Shouting Into the Vortex

by Mark Forman on October 11, 2017

A recent night photography sortie leads to a morality play of sorts. First-whenever I go through my old photos I'm most moved by the night shots. I don't know if they're more dreamy or more ideal or more what but simply I like them more, they're more pleasing to my eye and the psychology attached to it I guess. The challenge i have is being an early morning person I generally have lower energy in the evenings so tend to be lazy about going out at night. This night was the 3rd night of a 4 day holiday. Got some good shots. There were enough people out and about to provide the faces and actors I need to complete my one scene movies-all good. One the way back to my scooter (still the preferred way to navigate Taiwan cities) which was parked at a 7-11 (only "7" in local parlance) I noticed an ad for a caramel soft served ice cream, called frozen custard in my native Brooklyn. I was curious because I knew the Family mart chain of convenience stores sold this but didn't know that 7-11 did too.

I went in and looked for the ice cream machine and sure enough there it was to the right of the counter. I asked the clerk what sizes they had and he replied "there is only one size." This seemed a little odd to me because i noticed on the machine there were several pictures/prices of product. Anyway, he handed me a cup and requested NT$45 which is about $1.50. First thing that rubbed me was the NT$45 price because I felt $35 was about the right price but also the cup. I was expecting it to be in a cone which is what was pictured in the ad poster that caught my attention in the first place. I paid him a little reluctantly and went back and looked at the machine again. Sure enough there were 3 sizes/prices marked on the machine NT$45 being the most expensive. So I asked the young clerk why I was sold the most expensive and he replied, "we are out of the cones so that is the only one available". I countered with,"you now I feel a little bit cheated/lied to because when I a questioned the size/price issue you told me there was only one. Now clearly there are 3 which you retroactively acknowledge but 2 are not available because you are out of cones. So why should your supply shortage become my problem and more correctly why didn't you indicate that to me up front and offer me the option to buy the cup because the cone options are not currently available?" He was getting a little flustered/defensive and I said, "I'm sorry I would like a refund because I feel coerced into buying a product at a price I didn't plan to." He huffed slightly and handed me my money and I left.

In Taiwan the convenience store workers are often young people just starting out an admittedly overworked and underpaid. I'm polite and encouraging to them because I'm the father of a young person that is also overworked and underpaid. I don't feel the young clerk was dishonest or evil but probably too expedient in his word choices when I questioned him on the size/price issue. I tied to make that point with him and probably succeeded while undoubtedly pissing him off some and leaving him feeling a little indignant. So what is the greater moral here? Communication is the most important thing between people and it is also the most neglected. That is why so many misunderstandings and conflicts result because we don't make the effort to communicate clearly or try to take shortcuts due to being too busy, too indifferent or too lazy. Am I standing on my moral high ground bully pulpit here? Well I would explain it as in my Brooklyn childhood we learned that you shouldn't play people but the worst is getting plaid. I simply didn't want to be plaid by this kid and hope that he learned that it's not worth it for such a small thing with no likely reward.