A while back, one of my fave IG chicas, @themarrieantoinnette posted a status about how women need to stand up for themselves more often. The post specifically talked about how often we apologize when an apology isn’t actually necessary.
What occurred to me as I was pondering this post is that women are often wired believe we are an inconvenience. The old “seen and not heard” adage. It’s embedded in us. We apologize when our food isn’t cooked right and we have to send it back, we apologize when we need to ask a question in a meeting, we apologize for the strangest things because of the way we’re conditioned to think of ourselves as an inconvenience. This is something I’ve been actively unlearning.
I am not an inconvenience.
I no longer apologize for sending my food back, it should’ve been cooked right. I no longer apologize if I need to ask a clarifying question, I need the answers. Of course all of these scenarios can be be approached with tact but an apology does not need to precede the request.
This got me to thinking about how, in general, we have trouble standing up for ourselves and not feeling like we’re inconveniencing people, or being a bother and a specific instance where this happened with my daughter while we were in Prague having breakfast.
This was a small moment but it was a big lesson for a young girl to learn – standing up for ourselves, especially when we are owed or wronged, and knowing that the act of standing up for ourselves is not at all an inconvenience.
So here’s the situation.
My daughter and I had stopped at a popular cafe chain for breakfast in Prague. I needed to get some work done so I told my daughter, who was 13 at the time, what my breakfast order was and I handed her 1,000 CZK to pay for it at the counter.
She went up and ordered while I typed away intently on my computer. It was so nice to have a kid who could take care of little things like grabbing my breakfast so I could focus on working. She came back and handed me the change, I started to just drop it into my purse and get back to what I was doing in one fluid move but I realized that the wad of Koruna (pronounced “crown”) felt light in my palm. I stopped to count it. Then I checked the receipt. It was short by a lot. My breakfast was ~80 CZK and the receipt showed that we gave them 100 CZK instead of 1,000 CZK, so I was short by ~900 CZK. That’s the equivalent of $40…and, in Prague, it meant donating the cost of a 3 course meal with wine or 4 uber rides! I told my daughter to go back up there and let the woman know that she short changed her.
Now before I explain what she did next, let me tell you a little bit about my daughter. She’s shy, she’s socially awkward, and she’s often afraid to speak to adults she doesn’t know. At 13 she was going through some interesting transitions that made her very insecure and those insecurities played out in a lot of ways including being afraid to draw attention to herself in any way. So the idea of going to an adult and telling them “hey you did something wrong” was slightly anxiety inducing.
She all but refused to go. She whined, she begged me to do it for her, she even went as far as to insist that my math was off **gasp** (SHE TRIED IT!)
I asked her what the big deal was with going to correct this on her own. To my surprise, she responded “because it’s rude”.
I was honestly astonished. If she was a little boy it would never occur to her to say that at all. I believe that all the way down in my currently jiggly gut. My little boy might have said he just doesn’t feel like getting up again but he would never think it’s rude to tell someone they took his money.
I asked her to explain and she didn’t really have much in the way of an explanation besides a shrug followed by a loss of eye contact and that’s when I saw it! I saw the thing that happens to almost all of us girls at some point. She was shrinking. She was afraid to be a bother, she was afraid to be an inconvenience to someone else even if it meant not standing up for herself, not correcting a wrong, and throwing away her momma’s hard earned money.
Of course that last one was one of the reasons I wasn’t having it, but bigger than this was an opportunity to teach my daughter that we don’t shrink for other people, especially when it comes to advocating for ourselves. I explained to her that it isn’t rude at all, that the woman likely didn’t realize she made a mistake and once we point it out to her, she’ll likely apologize and correct it. That simple.
I told her to go up there and tell the woman that she gave us the wrong amount, and at this point because so much time had passed, she likely won’t remember, so if she says she didn’t, then ask her to count down her drawer to confirm.
She awkwardly walked to the counter and patiently waited behind the customers in line, likely trying to give her time to build up her courage to talk to the woman at the cash register.
She came back and said that the woman told her she gave her the correct change. I said “did you ask her to count down the drawer” she said “no, I didn’t want to be rude, it’s rude mom.”
I decided here was a moment I need to lead by example. I explained to her that if handled properly it’s not rude I also let her know that if at the end of her shift, the cash balance in her cash register doesn’t match what the receipts say it should be, she could get into trouble, so we are actually helping her. What’s more is, it’s not okay for them to just have my money. Period.
I beckoned her to follow me to the counter and I said hello and how are you to the woman in Czech. “Dobry deeeen, jak se máš ”. She replied in Czech that she was fine. I said (in English) “I sent my daughter her with 1,000 Koruna to purchase my breakfast but based on this receipt, you marked it as a 100 so I received the wrong amount of change. Would you check this out for me?” She looked at my receipt and, as she did with my daughter, she insisted she did receive that amount and gave the correct change. I said “I understand, it was quite a few minutes ago at this point so you may not recall. Would you please count down your draw for me just so we can be sure?”. She was visibly irritated as she called over her manager to count down her drawer.
I stood there with my daughter patiently waiting for them to finish their count as the cashier had a smug look on her face because she just KNEW she was right. But as the manager got to the end of the count, she realized I was actually correct. The cashier’s demeanor completely changed and she genuinely apologized to me “I’m so sorry I didn’t even realize it was the wrong amount”. My response was “it’s completely understandable thank you so much for being willing to count down the drawer to verify for me.” They handed me the cash I was owed and we went back to our breakfast.
I asked my daughter “now was there anything rude about that exchange?” She said “no, except for the fact that she was irritated you wanted the drawer counted down.” I said “well, her being irritated isn’t my problem and I’m not paying her an extra 900 CZK to not be irritated.”
Since this incident, I have seen my daughter stand up for herself in so many ways:
- She stood up for herself when one of her teachers recorded her grade incorrectly.
- She reached out to her counselor on her own when she found out her schedule was changed without her request.
- She stood up to some other kids on Snapchat who were bullying one of her classmates, and stood up for herself when they redirected their teenage angst at her.
I’m glad I pushed her over that breakfast. I got my $$ back but the lesson she learned was priceless. You have a right to stand up for yourself, in every situation. You owe no apologies for it because you are not an inconvenience.