RAoK stands for Random Act of Kindness - and it is, as the name suggests, simply a nice deed that you do for a random stranger, with no other intention or purpose other than to squirt some goodness into the universe. This week I was the recipient of a RAoK from Shelley in California. She sent me Big American Yarn in gorgeous colours, as well as crochet hooks and Kool Aid, jelly beans ... and, best of all, a lovely letter. That's right - a real letter, a handwritten letter, a funny and interesting letter that we read in the car and then re-read at home. It was like Christmas Day again (but better because my Christmas Day this year mainly revolved around disinfecting the toilet after my stomach-flued husband had had his evil way with it.) It was such a lovely and kind gesture, I was really touched - I just can't tell you how it brightened my day ... my whole week, in fact.
Yesterday afternoon, Mr Gingerbread and I set off to Battle With The German Customs Office because my parcel had been - shock, horror! - impounded. The cheek! This meant we had to drive out to an industrial estate where the customs office (an eerily quiet building full of people sitting at desks behind glass windows, staring at their hands or computer screens) is located. Many German bureaucrats have the amazing ability to make you feel guilty without you having done anything wrong. It's a marvellous piece of psychological manipulation, especially for obsessively law-abiding citizens like myself. I'm slowly beginning to suspect that this skill is part of their training course - they might even have final exams in Glaring 101, How to Narrow Your Eyes Evilly and Snorting in Disbelief: Masterclass. ("Once again, Heinz, but with feeling! I want to to inject even more incredulity into that snort! Sneer, if you can! That's right! Excellent!") Whereas in other countries you are assumed innocent till proven guilty, some German bureaucrats like to simply presume you're guilty and they have you do the work of proving your innocence.
When I went entered the parcel office, the three officials were slouched at their desk, glued to their computer screens. I handed over the notification and one of them s-l-o-w-l-y went off to get the box. He dumped it on the counter and handed me a scissors.
"Please open it!" he barked.
So I did. I unpacked the Kool Aid ("Look, Kool Aid!" I said to him. Not impressed) and the crochet hooks ("Wow, crochet hooks!" Still no flicker.) And the jelly beans. ("Oooh, jelly beans! Would you like one?" Narrowed eyes.) And the yarn - then his beady little bureaucratic eyes lit up. He picked one up and gave it a squeeze to make sure there was nothing inside.
"Is there any medication in the box?" he said hopefully. "Foodstuffs? Meat? Dairy products?"
I tipped it over so he could look inside. Nothing.
But he wasn't finished yet: we had a little argy-bargy about the price of the yarn, but he finally accepted that the German government was not going to turn a profit in 2011 on the basis of the customs fees on my meagre and inadvertent yarn-smuggling activity. Clearly disappointed that his day had not been livened up by the discovery of a kilo of cocaine hidden in Red Heart Super Saver, I was allowed to take my present home.
Where I unpacked it on the coffee table, took a quick photo in the last ten minutes of bright light, then left my goodies there so I could admire my present all evening. Look at my pyramid of yarn: isn't it just lovely? I can't wait to rip the labels off (carefully) and get started on something really cool.