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Archive for Sunday, August 13, 2006

Real men don’t read instructions

August 13, 2006

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What would we women do without men to fix things for us? And what would our men do without us telling them HOW to fix it? Women are able to do that because we read directions, while any man worth his salt wouldn't be caught dead holding an instruction manual.

Few situations have engendered more fights at our house than Ray sprawled under an appliance while I stand beside it reading him the instruction booklet.

"Hey," he'll snarl, red-faced and sweaty, "do you want to do this?"

Even worse were the Christmas Eve fights when he'd assemble a bike or train-set, ignoring my carefully relayed instructions to "attach part A to part B." Invariably, he'd wind up with several unused parts and a whole bunch of screws. I never bought the idea that the manufacturer put 16 extra screws in the package just so there would be enough.

To men, reading instructions is a huge waste of time ... sort of like asking for directions when they're lost. But to women, reading instructions is a lot like shopping for shoes. How do we know we're getting the best buy unless we've exhausted a half-tank of expensive gas checking every store in town that carries the sandal we want? It's that sort of preparation that makes us well-informed customers. And when we save $1.17 on our purchase, we are happy campers.

Women are also happy campers when reading instructions enables us to do something that we can't figure out on our own. But it can be hugely frustrating when instructions don't provide the information we require. Take the other day when we were driving home from having our car's oil changed and I noticed that a light was shining on my foot. "Hey," I asked Ray, "is that light supposed to be on?"

"No," he answered, just as both of us noticed that all of the interior lights were lit. We've owned this car for about five years so you'd think turning off the interior lights wouldn't have posed a challenge for two reasonably intelligent adults. Yet when pushing every button and flipping every toggle switch in sight didn't work, I retrieved the owner's manual from the glove compartment.

"That's not going to help," Ray said.

"Sure it will," I replied confidently, "that's why they provide an owner's manual."

There was a listing in the back of the manual for "lights, interior" which directed me to page 31. Once there, however, I found instructions for turning on and off every light but the ones in question.

"Well, this is nuts!" I exclaimed. "Why wouldn't the idiot who wrote this manual include that information?"

Click! "That's why," said Ray, as the lights went off.

"What did you do?"

What he had done was push in on the switch that swiveled so we could set the length of time the headlights remained on after we turned off the ignition. Above the switch in small print were the words PUSH INTERIOR. Who knew? And why didn't the owner's manual instruct us to read the dashboard?

To be honest, there are some instructions I ignore. Have you ever allowed your word processing program's grammar correction to have a go at your writing? I have, and the person responsible for the suggested corrections is clueless. Furthermore, it is obvious that English is not his or her first language. Why else would I be warned that "discovered" might be confused with "invented"? Not by any competent English speaking individual. And if it is, who cares? When I mentioned a long ago "very mean" neighbor in an earlier column, Grammar Check informed me that "the word 'very' does not agree with 'mean.'" SAY WHAT? If Grammar Check had known her - or English - it would have known that it does!

What I hate most is the political correctness of Grammar Check. For example, every time I use the word "husband" it cues me to replace it with "spouse." When I type "man" or "woman," Grammar Check instructs me to change it: "Gender-specific expression. Consider replacing it with person, human being or individual."

Uh-huh. "Real persons don't read instructions." Give me a break.

I recently learned that I'm not alone in thinking gender-specific words are just fine and dandy. While browsing in my favorite hardware store, I saw a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Real Men Don't Need to Read Instructions." I should have bought it for Ray because that statement applies perfectly to him. But he really doesn't need to read instructions. He has me to do it for him!

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