While travelling in Spain I visited the popular Balcon De Europa, which literally means ‘Balcony of Europe’. Located in the centre of Nerja's historic part of town, a tree lined promenade called the Paseo Balcon de Europa takes you to the balcon – a semi-circular viewpoint jutting out to the sea with breath-taking views of the Mediterranean Sea, Sierra Almijara mountain range and the local beaches.
While the views are indeed magnificent, it was not the views that caught my attention, but the people – meeting, greeting, walking, talking and sitting together! It is without doubt the town’s meeting place and nearby you can find all sorts of cafés, bars, restaurants, ice-cream shops and hotels. It is a favourite spot with both locals and visitors alike and becomes very crowded.
The lesson learned (or perhaps just reinforced on this occasion) is that human beings are innately social. We need to feel love and acceptance from social groups. We are drawn to each other and the psychobiological drive to belong is entrenched. Being left out or ostracised is extremely hurtful. Contrary to popular belief, solitary confinement and not the death penalty is the worst possible punishment.
While I was travelling in America, I decided to take a ferry trip from Seattle to Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, Canada located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest and has retained a large number of its historic buildings. Because my trip was only to be an overnight stay I did as much as I could that first day and made sure that I saw one of its most famous landmarks – the British Columbia Parliament Building. I was duly impressed with the beautiful architecture.
However, that evening I was introduced to a handsome, young local man. We had a drink together and started chatting when he told me that at night the outline of the building is lit up by 3,500 energy efficient light bulbs. He then insisted on taking me in his car to see the sight. What a magnificent spectacle it was! The young man was clearly very proud of his city and happy to show me the sights, but I am sure he had no idea the impact his kindness would have on me, as many years later I still have the vision of that lit building clearly imprinted on my mind and feel again the joy I felt when I actually saw it.
The lesson here is that you never know how much of an impact a seemingly small act of kindness on your part, can have on someone else.
While on my working holiday in America, I spent a couple of weeks travelling in a back-packers adventure bus known as 'The Green Tortoise'. My travelling companions were a mixed bag of people of all types and nationalities. One of the young men, Dave, although nice enough, was the sort of guy who just blends into a crowd. He had no special qualities to make him stand out. That was, until we went to a nightclub in Utah which was hosting a Karaoke evening. Towards the end of the evening, Dave quietly got up and made his way to the stage where he proceeded to give the most perfect rendition of Elvis Presley's 'Suspicious Minds' that I have ever heard. Everyone was in awe of his incredible talent and he immediately gained a celebrity status within the group. Now years later, Dave is one of the few characters from that trip that stands out for me.
The lesson here is that people are always more complex than they appear on the surface. Look deeper and discover their special qualities or talents. It certainly will make life more interesting and exciting
While visiting Jerez, in southern Spain, I decided to take a tour of its biggest winery, Bodega Tio Pepe, famous for its sherry production. While on the tour we were told all about the history of sherry production in the region, shown all the major cellars of the bodega and given tiny glasses of sherry to taste. I remember it being a most interesting tour at the time, but all the facts and statistics have long since been forgotten.
What I have not forgotten, however, is the delightful story we were told about a little mouse who would visit the cellars in the quiet of the evening. The mouse would scramble up to drink the last drops of sherry still in the taps just after the wine-maker had done his tasting. Of course getting up to the taps was a struggle for the little mouse, and the wine-maker took pity on it. There in the middle of the huge cellar was a tiny barrel with a tiny ladder leaning against it – for mouse to climb up. Each evening a small glass of sherry and a piece of cheese is placed on top. I am not sure that the story is true, but it was a moving story and the story-teller created just enough doubt in our minds that we could believe it if we wanted to.
The life lesson here is that facts and statistics are easily forgotten, but a simple heart-warming story can be remembered forever. As we go through life we must not just concentrate on the facts and routines of daily life, but rather try to do something special for others that will create never-to-be-forgotten stories.
While travelling in the South of Spain, I decided to do a take the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco where I joined a tour group for a day trip in Tangier. We had wonderful day, visiting various places of interest, riding camels and enjoying a leisurely lunch of delicious Moroccan food. The whole experience was marred though by a horrible experience I had with a young man who was selling souvenir teaspoons.
We were walking down one of the narrow streets when he came up to me insisting I buy one of his teaspoons. I did not want to buy a teaspoon and told him so, but he continued to walk beside me badgering me to buy. It was unpleasant and knowing that bargaining was the ‘modus operandi’ in that town I decided that the best thing to do was to offer him a really low price in the hope that he would just go away. Of course he declined my offer, but remained walking beside me trying to bargain. When I refused to offer him anything more, he accepted it, but as he handed over the teaspoon he swore at me. I was really upset by the insult, but it did teach me a valuable life lesson.
When you say “No”, mean “No”! Be assertive - give a single, clear message that you are not interested in buying and then do not engage in any further interaction. By engaging with the teaspoon seller I gave him the message that I wanted to bargain with him and so created the problem for myself.
Article as it appeared in Country Life magazine. By Patricia McCracken
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Whether you are at a formal function or an informal gathering you will be called upon to make conversation with others. Mastering this skill - either one-on-one or conversations in small groups - is thus an important life skill as it will give you the confidence you need to handle both business and social events.
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