About That Itemthing…


A Bad-Hair Day

I like to think that I have some facility with the English language—reading and writing, understanding and communicating, teaching and even giving mildly humorous presentations to small groups of people who are easily entertained—in short, I am a capable English-language writer and speaker, and I can even curse an eloquent blue streak when the occasion calls for it. (See, for example, “The F-Word: A User’s Guide.”)

Other people tell me I write well. In fact, they pay me to say things for them. They ask me to write something about how they have a great product and they think everybody should buy it. A few days later, I email them a draft that says, basically, “We have a great product and we think everybody should buy it.” Within minutes I get an email response that says, “You’re a genius! I don’t know how you do it! Here’s two hundred dollars.” I email back, “Thank you. Any time. Really.”

But, for all my skill and experience, I am at a loss to decipher this brief missive from the eBay seller who mailed me a dark-brown wig when I had ordered a blond one some weeks back.

Dear customer,
Thanks for your time and message. There are so many items need to be dispatched resently
which is out of your imagination, maybe our sending department made a mistake, please accept our sincerest apologies. we have contacted Logistics center, ask about the itemthing. The shipping center informed me that the item was out of stock, as for the issue,we would like give you a full refund first, when we have stock, we will immediately contact your. How about that? we will contact our product department, find similar styles of wigs,i f we have similar styles, we will contact your.
your satisfaction is all we concern. Please let us know.
Wait for your kind reply
Really sorry for any inconvenience.
Best regards

Before you accuse me of making sport with persons whose native language is manifestly other than English, realize that if you are a native-English-speaker and you write me a silly letter, I will cheerfully make sport with you, too, and that very soon, probably later tonight, I will be making sport with English-speaking men who publish silly profiles on online-dating sites. Furthermore, you may consider this an open invitation to make sport with me when I unintentionally write, say, or do something laughable. And be assured that I have nothing but respect for the wig-seller, who is gracious (and practical) enough to communicate with me in English rather than requiring me to learn whichever of the hundreds of dialects in the five main Chinese dialectical groups she customarily uses.

Still and all—I’m not sure how to proceed, and it seemed more expedient to ask for other sets of eyes to examine the seller’s instructions than to learn Chinese. So what do you think? Since my objective is to get a replacement wig as soon as possible, should I ask for a refund? The itemthing I ordered is out of stock, but does she have similar styles? How extensive is her inventory—a few wigs, a few dozen, or a number out of my imagination? How likely is it that her sending department, having maybe made one mistake, will maybe make another mistake when I reorder? Perhaps I should explore the inventories of other vendors. How about that?

If I really want the skinny on these wigs, there’s always the learning-to-speak-Chinese route, but I suspect that the difficulty is at least as great as that of learning Japanese and that Dave Barry says no more than the truth when he writes that the best way to learn Japanese is “to be born as a Japanese baby and raised by a Japanese family, in Japan” (Dave Barry Does Japan, 1982). I thought I could hold my own in Spanish until I was humbled by a brief conversational exchange in my doctor’s waiting room, where I am frequently the only English-speaker. Catching the eye of a young woman holding an adorable infant swathed in pink, I asked her, in Spanish, how old her little girl was. “¿Quantos mesas tiene su niñita?” I said. She gave me a small smile and looked away, but the woman on my left leaned toward me and whispered, “You just asked her how many tables her little girl has.” Well, I thought defensively, that could have been what I meant to say. How did she know that I wasn’t a Ph.D. student writing a dissertation on furniture distribution in Spanish-speaking households? Or that I didn’t intuitively sense that her child was a table-collecting sort of baby and simply wondered how many tables she had managed to acquire so far?

It seems impractical to invest weeks, possibly months or years, in learning Chinese so that I can ask an intelligent question about a wig. In the same amount of time I could grow better hair so that I don’t need the stupid wig. On the other hand, Chinese could come in handy if I travel to China or decide on a career in the Foreign Service, even though I turned 70 on my last birthday and the best time to make major vocational choices, especially those with steep learning curves, was probably 1968. True, at under ten dollars the wig was a bargain, but surely there are comparable deals available from English- or Spanish-speakers. The Spanish word for wig is peluca, which is perilously close to peluche (“cuddly toy”), so if you see me walking around with a Teddy bear on my head, try to be polite, okay?

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