It’s a well-known fact that everything in the US is bigger than the equivalent in the UK. Except for Dorset. And Manchester. And, curiously enough, eggs. American hens must be quite slim, lithe things that are out running at 4.30am in the morning, while their British cousins are still slobbing about in bed, because “extra large” hens’ eggs in the US would only qualify as “large” at best in the UK.
Pints are at a discount in the US too. They are only 16 fluid ounces compared to 20 fluid ounces in the UK. And what on earth is a “cup”? Yes, I know it’s a drinking vessel. But what is it as a measure? Half a pint? In which case, why not just say so?
I mention this because asking for food at the deli counter is a nightmare in the US.
First, there’s the terminology problem.
Second, there’s the apparent incapability of any store associates to even attempt a translation to the appropriate terminology. Even if “half a pint” isn’t what you’d normally expect to hear, are you really telling me you can’t work out what I mean? After all, you know what a pint is. So I want half that.
And then there’s the problem of execution.
It really isn’t rocket science. Although sometimes I think it must be. I remember the first time I was given a check as payment. I walked into my local bank, and completed a deposit slip. Then I took the slip and the check to the counter, slid them both under the glass, and told the assistant that I’d like to pay the check in. She was apparently gripped by almost total paralysis; only her eyeballs moved. She looked me up and down, and glanced at the pieces of paper.
It would have been better if she’d looked upset, or even screamed. At least that would have given me a clue. But all I got was a totally blank look. What did it all mean? Which was, of course, precisely the associate’s problem too. So I did what all foreigners do and just repeated myself, but slower. (I did resist the temptation to shout.) It didn’t work. (It rarely does.)
We looked at each other — and at these two pieces of paper — for what seemed like several minutes. I said the same thing again, but in an American accent. I thought that would probably offend her, but at least it would move things along a bit.
It didn’t do anything. I might as well have been speaking Lithuanian. So then I decided to do what I do in Lithuania, and resorted to body language. But there didn’t seem to be much body language available to me. So I pulled the check and slip back a little, and then thrust them towards her a little more forcefully.
Still nothing. Honestly, I was proffering a check and a paying-in slip; what did she think I was trying to accomplish?
Then it dawned on me. I needed to use the magic word. “Deposit”, I uttered. “Oh!” she said, and completed the job as if time hadn’t just stood still for five minutes. “Have a nice day!”
“Well, I’ll try”, I thought. “But I might need a sanity check first.”
You’ll now understand why being able to deposit a check using a phone app has been received with some relief in my household.
I am reminded of this incident every time I ask a deli assistant for some pre-cooked Asian food. The other day, for example, I saw some tasty-looking Korean fare. So I asked for “eight ounces” of it. Blank look. “Half a pound.” Blank look.
Then I remembered I have to pick a plastic pot size. So I picked the middle one. I don’t understand why I should do the picking, though, because the assistant always seems determined to cram twice as much into it as the pot can realistically take. Do they all go to some sort of pot-stuffing school?
And then, to put the tin lid on it, he put the lid on it. Well, he tried. After much squirting of surplus sauce, he eventually succeeded. And then he weighed it. It did not, course, weigh eight ounces. It actually weighed over ten.
Pretty much every step of this whole sorry process gets my goat.
First, why ask me to pick a pot size — which is a unit of volume — if you are going to charge me by weight? That’s why I asked for the stuff by weight in the first place!
Does this mean that, when bartenders or wait-staff ask me whether I want my beer as “ten ounces or sixteen?”, they don’t mean ounces of the fluid variety? Are they actually using some sort of scales that they keep hidden under the bar?
Second, ten ounces is more than I want anyway; I’m going to have some left over or just get fat!
Third, why the need to overstuff the poor pot? What’s it ever done to you? And haven’t you been doing your job long enough to know that it makes the lid ridiculously hard to put on? In other words, you’re not just irritating me; you’re making your own job harder.
And finally, why do you insist on putting the lid on before you weigh it? Why should I be paying for the weight of the lid? What other packaging are you going to weigh and charge me for? And why should the lid on Korean food be charged at a different rate from, say, the lid on potato salad?
I think I need a drink. “A pint?” Yes, please. “What size?”