Friday, February 5, 2010

Same, Same

I met a very nice lady recently who is originally from Estonia, a small country on the Baltic Sea, at the very northwestern edge of the former U.S.S.R. She was a teacher there, and we had an interesting conversation about cultural matters. Whenever something, good or bad, about our homelands was markedly similar, she would say: “Same, same.” There was something so profoundly black and white about this turn of phrase, it appealed to me immediately.

I’m a black and white kinda guy. I have a hard time with “gray areas.” Letting one’s “yea be yea, and nay be nay” has always seemed to me to be very much preferable to “spin.” I hate spin. The Jim Carey movie Liar, Liar is one of my favorites, and if I could make all the lawyers and politicians speak the truth, I would gladly endure the ensuing calamity! But it’s the day-to-day spin that affects us most directly, and the only way I’ve come up with to begin getting a handle on it is asking the question: “Is it same, same?” Apples, oranges, both, or neither?

From the politicians to the local dollar store, everybody’s selling something, and it’s seldom easy to be a smart shopper. From the get-go, it’s all about smoke and mirrors, and if there’s one way to keep consumers from being able to compare and contrast, I suspect there are thousands. Take your neighborhood home improvement store, for example. Simply by altering a product’s model number system from one retailer to the next, the sellers slow down our efforts to shop wisely. “Well, of course it’s cheaper at our competitor,” says the sales associate, “they sell the 607B, and it has far fewer features than the 607A that we sell.”

And even when something appears same, same, it ain’t necessarily so. An acquaintance in the lighting business tells me that although the lights for sale in his shop look identical to those in the big chain home improvement store, the manufacturer builds an entirely different grade/quality product in order to meet the low price target mandated by the big guys. Small shops like his, he assures me, carry only the top-of-the-line light fixtures. How would we ever know?

The internet adds a whole new dimension to the problem of determining same, same. There, we have a picture, essentially 1,000 words worth of evidence that we’re looking at what we want. Until it arrives. I bought a boat hook replacement for my docking pole recently, and it looked for-all-the world like every other boat hook, on every other docking pole in the Florida Keys. Until it arrived. Perhaps the Shriners do boat parades too, their boats built to the same scale as their little cars. Who knew?

Anyway, in the words of Mac McAnally, “it’s a crazy world, but I live here. And if you can hear me singin’, so do you.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re same, same.

1 comment:

  1. I'd point out that this is also true of boat gear as well. I was once told by a rep for a large marine equipment manufacturer that the blocks they supplied to a major boat maker were not the same as the blocks you bought at your local chandlery, since the boat maker wanted to get the blocks at a certain price point... Don't own a boat by the major boat maker in question, but wouldn't be surprised it this was true based on the problems one friend who does has had with his brand new boat.