In an attempt to be polite, we often don’t say what we really mean. When I was paying for my groceries last week I signaled the cashier with my credit card I was planning to pay with plastic. She turned the debit/credit machine towards me and said “whenever you’re ready”. Maybe it’s because English is only my second language, but it made me pause for a bit to reflect on her words. Too long apparently, because she got a little restless, took the card from my hands and swiped it for me. I guess “whenever you’re ready” doesn’t really mean “whenever” – the polite invitation has an unexpected expiry date after all. Sorry for missing the fine print.
There’s more tricky fine print while shopping: I don’t like anything that’s free*. The asterisk implies there’s more to follow, for example a laundry list of conditions that explain why I don’t qualify for the offer, or why it’s not really free to begin with. Like a free hot tub, but you have to buy the million dollar home first. Most times the fine print isn’t even readable. It’s like a radio commercial that quickly says “conditions apply” – and then the conditions are read out on-air, but even more quickly so it’s absolutely impossible to follow or understand what’s being said. At least to this Dutch immigrant.
Of course – the companies offering these unbelievable deals have to cover their legal *sses to prevent from being sued (mostly American companies) or taken advantage of (Canadian companies). I get that. No one can make a living by giving everything away for free – whether it’s hot tubs, software, digital images, you name it. Unfortunately “free” doesn’t pay the bills, I get that too (I really do). But in the end all of this is just like that guy getting a text message saying “I love you”. He responds with “Ilu2”. Of course he means well, and in his fine print was probably a lot of detail describing his love. The reply he got, despite his good intentions? “