Rhode Island Culture Lesson 1: Giving–Good. Bribery–Bad.

In the blink of an eye, comes a new day.

It seems I have just put my head down upon the pillow, swirled some dreams around for a moment, and it’s time to start again.

Each day starts like this. Each day ends in the same way…so very quickly. Each holding its own promise, like a little gift waiting to be unwrapped.  When you get older, the pile decreases, so it’s important to treasure each gift. Savor and relish it–like the pile on a birthday or under the Christmas tree. You never know which one will be your last, and you don’t want it to be socks or loose leaf paper–you want it to be something cool. I always try to make the best of each moment. Sometimes I succeed.

GraftI had an important meeting. For once, I did not bring a gift. I always bring something, no matter where I go. This time, I left the homemade jam at home.  Once, I swiped a few jars off my homesteading shelf to serve as token thank-yous to the assistant who had done so much work with me.  She had horror written all over her face. Perhaps she was a diabetic, I thought. No. It was “a gift.”

In the private sector, she would have said “Thanks, you made that?” but in a public sphere, it could be a bribe–no different than Tony Soprano. Tomorrow’s headline, “hard-working assistant takes jar of jam from state employee. Sells out for a thousand calories.” It’s a real threat in these parts. Countless officials are discovered each year with envelopes bulging from their pockets–recently most of a city council. Usually, it’s an envelope, never “try my food.”

I felt ashamed of myself for the accidental near-bribe. How could I be so stupid and thoughtless? I’m self-aware now. I’ll try not to smile today, because I don’t want to delve into the grey area of nepotism either.

I live in Rhode Island and spent some time in Russia. “Gifts,” are how people got stuff done in The Day. I didn’t have to participate in this ritual, because I’m not that important, but I absorbed the understanding. You bring something that shows thoughtfulness and appreciation, as if you were going to a housewarming. If it’s too small, you clearly don’t have enough “appreciation.” If it’s too big, it’s definitely a bribe. “Me? Corrupt?” The insinuation is inconceivable. Doors slam. Even among the most honestly corrupt.

cannolisIn one of my past jobs, gifts were shady territory. The old-timers were accustomed to bottles and baskets of things at Christmas, but by the time I made my way into the sphere, most of that was gone in my industry—the perception of favoritism linked to overpayment was just too great a risk–people took that stuff seriously. Once or twice I missed a cue, and was educated by a friendly co-worker.

“Yeah, he doesn’t want to meet you to ‘discuss’ anything. That’s going to be a bribe.” I’d find a polite excuse to cancel the meeting and “discuss,” over the phone.

One day, however, I just couldn’t avoid a tough situation. I was working out-of-state near where my grandparents used to live—I smiled, recalling how they had taken me to this very bakery. I had a meeting with the owner.

I was shown into the back room. In that back room, there was a circular table–maybe five or six men in suits, some with their jackets off, others with their jackets on, all wearing suspenders with a few bulges on one side or the other, deep in conversation. I sized up the situation. I had interrupted an important “meeting.” The men looked up. No one appeared happy to see me. Thankfully, I knew the proper etiquette for handling such things. Be very polite and act dumb.

“Excuse me. Mr. X, I hate to interrupt—I’m here from The Company to resolve That Situation for you.” I’d interrupted something intense. This would take more than an “excuse me.” Being a girl, I would not end up like Spider on Goodfellas, but it’s always better to be polite.

“If I could just say one thing,” I continued. “I just moved back down to the area from Rhode Island. I was born here, and my grandparents lived down the street. They used to bring me in here when I was little. I haven’t been around in a very long time. I just wanted to say how much I love your establishment, and how many good memories it brings to meet you today.”

Perfect! Both true, and laden with “respect.” Respect is important. He cracked a smile.

“Christine!” he shouted. “Give her a tray of cannolis!”  I was dismissed from the group of gentlemen, all smiling, thinking of their grandparents and cannolis. They “God blessed” me and sent me on my way.

I took a large box from Christine, handing her a twenty.

“Oh, no,” she said, “I can’t take THAT,” she shook her hands back and forth, looking over her shoulder.

“It’s no trouble…” I said. “I’ll share these with the office.”

“He SAID to GIVE you the cannolis.” I tried to pay again. Her voice nearly trembled. I didn’t want her to end up like Spider on Goodfellas, so I accepted the cannolis with gratitude. We were both going to have a good day.

Sometimes it’s hard to accept a gift. I’ve read several articles on this subject, and it keeps coming up in discussions. I had a 4 AM one today. Giving is a hot topic these days–maybe people need to give more. Maybe it’s just that it’s tax season and we should be prepared to patriotically donate to our country. Perhaps, humanity is short of basic kindness. The research says that it is important to learn to give. For me, it’s always been more difficult to learn to receive. Giving’s been the easy part. Receiving is part of the process, too.

Not giving, as I will practice today, is nearly impossible. Funny how society can put negative perceptions on a basic human kindness.

Ultimately, though, each day is a gift–they come quicker as we get older, and there are fewer of them left. Unwrap each carefully, and savor it. Even if it’s socks or loose leaf.

[images: family corner.com and When Bribery Succeeds]

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7 thoughts on “Rhode Island Culture Lesson 1: Giving–Good. Bribery–Bad.

  1. Wow. Very different, because we gift at work all the time. One time I sent an anonymous Starbucks gift card to a nice technology man that spent all day making my computer better when he wasn’t even at the office for that. I was super nice to him, which wasn’t bribery, just manipulation. Is anonymous bribery?

    • No:) That part is just a good story. James Altucher wrote in his blog how the outset of the recession he stood outside Wall Street handing chocolate bars to people. I thought that was an excellent idea to raise motivation. Things had been stressful at school. I went to BJ’s and got a few cases of Hershey’s Dark bars. I walked around and gave people chocolate bars, and left. Two people cried. I got hugs. It was amazing. Far exceeded the response I expected. Just a bar of chocolate… You would have thought I gave people gold.

      • True. It is gold, but really the point is that we operate in our own little universes so darned much that the smallest token has the most profound effect…That was the best $80 bucks I spent. I budgeted it in the “happiness” budget. Might even do it again.

  2. I have gotten better at receiving, but people are often astonished when I give them something, even something nominal. I think the world can be incredibly impersonal – half the day we deal with machines rather than people, so those in person connections carry more weight, as do the little kindnesses we share.

    • It’s actually something I struggle with…scheduling in phone calls, not connecting in person much. Yes, it’s great to be able to maintain more relationships across a longer distance–close relationships, but it seems people actively avoid in-person connections. The “I don’t do phone,” syndrome. I do struggle with that. I think gifts and personal connections are more important. I try to make a point to include them in my repertoire for that reason. Even just one or two a week. My struggle is getting to the post office–but I make it happen:)

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