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Sunday, 12 February 2012


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I'm absolutely in the same boat with you there Mike, and I keep telling myself that it's not me being or getting grumpy, but the whole rest of the world - marketing guys first - keep inventing sillier and more stupid names for the same old things over and over. Hot is hot, goddammit! And sorry for the outburst of grumpiness here...

As long as you can laugh at it you'll be OK. :)

I would pay good money to find the blog where she is posting her side of the story!


I had a similar altercation at the Golden Arches here in Sydney - only it was over the size of a cup of Coke. I was unaware of the proprietary vernacular for a medium size and the attendant was unaware of English. It ended in him refusing me service at all. It is fair to assume that I was fairly well shat off.

THEN! One Saturday afternoon a fortnight later I get a phone call from the POlice because the counter boy had filed a complaint.

As you so rightly suggest: The day is coming and coming fast.


It's just like going for coffee. They don't sell small coffee--just tall.

It'll make you crazy.

Hidden in that exchange is a clash of world-views that I encounter all the time - the young lady in question defined the sauces by their names, while you, Mike, defined them by their properties.

I'm not sure if it you that mentioned schools calling themselves colleges, and colleges calling themselves universities, but this seems to be a part of the same trend. The medium sauce calls itself hot (and incidentally the smallest portion of fries is called medium).

I predict that it will not be long until people get fed up with this, and we see a return to plain, honest labels, but until then, UGH!

"Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved."

It's 2012 already! (Or did you write that post last year?)

This sounds like the food variation of "Who's on first". Excellent stuff! You simply MUST have more conversations like this Mike!!

Waiting for hot sauce- more amusing than waiting for Godot.

No worse than trying to get a Brit to open the end of the car that doesn't have the engine in it, I suppose.

And... you clearly don't eat at Taco Bell as often as I do, or you'd know both the name and the color of the packet :-)

You apparently have far too good memory still to be a grumpy old man. Or is good, but selective, memory actually one of the prerequisites to becoming one?

You certainly are a way off grumpy. I'd've departed in a cloud of diesel&dust around line 5...

Just came to my office and had a great laugh with this, Mike... a priceless beginning of week!

Thanks a lot!

That exchange brought a smile to my face. It reminds me of when I first got to France and I spoke no French at all: how I wished that I could have an exchange like that!

I remember once I was in a hairdresser's salon, and she's washing my hair and asking if the water was too hot or not. Of course, it was too hot! But in between my burning scalp and trying to work out how to say too hot -- she had finished.

At least you got your "regular" sauce!


Gosh how exciting for you Mike to have actually come across an embryonic politician!. It's a new language, it's a new understanding but it isn't ours!

I find your tale very amusing... but the final score was definitely 1-0 to the cheerful girl!

That reminds me of a conversation with the salesperson on the till of the cafe in Stoke railway station. The special deal of the day was buy 1 coffee + 1 sandwich and get a muffin free. I ordered a coffee and sandwich and said I did not want the muffin.
Salesperson: "But, it's the deal of the day, you get a free muffin!"
Me:"Thanks, but I don't want it."
Salesperson: "But it's the same price."
Me: "Thanks, but I would only leave it or throw it away, so I don't want it."
Salesperson: "But you have to have it, it is added automatically on the till."
Me: "Well, you can give it to somebody else."
Salesperson: "I am not allowed to do that."
By this time somebody else appeared in the queue behind me. I asked him if he wanted a free muffin and fortunately he did, so the situation was resolved to everybody's satisfaction.

That's like trying to find a conservative in the UK, ask the MSM and you only get offered The CONservative Party.

Even though there is a perfectly valid (broad church) choice called UKIP, as far as the MSM is concerned there is only one faction of the communitarians (and it is comically called CONservative), and you can have handfuls of it.

Americans would perhaps make the observation that the British CONservative party was perhaps a rather left wing version of Obama.

Sounds like someone made an executive decision and renamed the sauces. I bet the "hot" sauces you got were just like the medium ones you used to have.

A certain supermarket chain in this country is said to rename things. If they sell three versions of some sort of food they might call them basic, standard and gourmet. They stop selling the gourmet, rename the standard as gourmet, and rename the basic as standard. A new version, poorer in quality than the old basic is introduced and named basic. Of course, when they do this the price for each version stays the same even though you are now buying an inferior product.

After a month you are sitting there chewing this stuff and thinking that you don't enjoy this particular food as much as you used to.

Very "Alice in Wonderland"-ish. Hot is hot, except when it is medium. Starbucks pull this game with their beverage sizings where tall is the smallest size (actually the smallest is short but you have to know to ask for that by name). They also call it coffee, but no one is stupid enough to fall for that one.

You're not getting old and grumpy you're just developing an aversion to mealy-mouthed marketing practices.

I just want to point out that this blog entry has all the earmarks of something that could go viral.

When you get a surge of hits to this post, but your analytics show the newcomers don't tend to hang around, a little bit of you will surely wonder whether you could have had an eponymous TV observational comedy in the 90s if that New Yorker hadn't got in first.

It's one of those "delights" of small mid-western cities, something I refer to as "cheerfull incompetence".

I know the feeling. It happens to me when I'm trying to buy toothpaste. It used to be simple. Now the decisions are varied and nuanced, and what used to take 5 seconds now takes 5 minutes.

"What we've got here is (a) failure to communicate." -- from the classic movie Cool Hand Luke.

Who's on first?

People like her are why I don't carry a gun.

Double cheeseburger, onion rings, and a large orange drink…

Wow, you really are clueless. No wonder you get grumpy. You wanted the middle one and didn't know what it was named but definitley not Hot. I feel your pain. She didn't have to figure out change I hope.


I do qualify as a grumpy old man, and these days don't go to fast food restaurants if I can possibly avoid it.

A few years ago a friend and I were in the ordering line of a fast food chain and the behind-the-counter staff were obviously having difficulty getting the orders right and counting out correct change even though the cash registers had pictures of the menu items on the keys and the change was automatically calculated for the staff. After observing for a few minutes my friend turned to me and said "And to think that they put the smart ones up front...".

Sometime later I posted the remark on a website discussion and got an (almost) immediate reply from a manager of such a store: "No, we put the smart ones in back; you can't set yourself on fire with a cash register".

Perhaps if you had related the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to the young lady...

Hope the tacos were worth the experience.



At least you are polite Mike! I was thinking (before I got to the end where the mild, hot, and fire come in), just take the hot and the mild and mix them together to equal "a happy medium."

Ha ha Ha...this is funny on many levels!

1. I've talked to people on the other side of that fast food counter, and while they're smiling, they're also thinking of how they could lob a grenade into your car, because...

2. What is it with Americans that makes them think they should get or deserve the same level of service from a cheapo fast food outlet as they do from a fine dining establishment? Really? Spending all that time dicking around with the selection of hot sauce available, at what I'm sure is NOT a high-end Mexican restaurant? Maybe if you're that picky, a fast food drive through isn't the place for you! I got a buddy who buys a selection of his favorite hot sauces from the bodega so he can put it on his drive through food when he gets home because he IS picky!

People who work in those positions have lots of stories to tell, mostly about why people just can't 'get-with-the-program'. Another one is how many people change their orders between the intercom and when they get to the window, and they can track it by age and education!

I'M a grumpy old man, this is something else. Maybe it's just my Monday morning rant...

For some reason this reminds me of when I was in a Little Chef in the UK a few years ago, having breakfast, and it was not possible to add some extra baked beans to our order because "there isn't a button on the till for baked beans".

In a similar incident, I know someone who wanted scrambled eggs, but was told they only had fried or poached eggs, because "we have run out of the scrambled egg mix".

You couldn't make it up.


The "Fire" is actually the one with decent, recognizable flavor, and isn't hotter than the "Hot". The "Hot" is their traditional flavor, and IMO hotter than "Fire." Somewhere there's probably a Venn diagram for all of this.

There's apparently also a "Fire Roasted" and a "Verde," neither of which I've seen or tasted.

Oh, that's not about becoming a "grumpy old man" but rather that communication will inevitably breakdown between the ages and stages of marketing. She almost certainly didn't work at Taco Bell when the sauce names were mild/medium/hot... try talking to a current camera store employee about film types!

Naturally, since your conversation occurred in America, I'm sure there was a lawyer in the car behind you ready to sue the parent company for "gross sauce misrepresentation" and "emotional meal distress" if that labelling change made your choice too spicy. ;)


If you were a comedian, you'd be cherishing your new found bit.

Photography teaches us that if we step back, we change perspective. If only it were so easy to do in real life, in the moment.

We call it "Taco Hell" just for that reason. Thanks for the Monday morning smile!

I don't get the problem. This is America, where "Large" is the middle.

Goes to show, eating at Taco Bell is a punishment to the entire body.

Sigh. Yes, I'd end up grumpy eventually myself. Since Taco Hell is my first-choice fast food I know the menu well enough I don't have that exact problem, but at less-familiar places something like it comes up all the time.

Actually, I think we might have the same underlying condition that leads to this problem -- too verbal (verbal skills too high). And maybe our natural reaction of recasting sentences that don't seem to be understood just leads to more confusion, as people try to compare two things they didn't quite understand to figure out what we might be trying to say.

*I* can't see anything confusing about how you initially asked. I'd instantly understand that you knew we had a range of heat in sauces, and you wanted one in the middle, and since the basic sequence is "mild", "hot", "fire", it's clear which one is in the middle. (They also have green and fire-roasted these days, don't know where those place on the heat scale. And if she isn't old enough to remember having just the three, that could also have been the source of the problem. At every TH I've been to, the three basic ones are together and the extra two are apart, though, so the concept of a heat scale ought to still be comprehensible.)

There is a trend in a few coffee shops to, in my mind, mislabel the size of their coffee. If I order a medium size coffee I get what I would call a small. They have medium, large, and extra large but no small. WTF?? I guess they can advertise that their medium size coffee is less expensive than their competition. All I want is "the one in the middle", which by definition is the medium....
now get off my lawn....

Well sir, that's what you get for buying you hot sauce in packets!

I commend the Not Always Right site to you -


You've got a long way to go to catch up with some of the other customers!

I can't think of specific examples, but I swear I've been both people in this conversation. The problem is that "hot" to you is "the spiciest one", an adjective, and to her it's "the one in that packet", a technical term. When we use an common word as a technical term all day every day, we can easily get locked into that interpretation and literally not understand sentences that use it normally.

I'd like to think that 30 seconds after you drove away she said quietly to herself "OH! That's what he meant! .. sorry, sir."

Hilarious, reminds me of Jack Nicholson's wonderful diner scene with the waitress (Lorna Thayer's most memorable performance) in Bob Rafelson's 1970 film, "Five Easy Pieces":


Jack Nicholson would be proud!!

I used to work in a call center that helped people make journey plans for using public transport.

Ok, your next 112 bus from stop-A on Oldham street, will depart at 11.52am.

"So 52 minutes to 12:00?"

No, that's 11:08.

"I'm confused"

Eight minutes to twelve

"Why didn't you just say that?"

It was at times like this that I often wondered how they managed to get a leg in each knicker hole in the morning.

You too have reached the age where you are tolerated by, and a source of amusement for younger women. It's pretty brutal.

Do you have trouble at Starbucks, too? I personally refuse to use their naming convention. They have three sizes, so for me that means they have small, medium, and large. I realize that by refusing to call them tall, venti, and grande I am merely practicing my own ascent (no, not descent) into crumudgeonness, but frankly I am ready. I am not of a mind to pander to that sort of nonsense.

You were using an adjective, she was using a noun. As a disinterested ( but grumpy, lol) observer, Methinks, in this instance, you doth complain too much.

I have this same sort of feeling in the drive-thru almost every time. "I'd like a small Coke." "We only have Medium and Large."

I'm glad to hear that Gracie Allen has come back from the grave!

I've been watching George Burns re-runs lately...

That's one of the funniest skits I've heard in a long, long time. Nevermind that it's real life and actually happened!

I love it.

I have discussions like that with my wife, and she accuses me of being a grumpy old man, or hard of hearing, or not paying attention.....


Just take the extra packets, and send them to me. TSA keeps confiscating my little bottle of Tabasco sauce at the airport, and little packets of hot sauce would be just the thing for spicing up those "airline MREs" they sell on the planes now.

Well if it makes you feel any better, those wern't tacos and that certainly wasn't hot sauce. So I can understand your confusion. If you ever come out here to San Diego we'll get you some real Mexican food and take it to MOPA where all the young photo groupies will throw themselves at the illustrious editor of TOP. It really is that good out here.

This is sadly a disease that rears it's ugly head everywhere. Isn't the smallest coffee at Starbucks a Tall (with Grande and something else above it)?

Even the local pizza joint here has a “medium“, “large”, “jumbo” scaling system for their pizza. Which means if you want a medium-sized pizza you have to order “large”.

Photography isn't much different. When I grew up my father referred to the 135 film size as “small film”. Now everyone seems to call it Full Frame!

I've noticed that young people working at fast-food outlets don't listen well, period. It's like they are either preoccupied with something on their mind, or they're stuck in a script that they can't deviate from.

Unlike some people, before I go into a fast-food establishment, I generally know exactly what I want before I walk through the door, or enter the drive-thru.

But as I mentioned before, the kids working the drive-thru window or the counter have a script that they can't deviate from. It happens to me every time. I will give them my order "exactly," and I will end it with either "that will be to go," or "that will be for here."

You probably know by now where I'm going with this. I end up repeating the order to them, or as they are entering the order into the POS terminal, they will say: "Is that for here or to go?"

Thanks Mike - I needed that.

I'm on her side.

Mike:Of course, you could have taken four of each and handed her back the ones you didn't want. But then, she couldn't take them back because, well you know, we can't take anything back. They might be infected with the well-known geezer virus and they can't have that. No, sireee.

Who's on first? Third base!

Fast-food tacos are not fit for human consumption.

Living as I do in a nation with no such thing as a drive-thru taco outlet, I had a good old chuckle at that. It's like the coffee places that have names like Tall, Grande and Venti. I always normalise these to Small, Medium and Large and the staff get confused when I don't use their nomenclature. They have to learn.

Being a Brit that now lives in North America, I'm amazed at what retail staff put up with from you lot, you want the moon on a stick!

Just take the handful and drive off, if it's not what you wanted then tough luck.

Sort of reminds me of this:

This sketch is only funny because it's true. People in the West worry and complain about such trivial matters, other people around the world have far greater woes.

Canada's national coffee chain recently introduced a new size. Since the new size was larger than the biggest existing size, and that was already called an extra-large, the chain decided to call the new size extra-large and rename all the existing sizes by the next smallest name. So, if you used to order a medium, you now get a large (old size).

Another reason I don't shop there! lol

People working in that kind of job are programmed to not think. Simple as that. Part of the economic equation.

Sounds a bit like Garrison Keillor's riff on Starbuck's. Keillor asks the server for a large coffee, and the server says we have tall, grande and venti. And Keillor says, I'll have that one. And the server says, which one? Keillor: the large one. Server: the venti? K: Yes, that one. S: Well, say it sir: "venti." And on and on ... Keillor refuses to say the word venti. And the server refuses to take his order if he won't say venti.

Ha! I can sympathize. I always ask for a small Coke at McDonalds and they always tell me they don't have small, only medium and large (and maybe a super large or jumbo, I forget). Someday I'm going to ask why they don't call the smallest one small and the next medium and the largest a large.

There's a very funny sequence on one episode of Portlandia where a couple goes in to buy the most basic cell phone package. The Customer Service rep goes through this hilarious list of packages, none of which have names as simple as small medium, large.

I have to step in and educate all of you about the sizes at Starbucks. There is a fourth size you can order. It is called a short. It's the smallest and cheapest cup of coffee they sell. It's about the size of a coffee from the early 1970's, before people hydrated for the day from one big cup. Yes. It's called a "short." That makes four sizes in total.

You can still (at least in Texas) say, "small, medium and large" and get what you expect but "short" is off menu and should be ordered specificially as a "short."

No wonder you all are so confused about coffee...

Blame all around. First with our educational system. :) Mr. Dyer-Bennet was right when he said "...since the basic sequence is "mild", "hot", "fire", it's clear which one is in the middle." The clerk should have known that and stated that "hot" is what we call the middle sauce.

Of course Mike, like the rest of us, should not expect much at a fast food joint. Often it isn't the brightest who work there, but we shouldn't jump to conclusions. I worked fast food when I was in college. It was flexible enough to work around my educational needs.

The food chains should accept some blame too. One would expect a medium when the others are called mild and hot. When many stores offer 12oz, 20oz and 32oz cups for their small, medium and large drinks, respectively, others stores go from 12oz to 32oz to "you've got to be kidding me."

As a fellow grumpy old man in training, and of similar age and facial attire, I made a rule for myself that I would never eat or drink anything that took longer to order than it did to serve, or longer to queue for than it did to consume.

Some years ago our local court required that certain documents be on colored paper -- specific colors for specific pleadings. I was in charge of preparing a pleading that had to be on yellow paper. Dutifully, I prepared the document on yellow paper only to have it rejected by the clerk.

"Why?", I asked. "The paper is yellow."

The clerk looked at me as if I was a moron. "You used buttercup," she told me with a straight face. "It should be on goldenrod".

The following year the legislature passed a law that all pleadings in California were to be submitted on white paper only.

Reminds me of the Bob Dylan song My Hearts in the Highlands and his dialogue with the waitress;

She studies me closely as I sit down
She got a pretty face and long white shiny legs
She says, “What’ll it be?”
I say, “I don’t know, you got any soft boiled eggs?”

She looks at me, says, “I’d bring you some
But we’re out of ’m, you picked the wrong time to come”


I have noticed that some places do not have small sizes of drinks. Only medium and large. Obviously I purposefully ask for small now!

should not expect much at a fast food joint. Often it isn't the brightest who work there

Last year, our local MacCardboards was recruiting. They had a big sign stating JOB'S.

This errant apostrophe and the incorrect lower case i in their 'i'm loving it' logo is enough to make me realise it's not the brightest who run it either.


How do you feel about Starbucks? Grande, venti, and whatever the heck else they offer?

BTW, for those on the site slamming 'bucks for the "Tall" coffee, the truth is, there has always been a "Small", and those who know Starbucks and have been customers, like, forever, know about it. When I don't want a lot of coffee, I sometimes ask, with a wink, for the Secret Small, and they produce that cup smaller than the "Tall" cup, that has always been available, just unadvertised! BUT, it's like a dime less than the tall, so doesn't make much sense...

Okay: some years ago I'm ordering food at an internationally known fast food restaurant. When I'm given my change, the cashier doesn't have enough pennies; so, she says "I owe you three cents." Three cents, not a big deal, but it suddenly occurred to me that I should not walk out of a multi-billion dollar corporation as a creditor! The cashier was paralyzed when I asked for my three cents; she just stared at me, not able to figure out that, just maybe, she could ask one of her colleagues for three cents (something I even suggested to her). A customer behind me agreed with me, noting that if "They get a penny from you, and a penny from me, and a penny from everybody else and they'll be rich!" Finally, the manager comes over, yelling (indirectly) at me, as if I was a troublemaker; the manager gave me a nickel -- two cents more than the three I was owed -- and that was that. But it made me think: either this one particularly mentally slow cashier; or the workers have so many rules to follow that they're terrified of deviating one bit from THE SYSTEM; or both; or something else.

Recently I went into a fast food place and saw that they had one dollar soft drinks on their value menu. When they asked me for my order I ordered a "small" soft drink thinking that was the one selling for a dollar.

When the cashier rang up $1.59 I said, "Aren't the small drinks a dollar?". She said, "You ordered the small, the "value" drink is a dollar."

"Ahhhh, I see. I'll have to remember that."

Mario, Mario, Mario...I never order the small, large or anything when I'm cheaping out, I ask specifically for the dollar fries, dollar breakfast burrito, dollar soda, dollar whatever...no one ever has a problem fulfilling my order...never assume anything...

Just as an aside, I do a lot of mailing stuff, and I'm at the post office at least two to three times a week. Sure the post office sucks, and the mail delivery at my address is so bad, I have to defend myself by getting a post office box for my important papers, BUT, no matter when I go, or what racial, social, financial class the customers are in, they are all idiots! Does no one even understand how to mail anything any more?

It is so unbelievable, I stand in line slack jawed listening to the people. No one can even figure out how to buy a stamp. And everyone, from your grandmother to the cute college coed, thinks nothing of nervously chatting endlessly with the clerk and making every transaction last longer than it needs to, by double. Don't even start me on people who bring packages in, loosely wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, when you haven't been able to do that for twenty years or more! The clerks have every right to go "postal", I would have done it a hundred times by now if I had worked for them. They just need to go "postal" on the customers and not each other!

BTW, I chortle endlessly when I see these PBS specials on hot-dogs stand around the country, or foodie carts, or whatever food service they're doing a little special on; and in some of these places, if you don't know how to order when you get to the front, they push you aside and go to the next, they don't have time for your little stupidity. If people were aware of their surroundings and just listened to the others in line, they'd get it in two minutes. Some people might be scandalized, but I just laugh and feel good about stuff like this still surviving in America!

To be fair, maybe she is an Abbot and Costello fan and saw an opportunity.

Thirty years ago I visited Trieste, an austrian-looking town in north-eastern Italy. In a restaurant I asked for a coffee. The waiter asked me: "A smooth one?"
"Yeah, smooth, or what else?"
"What's 'smooth'?" (laughs in the background)
"It's a coffee."
"So, why do you call it smooth?"
(disgusted) "Because it is nothing but coffee"
"That's fine, I'll have a smooth coffee".
Later I discovered that normal - non-smooth - coffee usually contained some grappa, i. e. a 40° alcoholic drink. If you didn't want grappa, then you had to ask for a smooth coffee.

Been there, done that.

"I would like a medium drink"

"Sorry, we only have small, large, and extra large."

"You have three sizes, I asked for medium, that means I want the size in the middle."

Left unsaid: "Your employer is being a dick. You're being a dick for perpetuating it."

My last employer played a forklift training video quite loudly at least once a month. I remember there being two left pedals and no right pedal. Or two lefts and a right (but no middle). I'm glad I didn't have to drive a forklift because after that video I'd probably have put it through a wall trying to remember which left pedal was gas and which left pedal was brakes. All in the name of safety!

Went to a big box hardware store (based in Wisconsin) in Chicago. I asked the middle aged guy clerk for a sheet of Masonite (granted, Masonite no longer makes masonite, but...). He looked at me blankly. "How about tempered hardboard?" Still a blank look. "How about pegboard?" I asked. "Oh that's in sheet goods." he replied. "Well its pegboard without the holes" I said and went off to the next aisle.

Reminds me of the time I ordered a pint of beer at the local pub. The young waitress asked if I wanted the 16 ounce or the 23?

And I'll often order a "medium black coffee" at Starbucks, only to have them ask if I want "room for dairy"?

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