Pancakes for the orphans

The doorbell rang. Normally my reflex is to stick my head out of the window and look down to see who’s at the door, but this time I just went downstairs and went to the front door. I took out my key and opened the lock, turning three times to the left, thinking the person outside must be thinking I live in a fortress. Which I do, in many ways. I’m a bit of a hermit, not too fond of visitors invading my personal space. It’s a personal oddity, I confess, but I’m just not that much into socializing.

I opened the door and saw a woman standing in the drizzling rain. She looked a bit unhappy, a tad unhealthy, and she held a pack of pancakes in her hand. She started telling me that once a year, they – she said ‘we’ – sold pancakes to help the orphans of… and the rest of the name escaped me.

I felt conflicting thoughts and energies weaving their way through me. I don’t buy at the door. I don’t eat sugar. I don’t have any money to spare on frivolities like this. I wonder what they cost. Orphans, that’s a good cause, why wouldn’t I spend some money on them? Ah well, I can always give them to my sister and her kids, they will like them. That way I don’t have to ruin my own teeth.

I heard myself say, ‘How much do they cost?’ She said 5 euros. I groped into my pockets, thinking I probably didn’t have 5 euros on me and wondering what I’d do if I had to run upstairs for more – leave the door open, ajar, risk her coming in and robbing my home? I groped some more and found out that indeed, I did have 5 euros and even more on me. So I gave her 5, took the pancakes and thanked her, wishing her good luck with the rest of her sales tour.

Against all odds

Back inside, I wondered what had made me buy. Because this was a transaction against all odds. Like I said, I don’t buy at the door, I don’t eat sugar, the salesperson didn’t look attractive or convincing, and yet I went to open the door without checking in advance and bought without much afterthought.

It crossed my mind that maybe she didn’t have any connection with orphans at all. She didn’t show me an accreditation with the name, address and stamp of an orphanage. Even if I’d caught the name of the organisation she mentioned, I wouldn’t have recognized it, because I’m not familiar with the world of orphans.

Did I care? Not really. I mean care about the possibility that this was a scam. I thought it was a worthy cause and a tasty product at a reasonable price, so I bought it.

Show up

Does it really matter how much strategy, vision and values you’ve got in your sales approach? I’m not sure. Sometimes I think the basic premise of sales transactions is showing up. Make sure you’re there. Have the guts to go from door to door, even if you don’t look flourishing or particularly ravishing. Show up and tell what you’ve got to offer, even if you don’t do it very brilliantly or convincingly.

Was I in her target group? Who knows how her target group was defined – if at all. ‘People living in Bruges’, at the most. Was I a likely buyer? Not in a million years. So what made me go downstairs, open the door and buy a product I’m not likely to consume? Her good vibes? She didn’t look like she was deliberately minding her vibe, as some of us would say. What were the odds of me having 5 euros in coins in my pockets? Small. What were the odds of me opening the door for a stranger selling door to door? Even smaller.

And yet she caught me unawares, and even hooked me for a sale.
Maybe it was her absence of glamour, of sales technique, of pushy, glitzy talk, that made me grope into my pockets and fish out five euros. Maybe it was her take it or leave it approach – I could see on her face that she wouldn’t have minded if I had said no – she’d probably had her fair share of no’s already that afternoon. But I said yes, and thank you.

Never underestimate the power of showing up. Even if you don’t have the looks, or the brilliance or the perfect sales pitch. Just show up and tell what you’ve got to offer – take it or leave it, no harm done. You never know that the wrong person might be in the right mood at the right moment. And happen to have some extra change in their pockets.


Don’t tell anyone, but I love the word ‘jerk’. It’s one of my favourite terms of abuse in English. Mind you, I use it in the most loving way, because, oddly enough, I reserve it only for men I really like. (And sometimes for women, for lack of a female equivalent.) That’s how weird my mind is. If they get on my nerves and push my buttons too hard because they know me too well, I throw the J-word at them. I know they won’t mind. Some of them even consider it a term of honour. And rightly so, because that’s exactly how I mean it.

I like the liberating distance that foreign language speakers have towards terms of abuse and ‘bad’ words in that language. There’s no taboo on a word until you learn there is one. Until someone tells you ‘Don’t use that word in public’, it’s just a word. You can even like the sound of it, without paying much attention to the meaning.

I do cringe when foreign language speakers use swearwords in Dutch, though. When someone throws a ‘godverdomme’ at me just for the heck of it, I back off and cringe a little. I want to cover my ears and yell at them: ‘Not so loud!’ It’s like they’re throwing a bomb at me and saying: ‘Hey, ain’t this fun? Look at the colours and the sound effects!’ That’s the playful attitude only a foreign language speaker can have towards swearwords and ‘bad’ language.

And that, dear audience, is why I reserve the word ‘jerk’ for only my most favourite of men (and sometimes women). Friends and dear ones who I know can take it. If they push my buttons, I will push back. I will throw a bit of verbal firework at them. It’s just another way of saying: ‘Hey, I really like you, but don’t tell anyone.’

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