The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Gabriela’s Double Dog Dare: Random Act of Coffee

Gabriela Leskur | Thursday, November 7, 2013


Scene Writer

Most people would agree that random acts of kindness are good things. But when people are actually presented with spontaneous generosity, do they feel the same way?

While setting off on a quest for the answer to this question, I ran into my rector, Elaine. Coincidentally, she had a unique perspective to offer.

Over the years, Elaine has been going to Starbucks and offering to buy coffee for strangers to get into the holiday spirit. She told me how surprising her experiences have been, with many people refusing to let her buy them coffee.

I couldn’t help but wonder: Would people accept or decline a random act of coffee at Notre Dame? 

Following all the gloomy cumulus nimbus clouds hovering over South Bend the last few days, I decided it was time for some acts of kindness to rain down on the Notre Dame community.

With the possibility of a dwindling supply of flex points pushed from my mind, I grabbed my ID from my desk, left my inhibition in my room and headed for Starbucks.
   I settled in with my friend Morganne at a quaint little table, with the aroma of Pumpkin Spice Lattes lingering in the air. Over the course of an hour, I approached strangers at random as they ordered their coffee and asked to buy their Starbucks for them. Their subsequent responses were interesting to say the least and brought up a lot of implications on social interactions.

As I approached these strangers with a smile and an offering to pay for their joyful java, many of them responded with a look of utter confusion.

“Why?” Many of them asked, not understanding what reason I could have for offering to buy them coffee.

With this question, I saw a hint of what my rector had experienced. People seemed to be suspicious, skeptical and uncomfortable.

“Random act of kindness,” I explained. The barista chuckled at me and shook his head. After multiple instances of my random act of coffee-buying taking place at his register, we had established a repartee.

With the help of this friendly barista, each of the five people I asked had accepted my offer. I might be down a few Flex Points, but I’m no worse for the wear.

    After finishing my social experiment, I sat back down at my table and discussed the interactions with my friend Morganne. I asked what she would do if I offered to buy her coffee. Without hesitation, she said that if someone offered to buy her coffee, she would turn that free coffee down, drop it like it’s hot.

“I don’t like being in debt to people,” Morganne explained. “I’d feel like I’d owe them something.” 

It seems our society is full of expectant reciprocity, where our acts of kindness come with expectations of repayment. When we receive gifts, we are often expected or feel obligated to give gifts in return. Since genuine acts of kindness are rare, it’s hard for us to allow people to give us things with no expectations in return. 

All five people said yes to my offer; would it be different if I weren’t a confidant, somewhat-put-together college student? Would my offer have been less well received if I were more disheveled or shy? Certainly, despite my appearances, my offer would have been just as good intentioned.

It brings a new dimension to the situation when you wonder if it matters who offers you the coffee. Would we be more or less likely to accept a gift from a stranger or from a friend, for example? 

Would we be more or less likely to accept a gift from a member of the opposite sex? I have to admit, although I had no problem approaching girls, I could not muster the courage to offer coffee to boys. I had to have Morganne do it for me.

Contact Gabriela Leskur at                      gleskur@nd.edu