Aug 02, 12: The choice is yours
“Becky’s dinah, nothing finah.”For somebody coming from a country that has “our land is poor, so it remains, if you long for gold, a stranger sure abandons it, but to us, the most precious land is this” written in the national anthem, having too many options isn’t always a good thing.
After all, life is so much easier when there are just two TV channels, like in the Finland of my youth, or when the breakfast choice was simply porridge with strawberry dessert creme, which I had when Dad took me to the diner around the corner from our apartment in the Helsinki of my youth.
Now, it’s also a matter of personality, some people like to have a lot of choices and go through each alternative to make sure their decision is the best possible one, and reward the ultimate one. Psychologists call these people maximiers, “individuals who obsess over decisions — big or small — and then fret about their choices later”.
I’m more of a satisfier. I make a decision and then I’m pretty happy with it, no matter what.
Now, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to make a decision, and should you walk along our street after dinner time, you’d often see me standing just outside our house, looking into the abyss, somewhere far, far away. You might think I just had a giant idea, but no, I’m just trying to decide whether to walk or ride my bike to the gym. (That stage comes after I’ve stood inside for 15 minutes, trying to make up my mind about going to the gym).
Added choices obviously add to the problem.
A good ten years ago, Wife and I were in Rome with Brother-in-Law, walking around, when we suddenly saw a little shop that sold soccer jerseys. Said brother-in-law decided he wanted one so we walked in.
Inside, though, a perfect storm started to brew in his brain for two reasons. One, he couldn’t decide which one to get. Whether 'tis nobler in Stockholm to walk around in a Maradona shirt, or a Ronaldo shirt. To buy or not to buy? That was the question.
“They’re so cheap that you can buy two,” I told him.
That didn’t help.
Yes, he realized, he could buy two, but which two? And should he really - really - buy two? Wasn’t that a little wasteful? Wasn’t that going over the top? Did he really need two soccer jerseys?
“I have to think about this,” he said and walked out the door. He then sat on the sidewalk across the street, staring at the store, thinking about money and Maradona and Ronaldo. And all his choices.
Ten minutes later, he stood up, walked in to the store, and came out with two jerseys. And he was satisfied.
Nowhere is decision-making as difficult as in an American diner. Say you want a cup of coffee and a sandwich? In Finland - of my youth - you got a cup of coffee and a sandwich. You don’t like Finnish pepperoni or cheese? Leave them.
But in the US, there’s always another choice to be made. What kind of coffee? Regular or decaf? What kind of sandwich? Ham? What kind of bread? Rye. Would you like milk or sugar with your coffee?
And the more you order, the more choice you have.
Wife and I have turned this into a game in which we try to make the perfect order. You get minus-10 points for each question the waiter asks you. I have never been even close to zero. There are so many different things to choose from and over that I can’t even anticipate them. She's much better at it, which is why she holds the family record in ordering.
Almost exactly ten years ago, during a summer almost as hot as this one, Wife and I were in Portland, Maine, to visit Son Godfather and his wife. Now, he wasn’t Godfather yet because there was no Son, and Wife wasn’t Wife, but that’s beside the point.
On our last day there, we went to Becky’s diner for breakfast. We looked at the menu, and decided in what to have, and as the waitress came to our table, Godfather and his wife told he what they wanted, asking questions about the type of bread that was available.
I ordered eggs - scrambled, always - and coffee, and toast, and an orange juice. I was minus-40 when it was Wife’s turn. She looked and me, I looked at her. We nodded. She was ready.
She ordered a full breakfast, with ham on rye and eggs with the sunny side up and a Earl Grey tea with some milk and honey – and then a blueberry muffin.
She put the menu back on the table and looked at the waitress. She was still writing it all down, and then looked up.
“Would you like your muffin toasted?” she then asked Wife.