The other day, a patient of mine who grew up in Louisiana used a word that was new to me. He described how he ordered take out from his favorite Cajun restaurant for his birthday. The employee on the phone asked if he would like dessert. He declined, saying “It is my birthday; but, I’m watching what I eat right now, so no thank you.” He told me that when he brought his food home and opened the bag, there was a small container of chocolate mousse with a candle in it, and an inscription that read “Happy Birthday.” He said it was a traditional Louisiana lagniappe. He went on to explain to me the concept of a lagniappe as a “little something extra.”
According to Wikipedia, a lagniappe is a small gift given to a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase (such as a 13th doughnut when buying a dozen) or more broadly, “something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure.”
The word entered English from the Louisiana French adapting a Quechua word brought in to New Orleans by the Spanish creoles. It derived from the South American Spanish phrase la yapa (referring to a free extra item, usually a very cheap one). The term has been traced back to the Quechua word yapay (‘to increase; to add’). In Andean markets it is still customary to ask for a yapa when making a purchase. The seller usually responds by throwing in a little extra. Although this is an old custom, it is still widely practiced today in Louisiana. Street vendors, especially vegetable vendors, are expected to throw in a few green chilies or a small bunch of cilantro with a purchase. (Wikipedia, again)
This word got me thinking about the importance of always doing a little something extra for our patients, just purely to show that we appreciate them, and value them, as people. This is different from marketing, or even customer service. I’m talking about showing pure appreciation for a person without an ulterior motive.
This can take numerous forms: a hand written birthday card, a call to follow up after the patient shared a troubling situation in their life, a note to congratulate the patient on reaching a goal, or any number of other ways that resonate with YOU. The thing is, it has to be authentically you, or it feels fake; it feels like marketing. And that is the opposite of lagniappe. It’s all about extending grace to fellow human beings, in a way that brightens the day a little bit. We can all use that.
What are some ways you can bring this concept into your daily life?