At age 80, any concerns I have about losing my wits are magnified by living in France, where I understand even less than I did in the United States.
I suppose I could attribute my mistakes here to the complexity of everything I must learn anew. But I suspect this might be the easy way out since my skills have always been marginal when it comes to paying attention to details. Grasping the big picture is easy; paying attention to the particulars is not my strong suit.
In the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde says, “There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel no one has a right to blame us.” Perhaps he’s right, and I am confessing my mistakes for that reason.
Details Escape Me
The other day I looked carefully at a newspaper article I’d paid good money to have mounted. It described the Nevada County Meltdown, in which several thousand people lost four tons of weight in eight weeks.
Since I’d played a role in organizing the event and the article was in a national publication, American Profile, I wanted to memorialize it. And it was one of the few souvenirs I brought with me to France.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve looked at the framed newspaper article from time to time for over 20 years and only recently did I notice that the last newspaper clipping (with the picture of the man riding a bike) wasn’t even about the Meltdown; it was on exercising in Albert Lea, Minnesota. It didn’t belong in the frame. I laughed at myself because that’s how bad I am at paying attention.
On a positive note, since living in France, I have managed to keep track of my gate and house keys and two credit cards. Even more amazing, I have been able to memorize the passwords for my cards so I can use them when shopping.
I also have a checking account at a French bank; however, before I write a check, I always have to look at a copy of the last one to remind myself of the format. So at least on those fronts, I maintain a semblance of competency.
Getting Used to the French Way
I run into trouble when trying to read French utility statements I get via snail mail. Ones that look like invoices are instead statements confirming payment. Since I didn’t typically receive confirmations from vendors and utilities when I paid bills in the United States, I’ve mistaken a few receipts for invoices and paid them again. Oh well—that’s what refunds are for!
I also make mistakes at the supermarket. For example, what I thought were sweet pickles (cornichon sucre) turned out to be a bizarre pickle that blended sweet and dill flavors. Small onions were also mixed in, which I didn’t notice until I opened the jar. Those pickles are still in my refrigerator because I can’t figure out what to do with them.
And milk purchasing is a nightmare! It turns out there are dozens of varieties of milk. After standing in the aisle trying to figure out what was what (no fat, low fat, fat-plus, lactose-free, added calcium, and so on), I gave up and grabbed a set of eight bottles that did not require refrigeration.
The next morning, I poured the milk on my cereal. Boy, was it creamy! Attenderella explained that I’d bought milk with extra cream—not quite half-and-half but close.
Packing for Every Alternative
I haven’t done well packing for trips and excursions either. I keep assuming that the weather will be consistent, but I often get fooled.
For example, for an Easter weekend, I took warm-weather clothes since it was in the 80s (Fahrenheit) when we left home. By the time we arrived at our destination, it was rainy and cold.
I survived by wearing the only jacket I’d packed over sleeveless tops. At the last minute, I’d thrown in a pair of lightweight pants. And although they weren’t very warm, at least I didn’t have bare legs.
If my hosts wondered why I wore the same pants and jacket every day for three days, they were too polite to ask.
I’ve also made the opposite mistake–that is, taking cold-weather clothes on an excursion where the weather was hot!
Nowadays, my strategy is to pack a few items for hot weather, a few for moderate weather, and a few for cool weather and hope for the best! My bag always takes up the most room in the trunk of the family car, but I no longer care!
Amazon Needs to Stop Me!
My most recent purchasing mistake was made on Amazon. After spending two hours researching the best covers for my new dining chairs based on durability, washability, and customer reviews, I placed an order. Since I have 6 chairs, I ordered what I thought were 6 covers.
What I failed to notice was that they came 6 to a package. When my son opened the box, he had a hard time figuring out why I purchased 36 chair covers. It wasn’t easy for me to explain.
I assumed I made the mistake because the critical information was in fine print (and also in French). But when I checked Amazon.fr, the number of items was in the bold headline above the description of the covers. Oops!
Consequently, I am now the somewhat embarrassed owner of 36 chair covers. (I’m going to keep two sets—one to use and one for spares when someone spills spaghetti sauce on their lap. And I’ll return the rest.)
I’m sorry for the extra work, Amazon! But shouldn’t you have a feature that stops people like me with a question such as, “Do you really need 36 chair covers?”
In the game of Monopoly, a “Get Out of Jail Free” card can be quite useful. I would like to carry a couple of “Blame Someone Else” cards to use as needed. That way, I’d escape any self-criticism.
Or better yet, I could adopt the French way of thinking to “Prenez le meilleur et laissez le reste,” meaning “Take the best and leave the rest.”
In my case, the “best” is that none of my mistakes are of any significance other than my own minor misfortune and inconvenience. And the “rest” is that most of the time, I manage to get by. Plus, now you can’t reproach me because I’ve already reproached myself.