As an avid visitor to a wide variety of restaurants (in a wide variety of countries) I’ve come to the decision that there is some kind of competition going on between them.
There is clearly a prize for who can come up with the most obscure way of marking the men’s and ladies’ toilets.
They often have weird symbols or, with restaurants specialising in food from abroad, they rely on their native tongue rather than English to mark the respective cubicles, so that you’re often standing at the door, scratching your head and crossing your legs.
Bearing in mind how many people often visit the loos after having a few, I’m wondering if it’s actually some kind of test – if you’re too drunk to work it out, you’ve had enough!
A recent trip to a new venue found me standing outside two doors, one of which was painted baby blue, and the other hot pink. You’d say that the pink door was obviously for me, but did you know that historically pink was very much a male colour and as I was in a very traditional establishment, and the blue door was very “pretty” so I stood there for a minute or two and considered my options. Eventually I went through the pink door, but was further confused when the only mirror was very small and slightly distorted – definitely not what your average female client would want. In the end, I decided to carry on and take the risk, but I was never sure I was in the right place.
And then there was a visit to a Moroccan Restaurant in central London where the doors were marked by two different pictures, neither of which had any particularly masculine or feminine qualities. The fact that one of the staff came along and casually pointed to the right one, as if he’d done it every day, clearly indicated that I was not the first one to be confused.
If I’m wrong about this being some kind of game between restaurants, or competition amongst the staff as to how many people end up in the wrong place, then this must be a clear example of how what is obvious to one person, is a complete mystery to another. Neither one is deliberately trying to confuse the other – the interior designers don’t want us to end up in the wrong place any more than I want to embarrass myself (or at least if I am going to embarrass myself I want to do it very publicly where I might stand a chance of being an internet sensation!) But the fact remains that sometimes we can all be guilty of trying to be too clever for our own good. The designers and restaurants want to be original and memorable and perhaps they think we are more intelligent (or more sober) than we actually are!
The key to it all is good communication – you tell me what you want and I’ll tell you what I can do. You tell me where the ladies is, and I’ll walk through the right door without the risk of upsetting anyone.
Sadly, I spend much of my time dealing with people who are finding it hard to communicate with those whose understanding they need most. Divorcing couples. Companies in dispute. Business partners in turmoil. Often there is no deliberate attempt by one to pull a fast one over the other, and the difficulties arise because they genuinely misunderstand what the other is trying to say/do/achieve, which becomes self perpetuating.
Let me give you an example.
This afternoon I read an exchange of emails between an ex husband and wife regarding child access arrangements over the New Year. He said I’ll pick them up at 8. She genuinely believed he meant 8pm and ranted on about how ridiculously late it was for two young children to be kept up. He genuinely meant 8 in the morning, and hadn’t felt the need to add in the “am” bit because it never occurred to him that she might have thought he meant the evening, given that the kids go to bed at that time. She reasoned that we all know he’s not good in the mornings, so it never occurred to her that he could get his act together that early in the morning. Six emails and several hours of legal fees later, we’ve established that 8am is fine. What a waste of time and money, not to mention the increased bad feeling it creates. She’s cross that he wasn’t more clear. He’s cross that she didn’t apply more common sense. I’m cross that I’ve spent the afternoon refereeing an argument more pointless than the most demanding of toddlers.
So the moral of this story is that whatever it is you are trying to communicate, instead of just thinking about what you are saying, if you want a quiet life, think about what the other party might hear, and consider whether you are being as clear as you need to be. If in doubt, imagine me, drunk, in front of two toilet doors trying to work out which is the right one to go through, and consider whether your message would be clear and simple enough for me to understand!
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