Wednesday, July 14, 2010

One ice cube

On her first day on the job, a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines received a word of caution from another member of the flight crew, "The passengers are generally pretty nice, just watch out for the Californians."

Being from California herself, the new flight attendant asked, "What do you mean? What's wrong with the Californians?"

"Well," explained the experienced flight attendant, "they always want something very specific, like a Diet Coke with lemon, and one ice cube instead of two."

More than one ice cube

While order modifications might be a bit annoying when you're trying to work your way efficiently through a cabin, most flight attendants would probably agree that there are worse things that could happen on airplanes than a passenger asking for a specific number of ice cubes in a drink. In fact, I would gladly give someone just one ice cube in exchange for evidence that they're actually thinking about and experiencing the world around them.

"Last time they gave me 5 ice cubes and left room for almost no liquid, so this time I'll ask for just one ice cube. More liquid, a little bit of cool ice, that sounds about right."

"This Diet Coke tastes like crap, a little lemon would go a long way towards making it taste like something I should be ingesting on purpose."

Those are perfectly reasonable lines of thinking to me. A person that repeatedly gets annoyed by too much ice or crap-tasting diet cola and never tries to fix the problem isn't being polite, they're just being dense.

Two questions:
1) Is hyper-discerning taste to the point of being annoying to others a Californian trait? I'm Californian, so I'd like to know how much I'm bothering the rest of the world every time I ask for no guacamole on my burrito or walk an extra 3 blocks out of my way to get to the good coffee shop.

2) While I'm in favor of people having discerning tastes, perhaps there's a balance to be sought? After hearing more and more people with bizarrely specific food orders lately, I'm starting to wonder: have we reached a point of too much choice in Western society?

Today I overheard an order for "a medium decaf non-fat extra-hot latte", and recently a man in front of me ordered "an extra-large mocha, but hold the whipped cream 'cuz I'm trying to watch my weight". Starbucks has made preposterously complex orders into a fashion statement. In fact the only thing that ever seems to faze a Starbucks barista is an overly simple order. Order a single cappuccino at Starbucks next time just to enjoy the 10 seconds of confused blinking while the barista waits for you to add a litany of modifications to the beverage. Ordering an extra-hot wet half-calf skinny venti quad caramel macchiato no whip with legs is almost boringly normal by comparison.

On one hand, you have to give Starbucks credit for making people personally identify with ultra-complicated beverages that all taste like frothy scalded milk. On the other hand, it makes me wonder what larger effects this might have. Would we be better off with less choice and more room for compromise?

[Photo by Chrysaora]