Unless you’ve spent part of your life in the Deep South, you may not be acquainted with the word lagniappe (lan-yap). It describes a long-standing French-Creole tradition in southern Louisiana and parts of neighboring states. It’s defined as a) a small gift given by a merchant to a customer with the customer’s purchase; b) an extra or unexpected gift or benefit. It’s often used to signify a small kindness, or going the extra mile.
I first heard about it from a mentor of mine Naomi Rhode, one of America’s finest public speakers and a past president of both the National Speakers Association and the Global Speakers Federation. In her book My Father’s Hand, Naomi relates a story she often heard as a child from her father, a story I believe illustrates a unique way of showing kindness to others.
“My dad was a giant of a man,” she writes. “His life philosophies, his character, his genuine zest for life, his charisma, his speaking excellence, his love for family, his wisdom, his storytelling (‘to cement life’s teachable moments,’ he’d say), and his faith in God were the foundational elements of my childhood.
“Having lived through the ‘Great Depression’ in our country (about which he was always willing to share stories), he had a true appreciation of thrift. But far beyond thrift was a philosophy of giving. He’d often tell the story of the shopkeeper during the Great Depression:
This shopkeeper was different than all the other shopkeepers in town. When you came into his shop to buy five pounds of coffee beans, he would take his marvelous scale and put a five-pound weight on one side and the empty container on the other. Then he would ceremoniously put the scoop into the bag of freshly roasted coffee beans, scooping and scooping until the once empty container was perfectly balanced with the five-pound weight.
The shopkeeper would then pause – and ‘twinkle,’ and dip the scoop into the bag of beans one more time. With a smile, he would empty that extra scoop of coffee beans on top of what he had so carefully measured, overflowing the container and tipping the scales in favor of you, the customer.
As he smiled and ‘twinkled,’ he would say ‘Lagniappe,’ which in French Creole means: ‘every bit you paid for, and then just a little bit extra.’ It was obviously that ‘little bit extra’ which had created, built and successfully retained the business other shops lost during that difficult time in our nation’s history.
“In telling that story, my dad was extremely convincing! He assured me I would be happy, successful, and even significant in life’s journey if I regularly gave ‘every bit I was paid for, and then a little bit extra’—in my personal life, in my business life, with friends, and with family.”