The waitress behind the counter at the Granite Coffee House in Woody Point, Newfoundland, had a soft punk aura with short hair that wanted to be but wasn’t quite spiky. She looked like she ought to be wearing safety pins or other skin-piercing metal. Although her face was appealing, it had a worried or even hardened look, as if she were restraining an anger.
I had to listen very carefully to understand her strong accent. Every fishing village (outport) has its own, often with a unique vocabulary to go with it. Sometimes I leaned in and asked her to repeat something as if I were hard of hearing. Once I even cupped my ear. I have this notion that she or anyone else with a hard-to-understand outport accent might feel put down by our failure to communicate, that it might be interpreted as part of that unreasonable sense of cultural superiority and inferiority that exists between urban and rural areas.
I was unsuccessful in my attempts to get her to smile, and she didn’t volunteer any conversation after answering a question. During one of her breaks, I mentioned that a folk music concert was happening in the local theater that evening.
“That’s not my kind of music,” she said.
When I told her it was about the history of the Basques in Labrador, she looked annoyed, did not reply, and turned to speak to the two women she was sitting with. I felt shunned, that my interests were of no interest to her, and worst of all, that maybe she didn’t like me. This is a crushing blow to someone who works hard at being liked; in this case, apparently too hard.
When I came to the coffeehouse the next morning, much to my surprise she asked if I had enjoyed the concert. She spoke with an easy, unaffected enthusiasm, and for the first time I saw her smile. In an instant she healed all of my self-inflicted wounds. Her disinterest the day before had nothing to do with me. She had given me a low-cost lesson in how vulnerable my self-esteem is to the views of others.
by Richard LeBlond
Richard LeBlond is a retired biologist living in North Carolina. His essays and photographs have appeared in numerous U.S. and international journals, including Montreal Review, Redux, Compose, New Theory, Lowestoft Chronicle, Concis, and Still Point Arts Quarterly. His work has been nominated for “Best American Travel Writing” and “Best of the Net.”