The Polite Elephant

When my kids were little, we read a book together called "The Polite Elephant."

It was a charming little book about a charming little Elephant that was, above all else, polite.

I have never forgotten that book...perhaps because my kids took such a liking to it...

or perhaps because, having grown up in Canada, being "polite" is a treasured trait.

Throughout my life I have found that my ingrained habit of politeness has mostly served me well in my travels...


There were a few times, however, that I had pause to wonder...

like the time we lived in New York City and I found myself 9 months pregnant, politely and profusely apologizing to my fellow subway riders as my extended baby belly bounced off their backs.

At the time I recall thinking it was ridiculous for me to apologize since, after all, I was the one who was most uncomfortable trying to wedge and maneuver my body in such ridiculously confined spaces. 

But then I thought...

who does it hurt to apologize?

Certainly not me...

unless I think it does.

Certainly not them.

And so I continued my very Canadian ways, without another thought.

But alas,

there were other times...

when perhaps it was not so wise or necessary to be so very polite.

I can recall, for example, the time my husband and I went to the City of Lights where we found ourselves completely lost at the train station.

We must have looked rather forlorn because, before we knew it, there appeared a charming little French man... 

full of smiles and offers of help. 

We had been warned against such offers of help...

and so,

with wary eyes we greeted the man


much to our dismay, 

proceeded to grab one of our bags and march in the general direction of a ticket machine!

As my husband and I quickly fell into step, we both came to the same conclusions:

He is a con artist.

He preys on tourists.

He's too slick.

Too charming.

Too quick by half.

We're being taken for a ride.

Still lost in thought, we were startled when the man suddenly stopped, turned and held out his hand for money...explaining that he needed it for our tickets.

Once again, we internally assessed the situation and came to the same conclusions:

He is a con artist.

He preys on tourists.

He's too slick.

Too charming.

Too quick by half.

We're being taken for a ride.

Now you would think that perhaps given our conclusions we would call him out on our suspicions.


Not our style.

We simply took a pause

gauged the situation, 

hedged our bets...

and then politely handed him the amount requested.

Did he turn on his heel and head for the hills?


Apparently not his style.

Instead he purchased our tickets and with a smile and a salute good-bye handed them over to us.

My husband and I were dumbfounded and silent as we once again assessed the situation.

Given the discrepancy between the printed ticket price and the amount requested and received by our 'good samaritan,' we came to some conclusions:

He was a con artist

He preyed on tourists.

He was slick

and charming

and too quick by half.

We had indeed been taken for a ride.

Having settled that little mystery, we now considered our role in the whole debacle and came to some equally strong conclusions:  

We were passive

and pathetic

and much too polite.

We then stewed in our mood, refusing to allow the City of Lights to have any affect.

It was only after a good night's sleep and a new perspective that our mood finally lifted to allow new thinking to come in.


ourmisguided misadventure morphed into a harmless and humorous happening.

With this new clarity and new thinking, we were able to create a brand new experience; one in which each party left satisfied and sound.

After all, our charming little con artist had provided a service for which we apparently were willing to pay.

And besides...

he was so very polite about it.


P.S. Happy Birthday 'Big' Maureen. 


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Lana Bastianutti