After being caught in countless rainstorms, dealing with the rude staff in Gatwick airport, and being yelled at and called “crazy” for brushing against a woman’s backpack in a boarding line, my time in Amsterdam was not off to a great start. I spent my first night there thinking about how my efforts would have been better spent elsewhere. I could have saved money by just staying in one place. I could have saved all my money by just staying at home and forgetting this traveling thing.
While wandering through the streets of Haarlem the next day, I spotted a Starbucks. Desperate to get dry and out of the rain, I hurried in , well aware that I looked like a drowned poodle (I’d broken my third umbrella in as many days and had forgotten to buy another that morning) . I avoided eye contact as I ordered my drink. When it came time to pay, I couldn’t figure out where to put my card. The cashier didn’t take the card and I didn’t see a place to swipe.
“I’m sorry,” I said still looking down. “I’m not from here, I don’t know where to put my card. Sorry.” I expected another sneer or a whispered word that would make her co-workers break out in laughter. But that didn’t happen. An upbeat voice responded, “Don’t worry, honey.You’re not the first and won’t be the last.”
I looked up.
The person– a woman around my age with brown hair stuffed into a gigantic bun–was smiling. I believe it was the first smile directed at me in days. Thinking back , I couldn’t have been in the coffee shop for more than ten minutes. The woman asked me where I was from and where I had traveled so far. She told me the places she wanted to see one day. Even after my coffee was ready, she kept the conversation going. She picked up my cup and started to write something on it, even though she had already written my name and order on it earlier. After a while, she handed the cup over. I would have liked to sit down but my train back to Amsterdam was leaving soon and besides, this girl had other customers to attend to. Before I left, the girl told me that she herself was an implant in Haarlem and knew how confusing it could be to get around.
“Come back and talk to me if you have questions. Enjoy your trip!” she said with a wave.
I thanked her for her kindness, returned her smile, and hurried across the street to the train station. On the platform, I looked down and noticed she had covered my cup in doodles and hearts. For some reason, the cup and ten-minute interaction made me so happy.I woke up, ready for the trip to be over but the conversation reminded me that I was lucky enough to be in a new place and should explore it to the fullest. So , I did. I went back to Amsterdam ready to see and be a part of everything. And then I went back to England with the same mindset. There were still negative encounters but it became habit to think back to the smiling Barista and say to myself, But not everyone is like that. I believed my new mantra deeply; I had proof after all.
Even now , with my European adventure months behind me, the desperately needed smile is still the first thing I remember.
So thank you to the Barista who worked in the Starbucks across from Haarlem Railway Station and served me a tall,hot Caramel Macchiato on a rainy day in late April.
I’ll keep trying to smile, and hopefully, one day it’ll reach someone who needs it as much as I did that afternoon.