Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Facing the Worst

"Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean."
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Last year, after our seemingly perpetual enforced separation, Spouse and I prepared eagerly for the next stage of our lives. I had my visa in hand at last and my plane ticket booked. I thought that I would do a brave thing and make a dental appointment. I had found, I must admit, a veritable gorge in one of my molars and I did not want to have to deal with a dentist upon my arrival in another land. I needed a fresh start and so I ventured to attend a checkup. I considered that otherwise, although I had not met a dentist in about fifteen years, my teeth were in perfect shape. I was wrong, and two more appointments, six fillings and a thorough teeth-cleaning experiment later I staggered out of the dental clinic in a bewildered state but feeling, it must be said, on top of the world. The two worst things in the world for me had just been conquered and I was elated. There was anticipation rushing through my veins along with whatever else my dentist had opted to pump into me.
It was the very last day before my departure; I had some gifts to purchase and very little time to do it in. I wobbled uncertainly but the feeling of floating on a cloud was greatly buoyed by all my troubles being solved.
With precious minutes to go before my shopping time would end- I could not have brought myself to buy gifts before I knew for certain I would be endowed with the visa- I found myself, at last and in desperation, in one of those tourist stores that sell fancy gifts at exorbitant prices. There are rarely any other shoppers in that sort of store apart from eager tourists, and for the most part they look at maps, ask for directions or are simply browsing. The silence is palpable, nothing goes unnoticed, four bored assistants will ask if they can help you and everything is either breakable or so flashy and useless that one might wish to break it. However, I did find some rather nice pieces in the end. I made my way to the checkout, still cheered by my courage in fighting the fear of dentists and triumphing over bureaucracy.
The total price came to 38 Euros which, when I considered that it was my very last chance to spend the money, seemed acceptable, especially in such a store.
I took little notice of the assistant but as I started to sign my name to the credit card receipt, I noticed a frightfully significant error. Perhaps I might not have glanced so carefully were I in better shape; but my head was spinning with a lot of noise and everything was heightened.
"There is a mistake, I think," I pushed the receipt back to the lady.
For the record, it came out as "huh's a issss hake, I hink." My jaw was numb, as was my face right up to the soft spot under my eye. What an odd thing- to rub one's eye and feel nothing!
She understood my gesture, though, because she looked quickly at the paper, and gasped.
It read that I was being charged 8 Euros. She had not pressed the '3' on the register heavily enough and as a result I was about to get all the goods for 30 Euros less than I had expected. Of course, I could not and should not do that and so I indicated with uncoordinated finger and numb tongue that she must fix it at once.
She printed out a second receipt for 30 Euros which I also signed and that happily made up the correct amount. And then the strangest thing happened. She looked at me, pale faced and anxious, and said very quietly, "thank you. Thank you for telling me. Thank you for being honest."
I looked at her as she shook her head in incredulity.
"I would have been in big trouble this evening. Thank you." I am sure that she would have; it was that sort of a store, after all.
I mumbled something about how I would do the same thing if I had been overcharged and did not see why somebody else's loss should change the matter. I am not sure she comprehended all of my words; I imagine that she assumed I was a lost foreign tourist with a thick accent rather than a local with a paralysed mouth. We parted ways, she very glad and grateful and no doubt vowing to be more careful in future, and I wondering how on earth we came to this: honesty being the exception rather than the rule.

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