Those of you who have read a couple of my posts will know that I have a fondness for reading the labels on things. I am particularly partial to reading things that are completely incomprehensible.
When I lived in Moscow there were no regulations governing packaging, so largely, imported products were sold in their original boxes, in their original language.
This was fine, so long as I knew the relevant language. In the first apartment I lived in, all the electrical goods were German, destined for the Scandinavian market, so the instruction books were in Norwegian, Danish, Swedish and Finnish; at least that’s what I’m guessing, on the basis that I don’t know any of them.
In the six weeks I was in residence I never did work out how to use the microwave.
At least I wasn’t as bad as one of my US colleagues who filled up the water reservoir on the clothes dryer on the basis that there was a water drop symbol on it, and who couldn’t work out why the laundry would never dry.
Shopping in Stockmans, the Finnish supermarket, presented ever changing language challenges. Deciding which plastic bottle contained clothes washing liquid and which conditioner, when the pictures on the labels were of sparkly streams and pine forests I found could only be done on the basis of trial and error.
Equally, I’m sure there are a few Finnish people still wondering what Tesco’s Piccalilli is, to this day.
I thought about this last week when I was standing in the ‘cough and cold remedies’ aisle in Tesco. I wasn’t alone; the whole passageway was jammed with trolleys while shoppers stopped to study the shiny cardboard boxes on the shelves.
We were reading the text intently, as if it made a difference which tincture, mixture or concoction we bought.
In the end I selected a cough mixture on the basis that I could reach it off the shelf over the head of a small woman with a toddler in her trolley who was blocking my way. Every box was as shiny as a sweety wrapper and carried long words that I don’t understand, so it seemed as good a basis to use as any other.
What is Guaifenesin or Levomenthol? No idea. But my ‘Benelyn Mucus Cough”s got them in spades. The rest of the ingredients appear to be alcohol, salt and sugar, so let’s hope G&L do something for a cough.
It was only when I got home and read the leaflet inside the box with all its warnings, crosses and exclamation marks highlighted in red (Don’t give to children, alcoholics, nursing mothers, the usual), that I kicked myself. I’d done it again. I’d volunteered to be conned by the fake big words, the promise of a ‘productive cough’ and the shiny box.
Just in case you’re wondering, it was made in Orleans, France.