“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”
– William James, American philosopher and psychologist

Every day while in Zadar, Croatia, I’d walk ten minutes from my apartment to an open air market to pick up vegetables for the next few meals. A zucchini. A couple peppers. Some mushrooms. A cucumber. Anything really.

On the first day, I stroll around the market aimlessly. Sensing my lack of conviction, each vendor is eager to introduce me to their goods and services. In a kind but direct way, they point to their vegetables and say “Blah blah dobra dan blaahhh, blah blahh!” At least that’s what it sounds like to me. Since the only words I can discern are “dobra dan”, meaning “good day,” I assume they are at least being friendly.

The problem is, each vendor sells the same items. There may be someone who specializes more in beans and nuts, or someone who offers more varieties of mushrooms. But if I want a cucumber, there are twenty options. And the cucumbers offered by the twenty vendors are basically the same. The only difference is the vendor selling them.

To be brutally honest, even the vendors look the same! They’re all 60 to 80-year-old men and women. And sometimes it’s even tough to tell the women from the men! On the surface, I couldn’t really tell the difference between most of them.

So what’s a hungry guy to do?

Overwhelmed by choice, I just stop walking and turn to the nearest vendor. She’s an old, heavyset woman with mostly grey hair. Probably in her mid-seventies. She perks up and smiles kindly. “Blah blah dobra dan blaahhh, blah blahh!” she says jollily while presenting her fresh veggies.

Good enough.

I point to a red pepper and a green pepper. Oh, a cucumber too.

She throws all the items into one bag and weighs it on her old-school balance scale. I find it impossible that all these vegetables are worth the same per kilogram. Oh well. When in Zadar, do as the Zadarians.

“5 Kuna!” she proclaims. After a quick number crunch, I realize that’s less than $1. Sounds good. I hand over a 5 Kuna coin, grab my bag, and head back to the apartment to make breakfast.

Back in my kitchen, I open the bag of fresh goodies. I pull out the red pepper. Then the green pepper. Then the cucumber. Then the…what the hell? There’s an onion in here!

Well that’s a nice surprise. Maybe she threw it in by mistake. I throw it in the fridge and forget about it.

The next day, I go back to the open market. Saving my mental energy, I return to the same old, heavyset woman as the day before. She was kind enough and her vegetables were fresh. I grab a zucchini and a handful of mushrooms.

She weighs the goods. “5 Kuna!”

Mentally comparing the weight of these vegetables to those from the day before, I’m beginning to think the scale is just a formality. Oh well. When in Zadar.

I pull out a 5 Kuna piece and hand it to her. She hands back 1 Kuna and my bag of vegetables. I guess sometimes “5 Kuna” means 5 Kuna, but sometimes it also means 4 Kuna.

Back at my apartment, I put away the vegetables. I pull out the mushrooms. Then the zucchini. Then the…what the hell? There’re carrots in here!

Well, that’s a nice surprise! Then I remember the onion and laugh. That sneaky, sneaky vegetable lady!

The next day, I go back to the open market. A man on a mission, I go straight to the kind old vegetable lady. I grab a few vegetables and hand them over. She “weighs” them as I prepare my 5 Kuna piece.

“5 Kuna!” Today, 5 Kuna means 5 Kuna. I’m intensely studying her every motion. As she’s handing back my purchase, she casually grabs a lemon and throws it into my bag. She smiles coyly at me, knowingly. I caught her — caught in the act of sneakiness.

From that day onward, I looked no further than my sneaky, old vegetable lady for all my veggie needs. Even if I paid a premium for her (lack of) weighing skills. Even if she wasn’t the most conveniently located vendor in the market. Even if there was a friendlier, kinder, sneakier vegetable lady I didn’t even know about yet.

So what can we learn from the sneaky, old vegetable lady?

Whether it’s friends, lovers, customers, or strangers, once good people enter your lives, give them a reason to stay. Show them they made the right choice. Show them you’re happy they’re here. Show them you’re thankful for who they are. Show them with genuine acts of sneakiness. Because in a world filled with a multitude of choice, the sneaky ones win.

Are you a sneaky, old vegetable lady? If not, maybe you should be.


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