The Unbearable Niceness of Being

8 Jan

“Too nice is neighbor’s fool”
Dutch proverb

“It’s nice to be nice to the nice.”
-Frank Burns, M.A.S.H.

Who among us has not been amazed and appalled by how mean and rude some people can be? We all hate rude people and everyone says that mean people suck.

But what about the nice people?

At the risk of sounding cynical, I must confess, I have long believed there is such a thing as “too nice.” Maybe that says something about the world we live in or maybe it just says something about me.

How nice is too nice?

There’s nice and then there’s “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints nice.” You may think I am mocking the Mormons, but I am not. I have been to Salt Lake City and let me tell you there is no one nicer than a nice Mormon. Think Donny and Marie. Could anyone be any nicer than Donny and Marie?

Now that’s a good nice. It is, in fact, the final edge of nice.

Venture too far beyond that edge and you encounter another level of niceness altogether—a kind of mutant niceness, if you will…

There is a Starbucks near my office that is a place where mutant niceness dwells.

My first visit there was the Friday before Memorial Day. I had taken the day off and I went to the gym that morning. In an effort to reward myself, I went to Starbucks.

Nothing says, “Great workout!” like a triple venti latte and an orange cranberry scone.

I think Jack LaLanne used to say that when he wasn’t pulling semi-tractor trailers with his teeth or firing up the juicer.

The smiling woman behind the counter took my order and, as they always do, asked my name so she could write it on the cup with that eyebrow pencil looking implement.

Once I told her my name, she seized upon it like it was the key to happiness. Saying it sure seemed to make her mighty happy.

Customer Service experts will tell you to use the customer’s name because everyone loves the sound of his own name.

Me, I can take it or leave it. In fact, when I hear my name used too often it begins to sound funny.

You know, like what happens when you say a word like pistachio or ulterior over and over again until it loses all meaning and just begins to sound like funky gibberish?

That’s what happens when someone says my name too many times.

Then I start thinking, “Bill?! Who names a child Bill? What the Hell were my parents thinking?!”

Now the Starbucks lady seemed bound and determined to wreck my name forever.

“Thanks, Bill! And how is your day so far, Bill?”

Why does this sound like a trick question?

“Um…great?” I responded hesitantly.   

“Bill, that’s wonderful! Do you have any special plans for the day, Bill?”

“Why, no. No, I don’t.” 

“Bill, that’s great!” 

I pulled out a $20.00 bill to pay her.
“Oh, Bill, they don’t let me handle money!” She put her hands up in the universal “what can you do?” gesture. 

“Um, OK.”

I carried my plate with the scone and wandered around to the barista who was making my order.

While she was steaming and foaming milk, she looked my way. Clearly she had read my name on the side of the cup.

“Hi, Bill. How’s your day going?”
Oh jeez, the nice third degree again.


“That’s great, Bill. Here’s your triple venti latte. I hope you enjoy it, Bill!”

“Thanks. Who do I pay?”

The first uber-nice woman piped up, “No one, Bill. We just wanted to make your day better!”

The Starbucks’ staff’s obsession with the quality of my day was both heartening and somewhat  troubling at the same time…

The last time someone I hardly knew was this nice to me they were actually attempting to draw me into some kind of pyramid scheme involving Tahitian Noni Juice and ten or twenty of my closest friends.

You can see why I am gun shy.

Still, I was grateful for the free scone and steamed milk coffee beverage, even if I had to endure unbearable niceness to get it.

I returned to the same Starbucks this past Friday. Different women were on duty but the nice vibe was in the air…

“Welcome to Starbucks! What can I get for you today?”

“Just some coffee and hold the Tahitian Noni Juice.” I replied.

“Pardon me?” My sarcasm had confused the nice lady.

“Triple venti latte.” I said quickly.

“What is your name, please?”

Oh Lord. I just wasn’t up to hearing the sound of my name spoken over and over again.

So, for the sake of sanity, I lied.

“Tim,” I replied. “My name is Tim.”

“That’s great, Tim! How is your day going so far, Tim?”

For a moment I wondered what she would do if I replied, “My day is a steaming pile of monkey doo doo, if you must know!” 

Of course, I’ll never know how she might have reacted because what I actually said was, “Fine, thanks.”

“That’s great, Tim!” She couldn’t have looked happier if she had just won the lottery. 

In theory I should be pleased that a stranger cares so very much about how my day and I are getting along but I can’t help but be suspicious…

Unlike her colleague from a couple of weeks before, this gal apparently did not want to make my day better, as she was more than willing to take my money.

I circled around to the barista’s station. She was pulling levers and turning dials like a mad scientist in a sci-fi movie, operating one of those devices that bends time and space. It felt as if, at any moment, we could all be thrust into an alternate dimension.

It could happen. I have no idea how an espresso maker really works!

If someone isn’t trying to ensnare me in a pyramid scheme, this kind of niceness is usually an indicator someone is about to try and convert me to their  religion. Usually it is an obscure religion. The major ones have pretty much given up on me…

“How is your day going, Tim?”

“My day is going fine, thanks.” I responded.

“Tim, that’s wonderful. My day is going great too. And do you know why?”

I shake my head.

“Because, Tim, I have embraced Zoroastrianism.” 

What do you say to that? “Um, OK…” is all I could muster. 

“Tim. have you accepted Ahura Mazda as the one uncreated Creator?”

“Can’t say as I have…”

“Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail. Then, Tim, the universe will undergo a cosmic renovation and time will cease to be—check it out!” She shoved a pamphlet in my direction. 

I picked it up.”Zoroastrianism and You” read the cover “That sounds really interesting…”

.”If you have any questions, my number is on the back, Tim.”

Was the room spinning? I was feeling a little funny…

“Tim? Tim? Tim?” 

For a moment I was annoyed. Someone is calling Tim. Why doesn’t this Tim answer? 

“Tim, your latte?”

There is no pamphlet. Just coffee and steamed milk in a cardboard cup with the name Tim scrawled on the side.

For a moment my warped vision continued. Knocking the cup from the barista’s hand, I screamed, “I’m not Tim!” as I ran for the door. As I make a hasty retreated,  I heard both women calling out in unison: “Have a great day, Tim!”

Instead, in reality, I was just standing there.

“Tim, are you okay?” the barista asked. The woman from behind the counter turned to me.”Hey, Tim, are you alright?” she chimed in.

“I’m fine.” I said, taking the cup from the counter.

And then I had a moment of realization.

It really isn’t fair for me to disdain these overly nice people just because of a few bad experiences with other painfully nice people.

It just isn’t, well, nice.

Latte in hand, I headed for the door. Just before I opened it I turned back to face my nice tormentors.

“Thanks.” I said, looking into the concerned faces of the two Starbucks employees. 

“You’re welcome, Tim” “Have a great day and a wonderful weekend, Tim!”

“I will, I replied. “And thank you for being so nice.”

4 Responses to “The Unbearable Niceness of Being”

  1. SillyJaime February 7, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    People that are extremely nice to me nearly always make my day, especially if I am out and about. It rarely happens, though. Most people behind counters here are disinterested and distracted at best, often bitter.

  2. Maven February 7, 2010 at 11:42 pm #

    I have missed you and your voice. I can honestly hear you talking as I read your blogs. This cracked me up. I often fear that I scare people off with my niceness – but then I do something really, really bitchy and all's right with my world again 🙂

  3. Anonymous February 8, 2010 at 6:29 am #

    Great blog, Bill! How do you like it here on Blogpot, Bill? Have a great day, Bill!*snickering*~That Weather Girl

  4. chris February 11, 2010 at 12:21 am #

    I visited my mom & step father in Tenn this pass summer… people there smile & ask how you are all the time… then, they actually wait to hear your reply.Got on my last nerve by the end of the week 🙂

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