Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Work-related: specificity

This turned into more of a rant than I intended, but it's still worth saying.

"Tree, with white flowers, that's all over the place," is not going to be enough of a description to go on if you're asking me to identify a particular tree you're looking for.

"Tall, with ovalish green leaves," is not going to help me find the houseplant you claim you're trying to replace.

A tall green houseplant with ovalish leaves that we had last year.

"That plant with daisylike yellow flowers:" yes. We have many of those for sale. Thanks for calling.

"Tiny little bugs on my Ficus," tells me basically nothing at all. (As opposed to what? Raccoon-sized bugs on your Ficus?)

Also, just so you know: once you've told me something, I will usually remember what you said. Like, a good 85% of the time, at least. So it's not really going to help me figure out what you're talking about if you keep repeating the same information over and over again, and this is especially the case if it's information which could apply to about 50% of the thousands of plants we carry. "Tall and green" is not going to cut it (and yes, I had a customer whose entire description, during a conversation about fifteen minutes long, consisted of "tall, green, with ovalish leaves," repeated over and over in various sequences and with varying emphasis.). Please dig a little deeper.

A tall green houseplant with ovalish leaves that we had last year. Photo used by permission of anonymous donor.

Oh, and: it really doesn't help me if you say that we had it last year. I wasn't here last year. I don't know what we had. It really doesn't matter if we had it last year or not anyway -- I mean, are you expecting me to say, oh, well if we had it last year, then I'll get in the time machine, go back to last year, and bring you one? And, hell, it wouldn't even narrow things down if I did have a comprehensive knowledge of everything we had last year. We get a lot of things over and over, every year. You may as well tell me it's tall and green.

I'm not saying everybody should have to know the botanical terms for leaf shape and arrangement (spatulate, cordate, ovate, etc.), or be able to provide me with Pantone reference numbers, but holy Hostas, you might at least try. There are shapes, there are textures, there are colors and scents and time and indoor/outdoor distinctions. Give me something, please. Don't make me drag every little thing out of you: it will make me crazy. Like for example:

Fluffy, pointy, half an inch long, sickly sweet, four-petaled, waxy, flared, spiraled, divided, twice my height, vining, shrubby, chartreuse, cream, polka-dotted, glossy, Christmastime, foul-smelling, messy, willowy, musty, gold, banded, like a tiny Hibiscus, powdery, dusty, pimply, boxy, fishtailed, heart-shaped, glassy, strappy, serrated, spring, thorny, variegated, blotchy, worm-like, bleached, mushy, burgundy, wet-looking, ribbed, trumpet-shaped, fire engine red, August, almost invisible, chocolatey, lightweight, bouncy, pornographic, fuzzy, crescent-shaped, eighteen inches, sparkly, clustering, pleated, etc.

A tall green houseplant with ovalish leaves that we had last year.

I wonder about some of these customers' home lives. I picture conversations like,


HIM: Honey, where's my thing?
HER: What? I can't hear you, I'm in the room.
HIM: Where are you?
HER: The room. I'm coming. [pause] Okay, what?
HIM: I said, have you seen the thing?
HER: Which thing?
HIM: You know, the thing, with the handle.
HER: I don't know. Did you ask her?
HIM: Who?
HER: Her.
HIM: I don't know. Where is she?
HER: Where's who?
HIM: Her.
HER: You think she has the thing?
HIM: I don't know. She had it last year.
HER: Well did you ask her?
HIM: Who?
HER: The woman. With the hair?
HIM: No, I didn't ask her. She's too far away.
HER: Oh? Where's she?
HIM: In that state.
HER: And you think she has the thing with the handle there?
HIM: No. You thought she did.
HER: Oh. Was I right?
HIM: I don't remember.

And who knows. Maybe those are the kinds of conversations people are having. I don't know if I would be surprised or not.


Anonymous said...

Great Mr. S! Awfully funny! You sound like Howard Jacobson of the Independent... great post!

Mr. Green Genes

(check out http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/howard-jacobson/howard-jacobson-i-go-and-see-a-film-and-cant-understand-what-anyones-saying-and-i-dont-think-i-am-alone-774312.html and laugh!)

Julie said...

WOW...you crack me up...maybe you need a long vacation to get away from the people. The plants are OK, but the people are questionable...isn't this always the case????

mr_subjunctive said...

Well, kinda. A few of the plants are getting on my nerves too.

No Rain said...

Some days people and plants get on my nerves too, and I don't work in a nursery! My answer as to why is as vague as the plant descriptions you gave. The reason: "Just because they piss me off".

Benjamin Vogt said...

I was at Home Depot today--for the 1st time in my life I felt bad being there, but I usually buy nothing, or one thing twice a year. I had a gift card, and I'd rather buy plants. Anywho, so, like, I was looking at some flowering trees and shrubs and all they said was something like Dogwood, Cornus. NOT MUCH HELP. I know only idiots shop here, but sheesh. I didn't know what to do. And as an aside toward your made up conversation, indeed, the older I get, the more conversations are frustratingly like this. Which is why I've stopped talking to my wife. This hasn't worked to improve our relationship.

Paul said...

Just a wee bit stressed are we?

Ain't working with the public grand? LOL.

Andrew said...

In my experience about 90% of the time someone's looking for a tree with white flowers that's all over the place they're looking for an Ivory Silk Lilac tree. (8% of the time they're looking for a Magnolia - more often in spring though). I have the advantage working in the shrubs and trees part of my store I can ask the customer to bring in a picture which would presumably be easier than with tropicals/houseplants.