Sunday, May 06, 2007

Basic Instructions, and translating

I found a really funny online comic strip, and I wanted to share it with y'all. Basic Instructions has been around for a few months, and I just discovered it a few days ago. It's intensely funny; the author is a stand-up comedian, and he writes some amusing stuff. Two of my favorites are How To Wash A Cat, and How To Fake A Smile (this is a problem I have, too). Highly recommended.

I also had a funny moment this morning at the Au Bon Pain on Monument Circle. It's my new favorite place to grab a bite downtown, and I probably catch a bite there two or three times a week. They do a yummy breakfast (including oatmeal on the soup bar) and snacks, and a good lunch too. Most of the staff is great, and they've got a good selection of soups and pastries and sandwiches, all reasonably priced (for a downtown eatery), and they've got killer beef stew, chicken stew, and mac-n-cheese.

They've also got strange policies involving sandwiches. If you want a sandwich, you don't go to the counter and say, "I'd like a sandwich". That would make too much sense. Instead, you have to fill out a little sandwich form, full of poorly-arranged check boxes indicating what kind of sandwich you want. To further complicate the system, they've got three different forms: one for breakfast sandwiches, one for their pre-selected sandwich combinations (say, the "Santa Fe on wheat"), and one for custom sandwiches. There's also nothing to indicate that you need to fill out a form to get a sandwich. I was in line behind a trio of Frenchmen who spoke very good English, but not the bizzare restaurantese spoken by the counter staff at Au Bon Pain (which, you'll notice, is a French name). The first guy said, "I'd like a croissant (pointing at the croissants) with Swiss cheese", in very good English. The counter girl looked at him dumbly; apparently she can't function without the appropriate slip of paper. He assumed the problem was that she didn't understand what he was saying, so he repeated himself. She said, "the sandwiches are over there," and pointed. This seemed like an absolute non-sequitur to the guy. She was clearly pointing at a little stack of papers and pencils, whereas he clearly wanted a croissant. So she gruffly explained that he had to fill out a form to get a croissant with Swiss. This was clearly an alien concept for him, as it was for me -- I had never seen the sandwich requisition forms before. So he found the correct form, and managed to locate "croissant" and "Swiss"; the whole time, she's staring at him in a vaguely hostile fashion, and the line is stacking up behind him. The three French guys eventually managed to get through the line, though it probably took ten minutes for me to get my mac-n-cheese.

She was perfectly polite to me; her rudeness to the French guys might be a remnant of the "freedom fries" mentality. I'm tempted to go back and check to see if they make people without French accents fill out paperwork to get a croissant with cheese.

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