There are far too many brands available for every goddamned thing out in the U.S.! And each brand says that it offers something obscure which the other ones don’t. Of course, this makes simple tasks, which we’d usually perform almost involuntarily here, take many times longer to do than here. This is the Problem of Choice.
Take good old Coffee, for example. At the Conference, I wanted a simple cup of coffee. You know, the few hundred millilitres of steaming, muddy brown liquid we consume in unstable, thin, crumply plastic cups at weddings, scalding the tips of all fingers by the time we’re done. How long does it take to get yourself a cup of coffee? Fifteen seconds at max? Well, it took me far, far longer than that the first time at the conference. Let me contrast Here and There:
Locate where they’ve got coffee and tea tanks. There’s one labelled Tea, and the other Coffee. Big pile of plastic cups beside. Take one, hold under Coffee tank, turn the tap on, fill cup, turn off, walk away. Enjoy juggling the cup from hand to hand.
Time: 15 seconds.
Locate where they’ve got coffee and tea tanks. Realise they haven’t got any. They’ve got a whole line of flasks there, along with multiple envelopes, stirrers, glass cups, plastic cups, mugs, glasses and a large subset of an average kitchen-full of other things. Read labels on flasks. Latte. Decaf. (?? What about “Coffee”?) There are other machines with buttons that have a picture of a coffee cup on them, but have weird names like Expresso, Ristretto, and other ones. No, I don’t think I saw a Stiletto. I don’t think that would have gone too well down my throat. Where’s Coffee? A kind soul tells me that I could have any one of these; all of them were Coffee. OK. I settle on Decaf. The name sounded the most like Coffee – perhaps it was American slang for “The Coffee”. You know? De Caf. Take a cup. Pour out Decaf. Out comes the darkest, most foul-smelling liquid you’ve seen. Oops. Perhaps Decaf is slang for Skunk Gland Juice. No way can I drink it like this. Maybe here we need to add milk too.
Locate Milk. Turns out they have Full-fat, Skim, Toned, and numerous others labelled with varying percentages of fat. Hmm. Skim looks the least harmful. Pour Skim into cup until we get Normal Colour, till it at least *looks* like the Coffee back in India. Sip nervously. Nope. Still tastes like something from a skunk. Maybe sugar would help. Do I try sugar cubes, powdered sugar, sugar crystals, sugar packets, or sugar-free sugar substitues? Aarrgh! I want ^$%#ing sugar, dammit! I try the crystals. Nope. Keep adding more. Traces of the skunk reduce, but they’re still there.
By now a small crowd of about a half-dozen curious onlookers has gathered. I try to give them my most winsome smiles. One of them later tells me it looked like those faces you make when Nature calls most vociferously. I try more sugar. In fact, I keep trying till I can see the letters D-I-A-B-E-T-E-S floating in the cup. After a few iterations of Try-Sip-Almost Retch I can tolerate the concoction. Coffee, anyone?
Time: 11 minutes, 39 seconds = 699 seconds.
And they say it’s Easy the American Way! Bah!