You are at someone’s house for the first time. They offer you the customary drink or beer, and there is nothing you would love more. But for some reason, our neural circuitry sees no greater offense than being the slightest bit imposing, and all we can muster in the moment is “No, thanks, I’m fine.” Or maybe a good friend treats you to something like a round of drinks, or dinner, unexpectedly. Whether it’s the desire to appear financially sound, the feeling of inferiority, or just the fact that you don’t want gratitude hanging over your head, the offer is rejected a number of times. Roman Senator Tacitus reminds us, “Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit, because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.”
And in the end, these rejections make no sense. Ask yourself, “When was the last time I offered something to someone, expecting nothing in return?” You will probably find that the offer is made when you legitimately and wholeheartedly want the person to have this gift. There might even be a feeling of hurt if your offer is rejected. In many other cultures, rejecting these offers is considered offensive. More often than not, accepting someone else’s offer of something free is not imposing in the least. Just say thanks.
I have two experiences that stand out in my mind where I listened to this advice. In May of this year, during my last days in Australia, I was craving some Tom Yum soup, but didn’t think it worth it to spend $8AU ($6US) for just a bowl of soup. When traveling on an extreme budget, you want to maximize your calorie to dollar ratio. Soup is not the money move, albeit delicious. I started conversation with a crazy Hungarian man named Béla outside the restaurant, mostly regarding his time on offshore oil rigs, and love of hallucinogens. At the end of our conversation, he offered me the money to buy the soup. When I first saw him, I questioned whether this man slept indoors. He said he lived in a one room apartment in the shady part of town with his dog, Oy. At first, I thought accepting his gift would have been morally wrong. “Who really needs it more?” I asked myself. After he said, “I want you to have this more than me,” I realized it was sincere, so I accepted his gift, and enjoyed the soup, appreciating his selflessness with every bite. His one piece of advice on life: Be yourself.
Just this week, I was at a local gas station at ~9 PM, and was talking with the attendant. It sure beats waiting next to each other in silence as the tank fills. While his English was far from perfect (he’s Indian), we were able to have a conversation about Indian food. “Japati and egg for you. Inside. Bery good. Bery bery good,” he said. At first, the red flags went up. Am I really going to have a late dinner of some stranger’s Indian food inside of a gas station? After some quick thinking about it, the answer was simple: “How could I shun the opportunity of free delicious home-cooked Indian food?” He heated up the TupperWare in the microwave for me, and I had a delicious Indian snack, right there in the cluttered gas station office. It was delicious, and Jiam was nothing but friendly. We had pleasant conversation in between his servicing of the gas-thirsty cars. I offered to help pump it, but he said I wasn’t allowed. Oh well. In the end, making a little bit of conversation blossomed into a delicious meal, and a new friend. At the end of the encounter, we were both happier than we had been before.
So, next time somebody makes an offer to treat you to something, don’t worry about being imposing. Accept the gift with grace, and just say thanks.