You Can’t Always Get What You Want

June 19, 2019 | Filed Under Things I Think About | No Comments


This is my travel water bottle. It’s decorated with swans (imagine that!) and goes with me in the car, on plane trips, wherever I go that it makes sense to have a water bottle.

I was recently working the registration desk at a conference which takes place at a university. It’s summer, so there aren’t many students around, but there are some taking summer classes. University staff are also present in varying numbers, as well as random people taking a shortcut through the building to walk in the air conditioning instead of the heat outdoors. So, I’m used to people who aren’t affiliated with the conference stopping at the desk to ask questions. “What is this?” “What do you do?” “Can I have one of those?” (pointing to the t-shirts or other conference swag). We (the reg desk staff) are always polite and answer the questions (“it’s a conference”, “there are workshops”, “sorry, no, we have to save them for the people who paid to attend the conference”), because 1) there’s no reason not to be polite and 2) you never know when a casual inquiry this year will become an attendee next year.

The last day of the conference, however, one man stopped by and was determined to get something from us. He didn’t want a t-shirt (we sell them for $10 on the last day of the conference after all the attendees have theirs, and donate the money to charity), or a conference bag, or any of the other swag—he wanted my swan water bottle. I explained that it wasn’t part of the swag, it’s my personal possession, and no, it is not for sale. He persisted, because he “really liked it”. I gave him the name of the company that makes the bottles, and told him to check their website. That was not sufficient—he wanted to buy the one I had right there, and he had to have it.

I looked him in the eye and said, “You do not have the right to something just because you want it. Any four-year-old can tell you that.”

He was deeply offended (not my problem), and replied, “Well, you don’t have to be rude about it!” and stomped away in a manner that any four-year-old would have found embarrassing.

I think it wasn’t really about the water bottle, but him trying to get something to prove to himself how clever he is.

Either way, it didn’t work out the way he expected. Did he take the lesson? My guess is no. Perhaps we’ll find out at next year’s conference.

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