Traveling the World Has Proven that I’m Not the Nice One in this Couple. I’m Okay with That
At a saki tasting in Nara, Japan the staff tried to get us to wear Christmas headbands. My wife was too nice to say no. Super.
My wife is a nicer person than I am. This isn’t a brag, nor is it some sort of sad attempt to gain favor with her. If anything it’s a damning statement about my wife’s ability to find a partner of equal nice-ness. She married down, I married up in the niceness scale.
This difference became even more obvious to me as we traveled around the world together on our one-year retirement. The occasional challenges and stresses of travel should have sent her into a furious rage on more than one occasion, yet she strangely remained unphased. I don't understand this phenomenon. I'm still trying to figure out this bizarre and unflappable niceness in every scenario, but our trip provided both survey data and empirical evidence.
When we realized toward the end of the one-year retirement that we could gain access to our Uber ratings — the ratings that Uber drivers give to riders on a one- to five-star scale — of course we immediately looked ours up. We used Uber in seventeen different countries — wherever it was available, we used the ride-sharing service, both to ensure we didn’t get the “tourist surcharge” many unscrupulous taxi drivers tack onto cab fares, but also to help us track our spending. I’m not sure what criteria these Uber drivers are using to rate typical riders like me and my wife, but knowing that neither of us has yelled at, badgered, or otherwise tried to invite a driver to a Jehovah’s Witness bible study, I’m pretty sure it’s probably just a general rating of niceness from these drivers.
“I’ve got a 4.84.” my wife smiled.
I checked my rating — “I have a 4.73. That’s not a surprise. You’re nicer than I am.”
“What? No I’m not.”
“You definitely are. And of course you’d say that. That’s how freaking nice you are. You don’t even realize it. This is a perfect scientific way to prove it."
I explained my reasoning: 100 percent of our Uber rides this year have been either alone, or together with each other. If you cancel out those rides together then the difference between our two scores equals the ratings we received on our solo rides. "You’re eleven-one-hundredths of a star nicer than I am.”
I was surprised the difference wasn’t greater. Sometimes I’ll talk to a driver, but I often daydream out the window when I’m riding an Uber. My wife will chat them up like she’s talking to the mother of the bride at a wedding reception — complementing their car, their city’s fine dining and nightlife options, the day’s weather, whatever she can think of. I think she was an all-state small-talker her senior year.
To provide additional evidence to back up my claim, here's one moment from the trip I vividly remember. We were pulling away from the gate on one of the 61 flights we took on the one-year retirement, as the flight attendant droned on with the same pre-flight passenger safety briefing we’d heard dozens of times before.
“Ladies and gentleman, please direct your attention to the flight attendant who will demonstrate the safety features of this aircraft…”
I did what everyone does in that moment and continued to ignore the announcement. But in my peripheral vision I saw my wife remove her earbuds. She locked eye contact with the flight attendant a few rows ahead of her and gave her an appreciative smile.
“What are you doing?”
“Listening to the announcement,” my wife shrugged, without breaking eye contact with her new friend. The loudspeaker-authority-person had asked my wife politely for her attention, so by golly they were going to get it.
The flight attendant stared into oblivion and pretended to breath into her life jacket’s plastic tubes, as the announcement described the scenario where your life jacket wouldn’t inflate. My wife sat and observed politely as I began to wonder if this trip was driving her slowly and quietly into insanity. (By the way, thank you airline company for preparing us for this contingency. Here’s some alternate language to consider: “Look, that life jacket has been under your seat for thirty-five years. So if it’s not congealed into a yellow plastic-y rectangular cuboid by now, it’s probably still not going to inflate. So pass the time on your way to a watery grave by blowing futilely into these tubes, which aren’t connected to anything.”)
My wife's niceness is apolitical. Bellhops, receptionists, heads of state — everyone would get the same treatment. Even after an exhausting day of travel, my wife can still adhere to the spoonful-of-sugar mentality, while I can tend to come unhinged when I’m on my last nerve.
Whenever we were both extremely frustrated from crummy treatment by a screwed-up hotel booking or flight reservation mismanagement, we had agreed to a rule that Megan would remind me before we walked up to the counter: at times like this, she should do all the talking. I reluctantly agree to this rule, because I've seen it work. We get better results when we have her calmly describing our problem to the employee, instead of my variation, which usually includes a frustrated tone, a bulging forehead vein and an occasional salty phrase.
People often tell me, “your wife is so kind.” As they really lean into the “so kind” with a bit of a puzzled look at me, I can hear the context. What they’re really saying is “your wife is so much nicer than you. How did that happen?”
Beats me, but at least I know in the event of an emergency, she’ll help me with my oxygen mask.