Sunday, February 4, 2007


For a seemingly bland little word, 'nice' sure can mean a lot. If you've been outside in the cold all afternoon, 'nice' is the word for a quiet steamy bath. When it's been a long day and your best husband ever rubs your shoulders without expecting anything in return (!!), that's 'nice.' However, with a friend staring at your new haircut or describing her cousin who needs a date , 'nice' is code for 'disaster.' And then there is the burden of being somehow universally known as a 'nice.' This is my hell.

Because I am nice, geriatric Italian men want to tour art museums (and entire countries) with me. Foreign students invite me to tea ceremonies and expect me to pay for everyone in the party. People sitting next to me on planes, trains, and at Starbucks feel compelled to regale me with stories of their employment, diabetes, and sex lives (I'm so not kidding). Even the girl at the hand lotion kiosk in the mall lets fifteen people pass then looks pointedly at ME with her tube poised to attack.

Honestly, I don't usually mind being thought of as nice. For the most part I like that people are comfortable enough around me to ask for help or trust me with bits of information. With kids - my own and my students - I have strong, clear boundaries and enjoy the 'nice' status without being taken advantage of. With grown-ups who want me to do things for them, I have gotten better at saying yes only to the tasks I know I will enjoy and be able to complete. But somehow I can't put on a stern enough face that says "Please do not attempt to chat with me" when I'm alone in public. And while I am annoyed, I still feel a little guilty wishing these strangers would get lost. Because I know.