You Know what Happens when You Assume?

>> Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Like any good armchai—hammock logician, I was brushing up on my logical reasoning when I came across this passage explaining assumptions that made me laugh out loud:

“In our daily lives we make thousands of assumptions, but they make sense because they have context and we have experience with the way the world works. Think for a moment about the many assumptions required during the simple act of ordering a meal oat a restaurant. You assume that: the prices on the menu are correct; the items on the menu are available; the description of the food is reasonably accurate; the waiter will understand what you say when you order; the food will not sicken or kill you; the restaurant will accept your payment, etcetera.”

The author of this book obviously has no experience with the way Nicaragua works:

  1. The prices on the menu are correct: Paul and I quickly learned that the adage “the customer is always right” simply does not exist here, and restaurants can raise their prices at will. The most notorious example happened at the worst restaurant in Nicaragua (if not in the western hemisphere), Hippos, where the explanation for all the prices being wrong was that the prices were for the small sizes (the only price listed on the menu) and that “the whole world knows that at Hippos you get Hippo-sized food.” It goes without saying that we ultimately had to pay the hippo-sized bill on our peanut-sized budget.
  2. The items on the menu are available: This happens far too frequently to be able to come up with a single illustrative example. It’s a pretty safe bet that any restaurant you visit could easily be out of your top three choices of things you’d like to eat.
  3. The description of the food is reasonably accurate: Examples here include the Vegetarian menu at Hippos listing steak, ribs, chicken breast, and a burger. Also at one of Masaya’s best pizza restaurants, the “pineapple” pizza includes both pineapple and bologna. Even after confirming repeatedly that the pineapple pizza doesn’t have meat on it, we had pineapple and bologna pizza smiling up at us from our plates.
  4. The waiter will understand what you say when you order: Yeah, right.
  5. The food will not sicken or kill you: At most restaurants, the opposite assumption is probably safer. Even at restaurants that you think you can trust, you never really know: Paul’s current bacterial infection and stomach parasites definitely cast doubt on the safeness of his favorite previously trusted Chinese restaurant.
  6. The restaurant will accept your payment: This is probably one of the worst assumptions to make. Hardly any businesses (restaurants, supermarkets, etc.) accept credit or debit cards, and there are also strict rules about cash. First, you can’t pay with bills that are too big—a server will undoubtedly ask, “¿No andas sencillo?” (Don’t you have change?) if you pay with a $500 córdoba bill. Our corner Eskimo ice cream shop is perhaps the worst at this as they become downright hostile if we need change. Many businesses don’t keep any change, so if you can’t pay exactly, you just can’t buy anything.
Similarly, you can’t pay with change that’s too small. One córdoba coins and sometimes 50 cent coins are accepted, but anything smaller will be met with “no acceptamos.” Once a beggar girl asked Paul for money, and he only had some change to give her. She gave him a dirty look and threw the change to the ground as we walked away.

Dollar bills are, of course, always accepted, but coins are another story. Phone cards here are priced in dollars, and Paul once tried to buy a $1.50 phone card using a dollar bill and two quarters. The saleslady looked at him like he was trying to pay with buttons and he got the always-popular “no acceptamos.”


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