Sunday Mail South Australia column for Sunday 2 October 2011


I learnt a major life lesson this past month. And it involved steak, mashed potato and a mariachi band. Sort of. In a way. Stay with me.

I’ve spent the last seven weeks on the road, travelling around the country doing a series of author-speaking engagements in regional shopping centres. I know. Look out J. K. Rowling, I’m coming for you. One food court at a time.  But the truth is the whole experience was terrific.Hold the phone. What?

You’re thinking that spending hours in airport lounges, on planes, in taxi queues and in shopping centre food courts alone would be – what’s the word? – oh yes, horrible. I mean you can only kill time playing Angry Birds for so many hours before you become an Angry Bird yourself. But I wasn’t alone.  I was lucky enough to be travelling with another speaker; an inspiring, hilarious, clever woman I’ll call Sally.  So the whole criss-crossing the country experience was like a Girls Own Adventure.

And so it was that in between the laughter, the story-swapping and the quick-we’ve-got-five-minutes-to-spare-lets-go-look-in-Witchery, I ended up learning a major life lesson from Sally. And it was this: I need to start ordering off the menu.

Let me explain.

After our first long day of travelling, Sally and I arrived at our hotel in Far North Queensland exhausted. We each staggered to our room, pledging to meet up for breakfast. But as I turned the handle on my hotel room door, I was greeted with a mariachi band in my living room. At least it sounded like they were in my living room. They weren’t of course. My room (and Sally’s room too for that matter) happened to be directly across from a local park where an outdoor festival was in full swing.  It was late. I was bone tired. All I wanted to do was go to bed. But La Cucaracha was ringing in my ears. So what did I do? I muttered all kinds of horrible things about the hotel, put a pillow over my head and attempted to go to sleep. It took me a while.

The next morning having breakfast with Sally, I asked her how she managed to sleep with the band playing.  Her reply? Easily. She’d asked to change rooms.

She’d. Asked. To. Change. Rooms.

She may as well have told me she put on a ballet tutu and went on a date with Bob Katter.

And so it went.  When a cold coffee arrived, it was – in the politest possible way – sent back.  And when we went to a restaurant whose menu didn’t quite offer what she wanted – I watched Sally order off the menu. Nothing fancy. I’m talking a steak, mashed potato and steamed vegies not caviar and champagne.

Many of us – particularly women – live our lives not wanting to be seen as difficult. After all, better to eat a ho-hum meal, drink a cold coffee, put up with a mariachi band in our hotel room than have people think we’re a diva.

But there is a difference between speaking up and being a pain in the butt.  You can ask for what you want, have a voice, without being a prima donna.  And this ‘be nice at all costs’ attitude has far more serious repercussions than a cold coffee. In his best-selling book, The Gift of Fear, world-renowned security expert Gavin de Becker talks about how a woman’s fear of being seen as rude or judgemental can make her vulnerable to attack.  Even if someone gives us the creeps or a bad vibe, women tend to let them into our personal space rather than appear rude.  Someone offers to carry our shopping to the car for us? Sure.  Wants to use our phone? Absolutely. Offers us a lift home from a work function? Of course. Every part of us is saying “no” but our fear of looking rude makes us say yes.

What women call “being a diva”, men call “getting on with things”. It’s called living your life. Being true to who you are.  It was a reminder to me to always send back the coffee. Or the creep.

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About Bec

Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.

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