Words You Hate To Hear
In the same category are “Sold Out,” when you’ve been been waiting in line at a movie theater for 30 minutes (I know you can get tickets online, but sometimes you’ve decided to go out on the spur of the moment); “Closed for Private Party,” when you’ve been looking forward to a meal at your favorite restaurant all day; “Back in an Hour,” when you’ve come crosstown to buy something you need to have immediately; “Not in Service,” when you’ve been counting on using an A.T.M. or getting a Coke; “Use Other Door,” when you’ve gone around a long block to get to what you thought was the main entrance; “Register Closed,” when you’ve been waiting not-so-patiently behind a fellow customer with 25 items; and “The role of Violetta will be sung by the understudy,” when you’ve spent hundreds of dollars to see Renée Fleming.
All of these messages involve something you are bent on doing or have almost done or think you have done, and then, at the threshold of success and gratification, you are stopped in your tracks. Most annoying.
Even more annoying are the messages that are instances of formal and programmatic lying. When the dentist says to you, “This may hurt a little” or “This may sting a little,” you know that pain and discomfort on a massive scale are just around the corner. It would have been better had he or she said nothing. When the mechanical voice that interrupts the bad music that has been serenading you as you wait for a live person says, “Your call is important to us,” everything you’ve already endured and anticipate enduring for many minutes more tells you that nothing could be further from the truth. When the another mechanical voice says, “I’m sorry, but I don’t recognize your response,” you know that she’s not sorry.
And when the tech specialist who has been unable to help you and seems now to be blaming you for his inability asks, ever so politely, “May I put you on hold for a minute?” you know (a) that you have no choice (b) that one minute will become five and then 10 (c) that you are likely to be cut off and put in the position of starting all over again and (d) that in the event he does in fact return, you will be asked to execute still more procedures that will leave you exactly where you were when you were so foolish as to make the call in the first place.
And then there are the messages suggesting that you are either an idiot or a bad person. When you are told by a salesperson or a machine, “Your card has been denied,” you feel that the bank, the merchant and the world have made a judgment on you: deadbeat, spendthrift, bad credit risk. (This would be the case even if you had a million dollars in the requisite account.) When the prompt system intones, “If you want to make a call,” you want to scream, “What do you think I’ve been trying to do?” When the same system says, “To return to the menu,” you are being rebuked for not having a concern of the kind its universe acknowledges.
When you are admonished, “Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed,” the implications are that you don’t listen carefully, and that the options being offered are sufficient to your needs, and if they aren’t, so much the worse for you. When your computer tells you, “This page cannot be displayed,” it is as if it were saying, “What’s the matter with you? Can’t you even master the elementary task of getting on line? Perhaps you have a five-year-old daughter who can instruct you?” And when the same computer says sternly, “Invalid user name,” you wonder if you have been the victim of identity theft or are experiencing the onset of early Alzheimer’s.
So there it is: a list of phrases that make you wince and say (if only to yourself), “Oh, no!”, because they derail expectation or because they offer condescension and prevarication in equal measure or because they accuse you of failures and weaknesses often before you’ve even had a chance to do anything.
I’m sure the list could be longer, and I invite you to add to it. I’ll get the ball rolling by adding two more: “Assembly Required,” which is at least honest in its advertisement and promise of frustration and humiliation; and, finally, a saying that is confined, in my experience, to the South: “We sure don’t,” uttered by a salesperson who is telling you not only that an item you know the store should carry is unavailable, but that she is proud and happy to be disappointing you.”
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