Friday, July 6, 2012

Why Does This Story Still Bother Me?

Italy is a country that is famous (infamous?) for having no rule that cannot be bent, twisted or outright broken. With sound logic and/or a sad story you can sway pretty much anyone to do pretty much anything for you, even if its not 100% by the book. It is because of this, coupled with an unhealthy love of certain foods, that I knew that some of my friends here would be amused by a few choice stories of mine and my father’s from the good old US of A, which is famous/infamous for the exact opposite.

Story Number 1: My mother and I went to one of those places in the North West where you can pick your own apples, and in exchange you pay very little for them. When we had finished we saw that they also had zucchini that were ready to be picked, and on those zucchini the biggest, most beautiful zucchini flowers we had ever seen. Now Italians love their zucchini flowers, on pasta, stuffed with mozzarella and fried, nom nom nom. We asked hey, can we buy them off you? No they said, they don’t sell them. So what do you do with them? We throw them away, they responded. So…. Can you give them to us? No. In conclusion, they were so flabbergasted by this odd request, not even knowing that zucchini flowers are edible, that they preferred throwing them away rather than giving them to us. We left with faces reminiscent of a child’s when you give them a toy to touch for five seconds and then snatch it away. 

Story Number 2: My father was living in New York back in the day when espresso was nonexsistent in the United States. Italians are very particular about their coffee, and he was dreaming of having a proper espresso at night. One day he was told that at a fancy hotel they had just bought this super fancy pants espresso machine that made real Italian coffee, and before he could finish his sentence my father was there. He saw that the machine had settings one through five and that the machine was set at five, which still made a coffee that was 3-4times what he was used to. 

Dad: Great! I want an espresso, but make mine on the “one” setting
Barista: … No, I can’t touch the machine
Dad: If you can’t touch the machine, how are you going to make the coffee?
Barista: I mean I can’t touch the setting
Dad: But… that’s what it’s there for!
Barista: I can’t touch the machine Sir.
Dad: Look, if you’re afraid of breaking the machine I’ll come behind the counter, change the setting myself, and if it breaks you can sue me and I’ll pay for it
Barista: I can’t do that Sir
Dad: Please get the manager. (To manager) can I please have my espresso on the one setting now?
Manager: No Sir.

My father wanted to jump behind the counter and slap him, but eventually was forced to leave without his coffee. I can only imagine how livid he was.

Actually I don’t have to imagine, because I have one of these little stories of my very own.

Story Number 3: I was twelve years old and very excited to be cooking for my American family. I decided to make them a pasta all’amatriciana, a typical Roman pasta that is awesome. However you need cubed bacon for it (guanciale really, but I’ll take what I can get), and as you all know bacon in the States is sold very thinly sliced. Thin slices crisp up and taste completely differently, there was no point in making it without the cubed bacon, so my grandmother and I go in search of unsliced bacon. We must have gone to six different supermarkets and finally, success! I find one with a meat counter, where I spot a young man standing in front of a piece of bacon the perfect size for me. There was no one else at the counter, I run up and say

Me: Great! Can I have that piece of bacon please?
Meat Guy: How would you like that sliced?
Me: No thanks, no need to slice it, just wrap it up for me.
Meat Guy: I can’t do that.
Me:… And why not?
Meat Guy: Because I’m supposed to sell sliced bacon
Me: Do you sell it by the slice or by the pound?
Meat Guy: By the pound
Me: Right, so what difference does it make to you if it’s sliced or not? It weighs the same! I’m offering to buy the whole piece!
Meat Guy: I have to slice it.
Me: Ugh fine! Give me four slices half an inch thick then
Meat Guy: I can’t do that
Meat Guy: My slicer doesn’t slice that thick
Me: And how thickly does it slice?
Meat Guy: about a quarter of that
Me: So why don’t you pick up that big knife there and slice it yourself?
Meat Guy: No, I have to slice it with the slicer

At this point my grandmother rushed up to me and physically pulled me away from this asshat, because I was about to jump over the counter, strangle him and grab the bacon myself. Here is this twelve year old girl arguing with an adult, trying to reason with him, and the crazy thing was she never spoke up except to inquire if the manager was around (which he wasn’t). What was worse she seemed to think it was perfectly normal for this guy to categorically refuse to sell me the bacon without slicing it first, and it was incomprehensible to me.

Telling this story I was getting agitated, and my friends were laughing hysterically partially at the story, but partially because it seemed as though, twelve years later I still hadn’t gotten over not getting my bacon. Of course I’m not still upset about the bacon (I wound up finding some unsliced Canadian bacon further on, in your face meat guy), but something about this story was definitely still bothering me. The question was, why?

I realized that it had to do with the utter lack of logic that I was butting heads with. It was not only the inability to reason and follow a logical train of thought to a seemingly obvious conclusion, but more tragically it was the fact that this pigheadedness was considered perfectly normal by others around me, in this last case my grandmother. Of course he didn’t listen to you, what do you expect? He’s not paid to think! You were asking him a huge favour, you can’t blame him for not complying.

WHAT??!! That is what still upsets me today. Why can’t normal, non-academic people think for themselves also?! Being logical is not supposed to be the rare glowing pride of a few braniac philosophers, it’s supposed to be one of the fundamental aspects of the human brain. Of course there are people everywhere who are going to be stubborn and completely illogical even in the most mundane cases, but the rest of us are supposed to think that it’s weird and call it out, not accept it as the new societal norm!

I know it still looks like I’m getting worked up over bacon, but I hope I’m making it clear that it’s not about that. It’s about arbitrary rules and people blindly accepting to follow them no matter what their heads tell them, regardless of how stupid or pointless the rule is. It’s about refusing to buy into the idea that a blind acceptance of authority is not a good trait to find in someone. It’s about not wanting anyone to think that being a sheep is admirable and the new societal norm, and I felt like this story of my twelve year old head butting into a brick wall stirred up these old emotions in me. The emotions that tell me that no, I am no longer mad at the meat guy,

Now I just feel really sorry for him.


  1. We see eye to eye.

    Your anger is driven at the fact that America is a society in which logic has become a rare commodity.

    What was once called Common Sense, is no longer common, thus I actually call it good sense.

    We live in an age of free information, reduced responsibility, and less freedom.
    People fear thinking independently, as that can cause friction, and no one wants to be the jerk who always shoots their mouth off.
    I would know, I was that jerk for seven years in the Army.

    Which brings me to my point.

    When people fear losing their jobs, offending one another, being labeled, and taking responsibility, you get a society of inactive finger-pointers, bent on shifting blame and dodging eyes. People who allow themselves to become thoughtless, witless drones.
    They wallow miserably, living what can feel as pointless lives, subservient, and identity-less.

    When faced with the earth shaking revelation of choice, of non-linear thinking, and new options, the panic.
    You shatter their world when you tell them they can mix blue with red to make purple, and yellow and blue for green.
    The rampant fear of the unknown explodes in their minds in a silent instant, challenging every single perception of the world as they know it.
    In that moment, the system resets, a variable Blue Screen of Death within their mind.
    They have a Crash Dump, as their processors cannot handle the stress of the information flow.
    Then they do what soldiers do when shot at, and children do when scared, even sleepy people when driving: the got of their conditioning.
    They willfully revert to mindless autonomy, like half-wit robots, they spew their programming and flail.
    They warn Will Robinson of danger, with a deer in the headlights look of befuddlement, as the deepest recesses of their mind screams 'THIS CANNOT BE DONE!'

    And that to me is more frightening than anything else.

    Perhaps that is why it still angers you.


    1. well, perhaps I was trying to be a little less dramatic than that when telling a story essentially about bacon, but yea that sounds about right :)