Things to be suspicious of


By Janice Lindsay, Contributing Writer

Janice Lindsay
Janice Lindsay

While contemplating the arrival of the new year, I came upon a few cautionary notes I had written to myself, that I’m now combining under the heading “Things to remind myself to be suspicious of in the new year.”

Not that I want to start the new year in a grumpy frame of mind, though there is a certain grim satisfaction in an occasional justifiable grump. So —

Be suspicious of any product whose name includes the world “miracle.” Real miracles may occur time to time, but most likely they do not involve divine intervention on behalf of, for example, dust cloths.

Be suspicious of any bird feeder, bird house, or bird bath whose advertising depicts it harboring fake birds. Maybe the manufacturer can’t be bothered to put the thing out and wait for real birds to show up, though a bird-lover knows this won’t take long because some birds are naturally curious. Or maybe the maker can’t be bothered figuring out how to produce something that will attract actual birds. In any case, they’re guessing that you, the bird-thing buyer, won’t know the difference between real birds and phonies. Since bird-watching is one of the country’s most popular hobbies, they would probably be wrong. Aren’t you insulted? Doesn’t it make you just a little grumpy?

Be suspicious of any gizmo that does something “virtually.” Maybe the ad says the oven is “virtually” self-cleaning. The oven-maker hopes you’ll fly past the “virtually” and come in for a landing on the “self-cleaning.” “Virtually” means “almost, nearly, for all practical purposes” and can cover a wide range. One person’s “almost” is another person’s “not even close.” You and your personal elbow grease will have to span the gap between “virtually” self-cleaning and a clean oven.

Be suspicious when any big company  — supermarket, airline, bank – is making changes to “serve you better” or “for your convenience.”  This usually means you’ll end up doing more of the work yourself – self check-out, self check-in – instead of relying on someone who actually knows what they’re doing. It might turn out to be more convenient for you, though the number of times I’ve seen supermarket customers need help with self-check-out plants a seed of doubt.

Be suspicious of “free gifts” that arrive in the mail. A gift is free by definition.  That “free” is inserted to get your attention and it signals that the gift is not free. The cost to you is in that twinge of guilt. If you accept the gift, shouldn’t you do something in return? Like donate to the non-profit that sent you the personalized address labels?

Be suspicious of “new improved.” I wish I could count the times I’ve found a product – a shampoo, a pair of pants, canned soup – that suits me perfectly. Did anybody ask me if it needed improvement? No. But the next time I bought one, they had “improved” it. And now it’s not perfect anymore.

Be suspicious of TV ads that promise you a more jolly life.  Did you ever notice that people in TV ads have way more fun than you do? If only you served the proper beverage, or wore the right lipstick, or drove the right car, you would be surrounded by unfailingly beautiful, entertaining, and happy people instead of your current complicated, occasionally unpleasant, very normal friends and relations.

I suppose it’s only fair to suggest that you be suspicious of writers who tell you to be suspicious. Maybe everything in the world is hunky-dory and the writer is just being grumpy. Grumpiness loves company.