What A French Pastry Taught Me About Life

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February 11, 2013 by ilan

Not long ago I was a university student in Be’er Sheva. Our story begins with a small new food place that served galette, which opened just across the street from the apartment of my then-girlfriend.

The owners and waiters were two French people, a father and a daughter (the daughter was extremely beautiful, if my memory isn’t exaggerating things), and they both were super nice. The father, who was also the chef, definitely knew what he was doing with the food, but unfortunately what he was doing was different in quite a few ways from what Israelis usually like to eat. No one even knew what a galette was. There’s a place for experimental or different food-places to succeed in Israel, but Be’er Sheva usually isn’t it.

So this place bombed. It was practically empty at all times of day. My girlfriend and I liked the place, liked the nice owners, and liked the food – but we didn’t eat there very frequently. And we knew that the way things were going, the closing down of this place was just a matter of time. We wanted to do something.

So I tried talking to the dad. I told him about some improvement suggestions that my girlfriend made:  ways to appeal more to the taste of Israeli customers like us. I told him that we liked the place and wanted to see it succeed. He was thankful and nice as always, but I’m not sure if he actually changed something eventually. Maybe he didn’t buy into what I was saying, or maybe he simply wasn’t keen on changing his art for the possibility of greater economic success.

Then, we tried a different approach: we started going there more often, and asking our friends to go there (we weren’t advertising the place, we were just telling people who’ve already been there before to go again).

I immediately felt this was wrong. First, we didn’t want to eat there that much but we did it anyway – that’s disrespectful to ourselves, isn’t it? It’s just that this argument alone hasn’t stopped me from doing similar things before. Something else made the difference now: my sudden understanding that our actions were not even beneficial, or respectful, to THEM.

Think about it: if you open a restaurant and no customers are coming, would you like people to come and eat at your place even though they don’t want to eat there? In other words, would you like people to come eat at your place – out of pity? My guess is that you wouldn’t – and that’s why it is disrespectful.

But what they don’t know won’t hurt them, right? Not exactly. If we would have followed through with this – though they would have gotten a few more bucks in the short-run – we would have been delaying or preventing them from understanding the harsh truth of the long-run: that their business is bombing and that they’d have to either close it or make some serious changes to it to make it work. Assuming we would have made enough of a difference to keep the place open, what would have happened when we left Be’er Sheva after our graduations? They would have been back in square one, but now with a few wasted months or years behind them.

The clear wrongness of the situation has taught me an important lesson for life, one that I have failed to learn in the past: that I really shouldn’t do anything for charity. If I’m helping someone because I enjoy helping or if I’m helping because I’m getting something from it, that’s great. But if I’m doing something just to aid the other person – I’m doing us both a disservice. And if I hide the fact – the fact that I’m only doing this as a charity – from the other person, that’s even worse.

When someone gets a birthday present that he doesn’t like, and pretends to love it, he is only making the giver do the same mistake next year. And if given the choice the giver wouldn’t have wanted them to do it.

When someone is invited to a party that she does’t want to go to, but goes anyway because she feels bad for the hostess, she’s only making herself miserable. And if given the choice the hostess wouldn’t have wanted her to do it.

When someone decides to leave their significant other but doesn’t do it because they can’t imagine hurting their partner like that, they’re only hurting them more badly in the long-run. And if given the choice their partner wouldn’t have wanted them to do it.


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