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OPINION: Why a generational coffee shop exchange left me fuming

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Marg Johnson

Something happened at the Tim Hortons on Exmouth Street near Front that left me amazed and dismayed at the same time.

My sisters and I meet there every Thursday at noon so the staff and customers recognize us as regulars. The crowd at that time is a mix of city and construction workers, young people, couples and singles, but mostly young people of the grey-haired variety getting caught up on their week.

I have the honour of being with our large group of teens that meet weekly at our church, Central Baptist, so it was with a surge of pride that I observed what happened.

A trim, smartly dressed woman (see grey-haired variety above) was having trouble with the Tim Card payment process. Behind her was a well-dressed young man with a red cap and an open, dimpled smile. I watched him as he quietly moved forward and calmly demonstrated the process to her.

I couldn’t tell whether she thanked him at the time, but his smile remained “open” as she moved on, and he stepped up to the counter. I remember thinking, ‘This kid should be in customer service somewhere!’ After that, my focus was on the lady.

She did not seem at all affected by what had happened — not embarrassed and faintly blushing, not flustered — just an odd calmness as if nothing unusual had happened, and maybe for her it wasn’t unusual.

But in my considerable experience as a retired Ontario Certified Child & Youth Worker, I can see both sides of our older generation-younger generation problems. People my age say, “These kids today don’t show respect.” “These kids today are self-centred and don’t care.” “They are part of the entitled generation.” And they are right.

But these same kids hear all of the “tsk-tsks” and they don’t understand because they haven’t been taught.

This young man, with such a simple gesture, reinforced in my mind what I have always believed, that every child is worth the time and teaching, because somebody obviously “raised him right.”

And the lady? With neither a gesture nor a smile, she left the shop. And the kid waiting for his food shrugged and looked a touch crestfallen, and for a moment the smile dimmed, and that made me angry!

So I made a decision. I got up and went to the kid. I excused myself, put my hand on his arm, looked him in the eye, and said, “Hey, Bud, you impressed the hell out of me back there! I saw how you helped that lady and she just left!”

He said, “That’s OK, man, it’s just people.” I responded, “I hope you’re around when I have a problem, because it could be next week!”

The wide smile was back. “I’ll be there for you, man, I’ll be there!” and he left on his bike.

Marg Johnson is a retired Certified Child & Youth Worker who worked with behaviour children as an educational assistant for 15 years at the York Catholic District School Board. 

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