Thanks for the joke, Jamie

It was a quiet moment at the coffee shop. There was a group of four, sitting at the corner table, chatting, having a good time while waiting for their coffees.

The first one was served – a café latté. The customer, a young woman, frowns and says something to the barista who served her. After a brief conversation, the coffee is returned. Apparently she ordered a flat white, not a café latté. The barista did the right thing, not arguing but just agreeing to change it. Still, the customer was probably not feeling great about it. No-one likes having to send things back. One minute you’re having a good time with friends, the next there’s just a tiny bit of friction in the air.

Years ago there was an ad with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver in it. He’s at a restaurant with a friend. The wine is served. The label is clearly visible to the viewer. He tests it, frowns and tells the waiter it’s no good. The waiter looks surprised but agrees to take it back and replace it. He brings another bottle. Same wine, same result. Jamie tests it, frowns and rejects it again. The waiter is starting to get frustrated but has no choice. He takes it back and brings a third bottle. Jamie tests it and this time is totally satisfied. Really nice, thanks, he says with a big smile.

The last shot is behind the scenes with two very happy kitchen staff enjoying the two bottles of wine Jamie has sent back. They catch Jamie’s eye from the counter, give him a wink with a big smile and say “Thanks, mate!”. They’re obviously friends. The ad is for the wine.

It didn’t seem to last long, that ad, but I thought it was pretty funny and it came back to me as I watched this scene play out in the coffee shop. It just so happened that the rejected latté was placed right next to where I was standing behind the counter. I picked it up, managed to catch the eye of customer and her friends, said “Merci !” with a big smile and started to drink it myself.

It’s unlikely anyone there would have seen the ad but they got the joke and laughed. Just a single word and suddenly the whole atmosphere had changed. How could there be friction in the air when you’re all laughing at the same joke?

Often we have a very brief contact with the people that come in, but it can still be memorable. We don’t always come up with the perfect joke every time, but it is amazing how often we have little conversations which seem to mean more than just the few words spoken. It can be a real pleasure.

In general, these days there are a lot less of those short conversations with strangers than there used to be [1]. They used to happen when people were doing things like queuing at bank tellers. Now there are ATMs which reduce the queues and smart phones which keep everyone to themselves anyway.

Luckily we still have coffee shops!


[1] There’s a good podcast about this. See “The Happiness Lab” with Dr Laurie Santos, episode titled “Mistakenly seeking solitude”.

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