When I get some quiet in the back row, I’ll begin.
First slide, please.
Not wishing to belittle, or ridicule, their customers, condom manufacturers who offer their valuable products in a range of sizes don’t call them small, medium and large, but large, massive and colossal. That’s what I’d do if I marketed condoms, anyway. People like to be flattered, to have their fears assuaged and their self-confidence inflated like a hot-air balloon. If this can be done by such a simple action as printing lies on a condom packet, then where’s the harm in that?
It is probably less to avoid ridicule at the point of purchase and more to reassure their customers that the purveyors of toothbrushes in Pattaya seem to have adopted a similar philosophy.
I am in Big C, in the south of the city, on a mission to replace my tired, old, flaccid toothbrush, the one that has been my faithful servant for many months, with something a bit more sprightly and vigorous.
Toothbrushes these days come in a startling range of colours and designs. You can have the bristles arranged like this, or (next slide, please) like that. The fibres can point straight up or be set at a rakish angle. And you can get bristles of different stiffnesses. Over the years, I’ve discovered that the Pobaan dentition responds best to a thorough scouring. It’s only after the gnashers have been heartily scourged by a set of good strong bristles that I can truly say that I’ve removed all of the lingering residues of the day and prepared myself for the soothing reward of sleep.
They have hundreds of toothbrushes here, and each is helpfully labelled to indicate how stiff its tufts of bristles are. I’m looking for hard, but without success. I discover that the hardness scale for toothbrushes starts at medium and then descends through soft, very soft and super soft to ultra soft. Cleaning your teeth with an ultra-soft brush sounds comforting, much like wafting a piece of velvety thistledown across your smile, but is it going to dislodge that bit of barbecued pork (next slide, please) that’s been niggling your molars since lunchtime?
It would appear that the average Pattaya shopper seeks assurance that none of these toothbrushes is so hard that it will wear his pearly-whites away to stumps, leaving him incapable of gnawing on an apple much beyond the age of 25. Otherwise, why are we so afraid to admit that a hard toothbrush is indeed hard? Why does the hardest have to be called medium?
[Adopt serious expression] I find it unsatisfactory that medium should indicate the extreme end of any scale.
It’s the same with Dairy Queen ice cream. In Pattaya, the smallest Chocolate Extreme Blizzard you can get is a regular, the others being medium, large and, for those who don’t want to be seen pigging out in public, takehome. I wonder if DQ have got the psychology quite right here. They’re appealing to people’s greed and desire for a good deal: ‘Yaay! I got a large Blizzard and it only cost me 45 baht.' But what about the modern consumer’s feelings of guilt at consuming a nutritionally worthless, sugar-loaded confection that, while tasting seductive, will surely help them to an early grave? To appeal to this fear, I think DQ should consider calling their Blizzards medium, small, extra small and inconsequential. (To recap, today’s regular would be renamed inconsequential. If you haven’t understood, see me after class.) Consider the attraction: ‘Yaay! I couldn’t resist an ice cream, but I only had an inconsequential so what harm could that do me?’
Perhaps toothbrushmongers and dairy queens should resort to a numerical system to avoid the value judgements that seem to embarrass them so much. Other products are sold by number without all this chicanery. Take bras, for example. Although bra-wearers (women—no jokes, please; they’re our wives and mothers) are almost certainly less sensitive about receiving qualitative assessments based on size than are condom-wearers (men—it’s OK to make fun of men; they’ve got it coming), it’s pretty clear that girls prefer to buy their upper undergarments by reference to numbers and letters rather than by adjective.
But what must it have been like before bras went digital? Observation leads me to believe that the range of chest sizes is so great that dictionaries must have been mercilessly plundered to find sufficient words to cover it. From medium up, they must have used labels such as handful, large, extra large, mammoth, gargantuan, humungous and titanic, while for the less well-endowed lady, going down they must have had bras marked small, extra small, tiny, teeny, poached egg, bee sting, pancake, and flatter than Norfolk.
It’s obvious why a system like that couldn’t have worked in the long term. Let’s hear it for the unsung genius of the bra industry who first hit upon the idea of numbers. Numbers are the future.
Last slide, please. Here I am at the front of the queue: ‘I’ll have a No. 1 toothbrush and a pack of No. 1 condoms, please.’
Aside: If they’re too big, I can always use them as water-bombs at Songkran.
As homework, I want you to revise for next week’s exam.