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Last week I was in a hotel and conference centre in Belgium, half way between Brussels and Antwerp, working with a client on the Kick Off meeting for a Viral Change project. I arrived late the previous evening, not many people around. The man at the bar simply handed my room key to me. That was easy, I thought!

The next day I needed to do some printing for my meeting. ‘No problem, email to me at reception’. A few minutes later the copies were ready. The meeting room was cold? No problem, minutes later it was fixed and the engineer came to see me specifically to make sure it was OK. All in perfect English with a nice Flemish accent.

The meeting went very well. At the end I needed a taxi to go to Brussels Midi rail station to get the Eurostar back to the UK. About a 45 minute ride. Small detail, not only it was Friday night, it was also the start of school holidays. The traffic was static for miles around Brussels and within Brussels. No taxis. What do you mean!? The reception man spends half an hour non-stop looking for taxis from five different companies. That is all he does.

In the meantime I asked for the manager. When she came to see me I said how impressed I was and the good service they had. She said they were going to have a short party that evening to celebrate the (late!) New Year and she was going to share this with her people. But five minutes later the lady from the cafeteria waves at me form the distance with a perfectible audible ‘Thanks for the compliment!’

Finally a taxi arrives. The taxi driver convinces me that driving to Brussels is foolish. He offered me to take me to the rail station in the airport instead of the Brussels Eurostar station (the other side of Brussels), to take a quick train to the city. OK! Since I was going to the airport I wanted to check with my office if there were any flights. My UK office, adamant that they had checked (all flights full) was trying again. Before I could articulate anything on the phone, the taxi driver used an app in his phone (traffic slow!) and said ‘you want to check BA 339 at 18.15. Do you want me to call them?’ Wow! No thanks.

Long story, no planes. We arrived to the car park in the airport near the rail station- which is not the same as ‘the rail station’. The taxi driver insisted in parking and taking my luggage to the ticket office, not obvious to me where that may have been. He waited until I got into the right entrance for the right track of the right train. I had paid a fixed fare so he had to put some small extra for the car park. I insisted to pay for that, he refused, and I managed to force 10 Euros into his pocket. That train takes me to the centre of Brussels, what a relief!. For some late Friday idiotic functioning of my neurones I get off one stop earlier. Wrong move! Another taxi.

Got to the Eurostar late for my train. I just missed that one! My ticket is non-changeable, refundable (a recurrent false economy habit) so I asked for a new one. The lady at the counter says with a big smile: ‘Just this time’, enjoy dinner’ and she swaps the old non-changeable non-refundable ticket for a new non-changeable non refundable one… on the next train.

What happened next after this little epidemic of kindness is as follows: I said thanks to the lady serving my meal a disproportionate amount of times, I took and moved around the luggage of an old lady beyond normal courtesy, I lent a couple of pounds to a coffee-desperate American girl in the train bar who had not changed enough dollars, and I wished good week-end to the carriage manager (who for some reasons may have spotted my accent and replied ‘muchas gracias’).

It was a live case study of my book Homo Imitans, without knowing it. The little epidemic of kind acts had triggered a second little epidemic in me. People copy each other. It’s not rational! We are very sophisticated copying machines. I used to say to clients, if you have an epidemic of nastiness, you want a counter-epidemic of kindness, not a training programme against nasty people. It was all in my book, then in was in my life. Behaviours are copied, not trained. Missing the Eurostar was the least of my problems.

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  1. John Perry

    Also at Brussels airport, probably 15 years ago. Really bad weather Friday night, and flights were of course delayed and/or cancelled. The (club) check-in desk was besieged by angry middle management who seemed to think the girl there was personally responsible. I was amazed she remain calm and unflustered . It was a complete zoo, but I thought to myself, “she must get this several times a day, several days a week.” I did write to Austin Reid about her (and got a reply).

    So name badges can be helpful for sending out compliments as well as brickbats.

    Not long after I changed my weekly commute to Eurostar.

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