"You are the sweetest and greatest person!"
How did she react?
She said, "Thank you! I have got to say- Right back at you."
I laughed, said, "Aw, thanks! But seriously, every time I come here I look forward to seeing you!"
That's when Doreen's eyes got teary.
How did I feel?
The German word Mensa is untranslatable. Canteen, refectory, commons: They are close. But they don't catch the Mensa. This one is an institution. A subculture. You find it at schools, universities, companies- Where there are a lot of people spending their day at one single building there will be a Mensa. With it comes its matchless atmosphere: 2000 forks jangling in 2000 bowls containing one* kind of soup. 2000 mouths drinking from 2000 glasses, then getting up from one type of chair. Welcome to lunch at Free University of Berlin. Where 2000 eyes are watching your steps on 1000 m²...
Let's do the math. Everyone takes about 30 minutes to eat. There are six registers and three hours of lunch. That equals 1980 people each employee checks out. 1980 people! Plus the countless to-go-guests.
Now of those 1980 people there is about 1000 who complain. About the size of their portion, its temperature, the fact that their favorite food was already gone when they came... German spirit right there. Yeah, clichees suck, but when it comes to the Mensa two things stick out. Complaining and being overly correct, those are everywhere: Be they German or not, the Mensa offers two for one! It is only here that you get to wine about your portion being one ounce less than your friend's. Or having queued in a line that is a minute slower than the others. Or that the coke was five cents cheaper last week!
That is one perspective on the Mensa. Often this outlook it is mine, too: On busy or sleep deprived days, after boring classes or before fighting with a heavy work load in the library. Looking at the Mensa from that angle makes me wonder: Is working there fun? Fixing 20 000 portions of the same food every day? Being grumbled at for the fact that a two Dollar lunch does not taste like haute cuisine? Not to mention chasing students who take part in the stealing food competition...?
My answer: No. In fact I am sure it sucks. Every time I have that thought -- every time!-- Doreen proves me wrong. She opens up another angle, one that the crowded-complain-cheep-food perspective cannot frame. A loving one. She proves the Mensa’s awesomness to me. Here is how:
I come in, I get my coffee, I wait in line. That’s when it starts: Hearing Doreen joke around with her co-workers lifts the corners of my mouth. When I am up she greets me, asks how I am and has patience with me messing with my credit card. With her friendly voice she drops a fun comment. At that point I always feel like m day has just gotten lighter. Once my credit card has done its job I honestly wish her a beautiful day. She looks up, feels I mean it, smiles at me and says, "Thank you! I wish you the same!"
My theory: The workers there are a family. They stick together. And because they are always loyal and working hand in hand (I have never seen one of them bark at another) they create a positive atmosphere, focus on the 1000 people who don't complain but say "thank you".
After all the food tastes better than all of my attempts at fixing a cutlet. And the salad bar is insane! Plus: Overhearing interesting conversations, making new friends or observing crowd behavior-- The Mensa is the perfect place.
When I can't perceive why the Mensa is unique in a good way, only hear complaints, see pushing and shoving, or get scared by the anonymous masses I go straight to Doreen's register. Because I know: Her charms will get me back on track. Right away. I will leave noticing all of the Mensa’s great feautres, one of those the fact that it is the perfect place for having a crush. Among 2000 people there will be one you look forward to seeing, right? I definitely have a crush. A big one! It is platonic. You probably already know: It's amazing Doreen. Thanks to her for being the awesome person she is!
*Actually, that is not true. I researched and found out: They serve four kinds of soup per day!