I’ve said it before… Welsh people are incredibly friendly and kind. So kind, in fact, that one sweet lady in the little seaside town of Borth, Wales, brought me to tears.
The day started out well enough. I was staying at Borth Youth Hostel, a converted Georgian house located at the very end of town, immediately across the street from an expansive beach, which was nearly always deserted. The sun was shining, and I decided to go “into town,” meaning that I turned left out of the hostel and followed the sidewalk past a few long rows of attached houses, across the road that runs to the train station, past a small convenience grocer and an arcade until I saw to the Victoria Inn on my right and a handful of shops and cafes on my left. In short, the town of Borth consists mainly of one long road running parallel to the coastline.
I usually pack a sandwich and some fruit in my messenger bag for lunch on the go, but on this particular day, I decided to eat at a little cafe in town. I had perused the cafe menu the day before and was excited to see lobster rolls made with locally-caught lobster, “subject to availability,” listed for lunch. I love seafood, and coming from Arizona, where “locally-caught” seafood is an impossibility, a lobster roll sounded like an experience that would be worth the £6.95 price.
I arrived at the cafe and anxiously asked the blond teen girl behind the counter whether the lobster rolls were available that day. “Yes, they are!” she said with a knowing smile.
“Great!” I exclaimed happily. “I’d like one, please.” I was thrilled with my luck and hungrily anticipating the seafood sandwich as the girl rang up my order and said, “That’ll be £6.95.”
I pulled my credit card from my wallet and heard her say, “I’m sorry, we don’t have our credit card machine hooked up yet. Do you have cash?”
Unfortunately, I didn’t. Unused to carrying cash, I had spent the last of my currency on a train fare the day before. But no matter…there was a cash machine inside the tiny grocery store down the street. The cafe would make my sandwich and I would return in a few minutes with the cash.
Inside the grocery store a few minutes later, the cash machine was not cooperating. I inserted my debit card, typed in my pin and requested the cash, but the machine kept spitting the card back out with a message that flashed “card unreadable.” I had used this card in several cities and countries without incident. What was going on?
“Ok, no problem,” I thought, “I’ll just buy a few things and ask for cash back at the register.”
By this time, I was beginning to worry about my sandwich. I hoped that the girl didn’t think I had changed my mind and decided not to come back. When I got to the register, I asked the woman behind the counter if the store offered cash back.
“Yes, we do,” she said, “but let me just try your card before you buy anything to make sure it will work.”
She swiped my card, then frowned. “I’m sorry, the machine is not recognizing your card. I’m afraid I can’t give you cash back. Sometimes that happens with foreign debit cards.”
Dismayed, I explained the situation with the cash machine and asked whether there were any other cash machines in town to which, unfortunately, she replied in the negative. She told me I’d have to go to Aberystwyth (at least a 30 minute train ride each way) to access a cash machine. Great.
Feeling a bit desperate, I explained that the ladies at the cafe were making a sandwich for me right now, and I had told them I’d return with cash to pay for it.
“Oh, that would be Katie or Mary at the cafe,” she said in hushed tones to avoid embarrassing me in front of other shoppers. “Just explain to them what happened. They’ll understand.”
My anxiety only partially eased, I smiled and thanked her for her help before rushing out the door and back down the street toward the cafe.
As luck would have it, the blonde teen had forgotten to ask whether I wanted a white or brown roll, so she was unable to make my sandwich. Thoroughly relieved, I explained the cash machine debacle and told her apologetically that I’d have to cancel my lunch order.
And then…that’s when it happened. An older woman behind the counter who had apparently overheard the conversation stepped toward me, her blue eyes wide and questioning.
“I could just give the sandwich to you,” she said in a whisper.
As I began to shake my head, she came closer and asked, almost inaudibly, “are you… hungry?”
I felt my breath draw in sharply. “Oh, nooo,” I said hurriedly, “I’ll just buy some lunch with my card at the grocery store. I’m sorry about that… and thank you so much!!” I said, smiling brightly as I waved to the ladies and high-tailed it toward the front door.
As I grasped the metal door handle and pulled the door open, I felt my bottom lip quiver and the prickly sensation of tears beginning behind my eyes.
“Well that was humiliating,” I thought, with a flicker of understanding of what it must feel like to have a need for such charitable acts. I said a silent prayer of thanks that I have never been in that situation.
Later that afternoon, having regained my composure and enjoyed lunch purchased from the grocery store, I decided to pop into an intriguing little art gallery. The storefront was filled with canvases of all sizes featuring beautiful oil paintings of the town and coastline. Inside, the shop was filled with more decorated canvases at very low prices, many of them tiny enough to fit into a backpack (hooray!), filling every shelf and corner in the small space. The artist herself was situated in one corner, surrounded by large easels of partially-finished work and a table that served as her sale counter.
After examining everything in the gallery, I picked up a handmade card and a canvas and asked whether she accepted credit cards. She did not, and she apologized sweetly.
“What is this alternate, cash-only universe?” I wondered to myself. I told the artist how much I enjoyed her work and explained that I was out of cash but would come back in a few days to make a purchase.
“Oh, that’s alright,” she said with a smile. “Just take what you like and you can bring the money to me when you have it.”
“W-whhat? Are you sure?” I asked, my mouth dropping open.
“Oh yes,” she said. “Here, I’ll wrap it up for you.”
I walked out of the gallery shaking my head in disbelief and clutching a small brown bag to my chest. Twice in a single day, I was absolutely jolted by the kindness and generosity of the Welsh people. Those are memories I won’t soon forget.
I also learned that it’s important to carry cash at all times. You never know when you might need to buy a lobster roll.