the counter. He’s the first in line and tells the staff, black coffee with a lot of milk, please. I didn’t actually see this part, because what happened next was what caught my attention again after I put my phone down.

staff: Nur Kartenzahlung. Sorry! [Only card payment, sorry!]

old man: *processes… looks disappointed*

*mumbles something… turns around to walk out*

At this point, a little angry and mostly disappointed, I stand up and tell Charlotte to continue enjoying her cake. I walk to the old man and, with my broken German, said:

me: Ich kann mit meine Karte für deinen Kaffee zahlen. Dann Sie können die Münzen mir geben. [I can pay with my card for your coffee, and you can give me your coins.]

He understands my proposal immediately. I guess my German is getting decent, I think to myself. My ears flush with blood as I notice that a queue was forming and people were watching me do this for the old man.

I feel good despite this, though. This man wants coffee just like the rest of us. Why should he be denied just because he doesn’t have Apple Pay? As a programmer, I feel ashamed, even though I had nothing to do with this cafe’s business decisions, and I’m sure that their card payment system works well for 95 percent of their clientele.

The staff is a young man who speaks fluent Spanish. He is nice and acknowledges me. He speaks extra kindly to the man who will now get to have his coffee, who, by the way, needs to now walk back once again to the barista counter, 40 shuffle steps away.

I’m back at my seat before the old man reaches his station. I explain what was going on to Charlotte and she pauses the cake eating and listens attentively to my story. I have no idea if she watched me interact with the old and young men, but I quietly hope that she did. I want her to grow up to be a kind person who cares about others, and the best way to educate is to show. I did not do this as a performance, though. Honestly just did what I thought should have been done in the first place but wasn’t.

I’m sure she enjoyed the cake more than the story

(5 minutes later)

The old man shuffles by my table and says, Ich danke Ihnen, which means thank you. I reply, Kein Problem, as he walks away.

(20 minutes later)

A middle-aged woman with a head of silver and black walks up to our table.

woman: Do you speak English?

me: Yes. *shows a puzzled face*

woman: I was upstairs and saw what you did earlier for the old man. It touched me. *gestures with her finger drawing a line from her eye down her cheek*

me: *smiles awkwardly*

me: Thank you for telling me!

woman: *smiles and walks away*

(seconds later)

woman: *turns around and comes back to us*

woman: Your mum would be proud.

me: *blush* Hah.. yeah… thank you! *big smile*

And that’s the quick story. It’s a little gratuitous to be telling you about my act of kindness, I know, but the story is meant to setup something else that I’m about to tell you.

This small episode got me feeling something and thinking something:

  • Feeling: Damn, this world is so cold sometimes and kindness is like a lamp that anyone can light and warm people around.
  • Thinking: What other lamps can I light for people?

As I thought that, the first idea that came to my mind was this:

Old folks have trouble using modern technology, like card payments but also much more. Maybe I should dedicate some time to teach them the basics of this stuff with a video series that anyone — impatient children of theirs like me — can share with their parents to watch in their own time.

I’m a professional programmer, so I know quite a lot of and about these modern technologies. This could be a fun little side project. A warm lamp.

Alright, and now we’ve finally come to my ask: Can you recall and tell me about a technology-related thing (or two!) that your parents have asked you to help them with? The more detailed your description of the problem, the better!

You can email reply me or write it in the comments, whatever works for you. What I’d like to do with your answers is collate them into a list and design a series so I have something to hold in my hand and see if it’s worth producing.

I’ll of course publish that list anonymously for y’all good folks to read and do whatever you wish with.

That’s it for this post. Thanks for reading, and have a great Friday, folks!

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