Product not exactly as shown. Enlarged to show texture. Suggested serving. Et Cetera. These are all things you see every time you take a product from your the grocery store shelf. It is fine print, sneaked in the side somewhere by that lemon wedge or some other prop so as to be subtle. Subtle is good. Then there are the claims like Low Fat, No Sugar Added, Low Salt, Contains Real Fruit, Certified Organic, and many more. Packaging disclaimers and descriptors. Lawyers love them because they are lawyer-language, the kind of asterisked fine print that doesn’t tell you the whole truth. The one thing packaging takes very seriously, is allergies. People tend to get a little cranky when they die, and relatives sue. I know packaging because I have worked with it for much of my career.
Then there is the best before date. That one has to be on for legal purposes even though it is generally pretty hard to tell exactly when a product may be ‘off’. Best before generally hedges bets for a date far earlier than it is seriously likely that the product will spoil. They would not want to take any chances, and many articles have been written by consumers who tested the limits and used products much later than the legal disclaimer advises. Best before is good business for packaging because many consumers will discard an entire box of something at the behest of that advisory date, just in case. They will buy a new box altogether, and business marches on.
Trying to fit copy on packaging became more challenging when free trade with the USA merged our markets. Canadian packaging got a lot more legal disclaimers, the kind people laugh about. Warning: Do not stand on a your head and swallow this product. Warning: Do not put your dirty children in the washing machine. Warning: Do not check contents of gasoline engine by lighting a match. You get the drift. Product developers have to cover themselves from getting sued when people do not use the product as intended. Warning: Do not use product while sleeping. Warning: Do not hold chain saw on the wrong end, or while driving, all things that should be self-evident.
Regardless, such warnings shift the onus of responsibility to the user. My wife had an odd experience with a facial mask. When she applied it, her face began to burn, puff up, and turn red. She quickly assumed the look of a cooked prune. She was not happy. When she wanted to complain, she discovered the advice on the back of the package, to apply a small amount of product to the back of an ear lobe to see first if it caused a reaction. Although a tub of yogurt applied to her face helped cool things down, she was not amused.
Life can be a lot like packaging too because things are not always exactly as they seem. My daughter took some training in high school that had to do with online safety. She apprised me of the term catfishing. It is an urban expression for the situation where someone you are talking with online is not at all the person they have portrayed themselves to be. Now that is a bit scary, and begs the question why you would be making friends online with people you cannot see. They can hide behind an online presence which evades basic reality, and their motives are generally suspect. Meeting online used to be very unusual. My wife has a niece who married someone she met online over twenty years ago and that was considered to be odd and rare at that time. Now, not so much, except that you may discover on a meet-up that the picture they used to represent themselves was a few decades behind. Welcome to the world of ‘not exactly as shown’.
I had an odd experience with this at a guitar store. I noticed it driving by an industrial plaza, tucked away in an odd location alongside of an auto body shot set back from the road. I stopped and went in because I needed a new capo (a tool which raises the octave by clamping down on the neck). The store looked normal. It was filled with shiny new guitars but seemed to have few staff. A burly-looking ‘sales person’ approached me. “Can I help you?” he asked brusquely. “Do you have capos?” I asked. “What’s a capo?” he asked. “You know, capos” I pressed. “Every guitar store has them. It’s a stock kind of item”. “Well, we don’t carry those. Maybe another store has them.” the burly guy said gruffly. Not wanting to press things further, I left and noticed on my way out, that a whole gathering of sales clerks was taking place out back. They all were large and bearded like the guy I had been talking to, and they were riding motorcycles with “Hell’s Angels” crests on the back of their leather jackets. It occurred to me, that this was not really a guitar store. It was something like the sandwich shop on the Sopranos, a place to meet up and discuss business, but not the guitar business. The money was coming from somewhere else. Not exactly as shown.
When you are a ‘kid’ you tend to trust people and give the benefit of the doubt. As you grow older, you will gather in more and more experiences which advise prudence, where things are not as represented up front. Life calls for some handling to test things out. Discretion is generally learned behaviour that comes with age. Judgement is a good thing, I assure my daughters. It gives you a sound take on what you are looking at. It takes a preliminary look behind the curtain to assess whether what you have been told is true. People who are not judgemental are people who turn out to be sorry.
Lack of discretion can land you with bad consequences that you will have to sort out on your own. Not being judgemental enough when seeking a relationship can be painful after the fact. It keeps divorce laywers busy. That car looks pretty slick. Did you read up on the consumer reports before you bought it? What year was a bad model year where they tested some new cheaper parts? Everyone gets stuck with a lemon at least once in a lifetime. It makes you pretty wary when you pick up your cheque book. A house can be worse. Those things hidden in the walls can come back to haunt you if you did not do a proper inspection. There are many things you can find out that even inspectors miss. In my old house, I knocked out a wall for example, and discovered electrical wires left hanging, capped off with a plastic marette. Now that was scary. When I renovated in a bathroom I discovered that the last person there had passed an electrical wire over the ‘stack’ (the large metal pipe that carries sewage waste). That was out of code, but the renovator had tried to hide it by doubling up the drywall on top. It is good that we bought our first house in the understanding that it was a fixer-upper, because there was a laundry list of things we found that were not exactly as presented. A downstairs fireplace looked great… until we tried to build a fire in it on the first cold winter day. Smoke started to bellow out from my daughter’s closet up above. The drywall cavity around the fireplace had filled with smoke. Why? When I tore out the fireplace I discovered that the do-it-yourself ‘expert’ who had cooked that one up, had built up the form using concrete clips and no refractory mortar at all. In another tear-down, I discovered what must have been a fire at one time or another, charred two-by-fours behind a wall opposite a whirlpool tub where access to the electrical had been tiled over for some odd reason. Yes, appearances can be deceiving.
And so in life, we will discover hopefully sooner than later, that care is in order, and that sound judgement is a virtue. It is best to judge things BEFORE you take them home and make them part of your life. The earliest recorded instance of false advertising may be the tale of the Trojan Horse, from the kingdom of Troy’s ten-year war with Greece - product not exactly as shown. The experience is so universal that the Romans later captured it in a Latin phrase that is good advice for the ages, caveat emptor. Buyer beware!