Thursday, January 27, 2011

Coffee and Courtesy

Life is not so short but that there is always time for courtesy.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

For years we have been hearing about the decline of civility - in schools, offices, even our government. That good manners are vanishing due to (take your pick) increased reliance on technology, poor parenting, cable TV, or Facebook. And I must admit that I do see evidence of this everywhere, much to my dismay.

I do, however, have one little oasis of courtesy in my neck of the woods. It's not a fancy hotel, or upscale spa, other genteel establishment. It's a chain of. . .wait for it. . . convenience stores called Wawa.** First the reader must be acquainted with what Wawa is and is not. It is NOT like the average 7-11 or Circle K mini-mart, selling mostly junk food, cigarettes, and hot dogs under a heat lamp. Wawa stores are clean, brightly lit, and offer hand made sandwiches, soup, and salads. They also have fresh fruit, vegetables, and hummus, all packaged to go. And the most attractive thing about Wawa is its wonderful, freshly brewed coffee station. Coffee is available in several flavors, with a variety of sugar and cream to enhance it. One of the store's slogans is "Wawa - Coffeetopia!"

Pardon me, my love for Wawa has caused me to digress.

Everyone stops at Wawa - business types picking up coffee and a paper, kids getting snacks after school, workers on the road stopping for lunch, and parents running in to grab a container of milk. Almost everyone is in a hurry and almost everyone is carrying something out of the store. Here is where the civility comes in. Almost everyone holds the door for each other at Wawa. Everyone! I have made it my own little game, to see how far from the door I can be and still have someone wait for me. Landscapers, bus drivers, businesspeople, teenagers, they all have held the door for me time and time again, and vice versa.

It puts a smile on my face to see people from all walks of life making small talk at the coffee urns, or nodding politely while waiting for their sandwich orders. A few years back, the New York Times did a small piece on the company and its friendly corporate culture, which I believe then extends to its customers. People seem to enjoy being there, and that is all they need to offer a smile to fellow customers.

Examples abound of the Wawa effect. One summer, after a tremendous thunderstorm, most of my town was without power. It seemed like we all ended up at Wawa to get our morning coffee fix and pick up some fresh food to eat later - the convenience store had turned into a de facto town square. Neighbors caught up on damages to trees, what stores were open, and what roads were still closed.

More recently I sat in my car enjoying my Coffeetopia and noticed a Marine in full dress uniform getting out of his vehicle to go in Wawa. He got stopped a few feet from his car by another customer who came over to talk and then shake his hand. I watched as another customer reversed her direction and also stopped the Marine. On his way out, the same thing happened, several people coming over to him to undoubtedly thank him for his service and shake his hand. If only all our random encounters with strangers could be this respectful.

One cold winter Saturday morning, I ventured in to the store at 6 am to get a large coffee and a bagel, after dropping my son off at an early morning practice. The place was empty except for a couple of workers and two men who looked like they were loading up for a day of hard labor, dressed in work boots and coveralls. Half-asleep, I managed to smile at everyone but I just wanted to get back in my car and enjoy my coffee. When I made my way to the register, the clerk surprised me by saying, "No charge - your order was paid for by those two guys who just left here. Have a nice morning!" I was speechless.

Coffee and good karma. You can't beat that combination.

**No doubt many readers are curious about the name Wawa. According to the company, Wawa is the Lenni-Lanape word for Canada goose. It also the name of a small rural town in Pennsylvania where the company was founded.


  1. How remarkable--and hopeful--that Wawa has been able to create an atmosphere like this, not just in a single local store, but throughout its chain. The incidents you describe are delightful. I love the thought of Wawa as a "de facto town square," just when it was needed most.

  2. Wawa should take it's philosophy further afield and open all over the country! I agree that the corporate culture of a company trickles down to all who work there and even extends to the customers - I see it everywhere, for good and bad.

  3. I want a Wawa here in France! French cafés have zero atmosphere and very tiny coffees. This would be just the thing to start a cultural revolution.

  4. Courtesy and good humour are catching. Have you noticed that when you smile at someone or wish them a good morning etc. they always smile back?

    It happens in English villages all the time. We even greet the tourists and although it is often clear that, giving half a chance, they'd slink by, head lowered, when faced with a cheery local they cannot help themselves but return the greeting.

    They probably think we are all yokels, halfwits and inbred.

  5. Dear Wide Open Spaces,
    that sounds so inviting, the Wawa!
    I also noticed that people are often friendly (and polite) when you expect them to be just that - and be it yourself: I like to look at people, and chat with them, and have the feeling that they sense whether you take them seriously. Some simply haven't learned good behaviour (though one has to differentiate between 'knowing how to use a fork' and 'heart warmth') - then there are quiet ways to show them - and nowadays sometimes the poor guys really don't know whether it is ok to hold the door up for a woman - if that 'lady' screeches: 'I can do that on my own!' or someone is offended if a kid offers them a seat in the tube.
    What I always see in my profession: those with good manners will get the better jobs - because they know how to behave - AND are able to show thankfulness by a little note or e-mail, when something nice was done for them - and of course you will remember those with more kindness.

  6. That's a wonderful, (dare I say) life changing experience. We live in a rather friendly state, but I've never heard of that happening! Good for you!

  7. What a delightful, heart warming and encouraging story. I love reading stories like this. So, thank you so much for sharing this.
    I've been to Walla Walla Washington. Have no idea why I typed that, but what the heck:-)
    Have a peaceful and positive day. I'm heading off to drink a cup of British coffee. Wish me luck.
    Kind wishes, Gary :-)

  8. Thank you for all the comments! I think Wawa would love to know that a resident of France would love to have a Wawa coffee there.

    @Friko and Britta - I agree that courtesy is contagious. I always hope to "catch" some if I am having a bad day.

    Glad you all like the name of the store too. My husband's favorite joke is, "How do they answer the phone at the store in Mahwah NJ?"

    "This is the Mahwah Wawa" ! (rimshot!)


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