Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lost in Translation

I have a little sniffle today, so I left work early, took some medicine, and climbed into bed.  Upon waking, I was craving soup.  And so, I ordered Chinese food -- mostly won-ton soup -- from a relatively new place near my neighborhood.  The food is decent and relatively cheap, plus they take credit card, which is important to someone like me, who always seems to have a ton of cash or none at all.

The problem, however, is that their English is bad.  Really bad.  Cliché bad.  So, not only do I live in fear that they're going to send me something bizarre, but no matter how hard I try, they do not understand my address.

In theory, I should be pretty easy to understand:  I speak loudly and clearly and I don't really have a regional accent.  (I worked really hard to get rid of my New Jersey accent when we moved to Florida when I was 12, and I've been largely successful.) Plus, I spell.

I've ordered from this place twice now, and both times, the same thing happened.  The girl on the phone takes my order, repeats it and my address back to me.  She seems to have it perfect.  Still, 20 minutes later, I get a phone call from the delivery driver -- with even worse English -- who is at a different building, on a different street, about half a mile away.  He insists that I gave the wrong address, or that the street he is at is the street that my condo is on.  I barely understand a word he is saying.  He keeps saying something about a hotel.  No, it's not a hotel, it's a condo.  After about 10 minutes of me trying to figure out what he is saying and spelling my street address for him, finally, he seems to understand. Eventually, the food gets here.  The delivery driver keeps showing me the printed receipt, which shows a different address from the one I gave on the phone.

And so, next time, I'm ordering from somewhere else.

Saturday, January 01, 2011


I generally don't make New Year's resolutions, mostly because I generally don't keep New Year's resolutions. Besides, any promise you make to yourself or to anyone else after a few glasses of champagne is likely to be voidable.

This year, however, I have a resolution. A good one. But bear with me -- it requires a bit of an explanation.

The idea started with my CD collection. Despite the move towards electronic distribution of music over the past years, I keep buying compact discs. I like listening to albums as a whole. I like reading the liner notes. I like being able to grab a CD that fits my mood to take with me in the car. I like having a tangible, physical thing, instead of just having the intangible music stored on a hard drive or a .mp3 player. And what if the electronic device fails?

So now, I have entire bookshelves filled with CDs, just sitting in my condo. Of course, I've copied each onto my computer and backed them up on another hard drive. I'm starting to think that maybe it's time to change this strategy. Maybe I should sell the CDs. I don't need them; they are just things taking up space.

Then I think about all of the other things I keep in my house. Do I really need to keep a full bookcase of the books I've yet to read, when I can get books from a library? Do I really need to hang on to my prom dress -- and the elbow length gloves that went with it? People somehow manage to live with far fewer shoes, clothes, and beauty products. What is it that I can't replace? What is it that I really need? What is it that I can't live without?

The answer is depressing: Not a single thing is necessary. No thing is necessary. Nothing is necessary. Nothing. I can live with none of these things.

Under many of the measures of affluence in this country, I am quite wealthy. I have a good job that pays well, and as of this month, when I make my last student loan payment, I am by-and-large, debt free. (Well, except for that pesky mortgage . . . ) I have no significant health concerns. I have no dependents relying on me. I have so much. And yet, I constantly add to my collection of things, and I don't save. I am a shopoholic, and not in a cute, fictional way.

According to this article, I should ask myself these questions before buying anything:

  1. Do you have to buy this item?
  2. Have you found the best deal?
  3. Have you gotten your z's?
  4. Are you buying just because it's on sale?
  5. Have you asked about future deals?
  6. Do you love it and do you need it?
  7. Can you afford it?

I know I fall into the trap of buying because things are on sale, and I know I ignore the part about whether I have to buy things, or love it and need it.

Another article gave five tips for avoiding impulse buys:

  1. Stick to Your List
  2. Get Some Air
  3. Be Critical
  4. Phone a Friend
  5. Use Cash

And so, just like the summer of 2009, when I vowed to not eat meat for a whole month, I am going to spend the first few weeks of the new year putting these tricks and tips into play, trying to not buy anything unnecessary. At a minimum, each time I find myself going for my wallet, I'm going to ask myself whether the purchase is a "want" or a "need," and try to eliminate the "wants." At best, I'm going to try to not spend any money on anything that is not essential -- mortgage, utilities, food, basic hygiene and medical care, and transportation.

Simultaneously, I am going to try to figure out what possessions I can eliminate. Thoreau said, "We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without." I'm going to test that theory.

And thus, I resolve to simplify.