It was a typical Tuesday. I learned how to say 'You're so mean!' in German because an annoyed student kept muttering it under her breath in the face of my relentless teasing. I also received a one-word text message from a friend which simply said 'DICK'.
But surely inviting a German girl to watch a movie and buying her a drink would get the day going in a more positive direction? Maybe not. I accidentally made a joke about her and she exploded.
"You're a shit friend," said Anna, slapping me with her scarf.
"Yes. You're a jerk and a shit friend."
I couldn't think what I'd done to deserve this. Last year I'd gifted her a cute pink cat calendar for her birthday (how could I know she hated cats?). This year she'd shown great interest in Cats That Look Like Hitler and the House That Looks Like Hitler, so I spent ages on Photoshop creating a personalised internet meme just for her (see picture below). Instead of thanking me, she raged at me to delete it from Facebook, repeatedly calling me a jerk.
The day after the 'shit friend' comment, she suggested we go to a cafe and talk. I had to go to my next class, so I said no, without saying why. She kept hassling me about it until finally, to make her stop, I said (with extreme irony, stopping just short of actually winking), "Okay, I'll see you there!" This made her smile.
Half an hour later I got a text which said simply "WORST FRIEND EVER". So she hadn't understood that I was joking and had gone to the cafe. Amazing.
Curiously, when I told people this story, they - without exception - looked horrified and agreed that I was a terrible friend and person. Many of them told me that while I was fun and interesting, I wasn't nice.
The CEO of Barclay's Bank had started firing people for being jerks. "No one should ever not be nice," he said, revealing he'd fired 30 people for being assholes. Maybe nice was the new black? I thought I'd at least give it a try, so I created Nice Week - seven days of me trying extra hard to be nice to people.
Anna, who had quickly forgiven me for the 'see you there' incident, was excited when I told her about Nice Week.
"Yep," I said, "It will be interesting. Maybe I'll learn something about the world or myself or whatever. It's going to be the 20th to the 27th of December."
"But that's when I'm away on holiday. Those are the exact dates." I just smirked at her until she understood I was joking. I planned to start it in two days. "Jerk," she announced.
"It ain't Nice Week, yet, baby. Now buy me a coke."
I was ill. Cecile texted to say she'd left some medicine in my locker. I replied with "Thanks, that's very kind of you." I expected to experience a burst of smugness like when I invented Microfinance. But I didn't feel like a better person. Then she sent back, "I love nice week :-)" which briefly made me furious. As though I never say thanks! I'm a well-brought up English gentleman. God.
In my lunchtime lesson, I didn't make fun of the students or laugh at their mistakes. But I didn't feel like doing that anyway, because I was still a bit poorly and feeling sorry for myself.
Cecile had complained that I never give enough praise. So when I discovered one of my students had made another loan on Kiva, to a guy in Georgia who needed the money to send his wife to hospital, I wrote to the student immediately and told her she was a great person. Would I have done it without Nice Week? I'd probably have waited till the next lesson and said it to her face. But maybe I'd have forgotten by then. And the student subsequently made a lot more loans, so maybe my instant response made her feel even better about it.
A friend texted me that he was in a bar talking to someone from Cecile's region, and told me an insult I could use on her that would probably be amusing. I replied that I couldn't use it yet because of Nice Week. "Nice Week? Can I have 500 Francs?" "Yes," I replied, "Anytime you actually need it. Otherwise I'll send it to Bangladesh to buy pigs."
Still sick, I didn't really feel like going out, so I tried to be nice via the Internet. I had an opportunity to do it while helping Cecile improve a post she'd drafted about weird Swiss parenting. Before we started to write, she told me she'd failed to get a cat from the cat place. She had gone to a cat sanctuary to get a cat, and failed to get a cat. I nearly had pizza coming out of my nose when I read that. I typed something funny slash mean but deleted it.
Then we moved on to the editing. I normally use the 'Steve Jobs feedback method', where things are either Insanely Amazing or Total Shit. Being Nice Week, I had to give her great notes to help her improve, but without being mean. So I didn't laugh at her when she kept talking about that famous punctuation mark, 'the coma'. Then I typed out another great zinger about her curiously inexpressive forehead. And again, I deleted it.
We edited and improved the post, but it was much less fun than normal. I enjoy pretending to get furious at mistakes she's made and exaggerating things to the point of obnoxiousness. And quite often, by pushing her to the edge, we come up with some killer joke, or a metaphor that brings everything together.
And she goes to bed grumpy but wakes up realising the post has become brilliant.
But that's not nice.
Still, the post turned out adequately.