Wednesday, February 28, 2007


You'd think with my having been a writer all my life, and a technical writer and editor since--uh, we won't go all the way back there just now--that I would be a better cultural reader than I am. However, I am not so good at deciphering survival-critical pictograms. I'm pretty great at the game "Pictionary," especially if I personally well know the person who's drawing, but, darn, give me a widely and officially recognized standard international symbol and I'm frequently obliged to scratch my head until it's too late. I can easily decode bizarre sentences written by 10th graders, college freshmen, ESOL students, and deeply esoteric, technical academic material written by fresh-off-the-boat professors. But often I do not know what to do with these little minimalist line drawings on packaging. I've written about my frequent encounter with this intellectual defeat here before. It's like the line in the jazzy theme song for the old "Frasier" tv show: "I don't know what to do with those tossed salads and scrambled eggs . . . they're callin' again."

Several years ago my mom-in-law gave me a Tupperware thingy as a gift. As you'd expect, it's plastic; only this container was made of a kind of plastic that was reportedly safe to put in a conventional oven. That's right. Supposedly impervious to temperatures below 500 degrees. I loved the idea of the item, only I don't like the idea of putting anything plastic in the oven, not even the microwave. I'm pretty superstitious that it leaches toxic chemicals into the food. So I accepted the item and only used it as a fridge and freezer container.

The bottom part of the container's not the main part of this story, though. It's the lid. The lid and the container have different rules stamped on them. The lid's semi-transparent with five "international" symbols embossed on the outside. I have never understood the precise meaning of the symbols, and nothing came in the packaging to explain them. Here they are. I tried to take a digital picture of the lid, but my idiotic camera won't let me take a picture of anything closer than three feet, so it was a dismal failure. Scanning didn't work, either. Instead, I made my own idiotic drawings of them (although I must say they look remarkably close to the original icons):

My typically less-than-lucid interpretations follow.
  1. Tuck in! LET'S EAT! Let's poke this food with our tridents and quaff from the Holy Grail!
  2. Do not wear hand-knitted mittens purchased from the Swedish craft table at the Lucia Festival while using this product.
  3. Don't use as an oceanic flotation device. Or, perhaps, don't use this in an electrical storm.
  4. It's snowing. You'll like to eat the nice warm casserole from this "fully ovenable" cookware, because it's miserably cold outside.
  5. If you drop a fancy glass while you're washing it, it will break and you will be really sorry.
Well, I'll admit that I am sure #4 means "freezer safe." And maybe #5 means "dishwasher safe." But I think they're all rather poorly articulated.

I will also admit that when I was growing up and we went on a road trip involving any interstate highways and I saw those clusters of signs advertising what was available at the next rest stop, I was puzzled (ha, apropos!) by the blue one with the white question mark on it. I thought it meant that they didn't know what was there, or that they were about to build something but didn't yet know what it would be. And, doncha know, it means exactly the opposite of having no information.

Labels: ,


At 3/07/2007 5:02 PM, Blogger Nance said...

I hate the graphics on clothing care labels. Not only are they hard to read because they are so small, but they are indecipherable as well. And, I think #2 means not oven safe and #3 means not microwave safe. The mitt is an oven mitt and those squiggles are microwaves. I THINK. Don't hold me responsible!!!


Post a Comment

<< Home