Yesterday while doing some Christmas shopping, my daughter bought a vile of artificial snow. What has the world reduced itself to, I know. You just add a little water, and the tiny polymers increase by 100 percent and create a kind of fake snow. You can freeze it for making snow balls, or you can use it to decorate a Victorian village scene, or you can use it to simulate winter on a movie set. It all seemed very enjoyable to my daughter until I said it was the same expandable, absorbent stuff that goes into disposable diapers. Suddenly it wasn't so amazing anymore. It was nasty. All a matter of perception, I guess.
During the same shopping trip, we went to our local mall that now has a Macy's. The store used to be a Kaufmans but was recently bought out. I always thought the Kaufmans, at least the junior department, looked kind of trashy and over stuffed, so I was eager for Macy's to come in and clean things up. Honestly, I think it still looks kind of trashy and over stuffed, but maybe it's just the nature of junior departments. The sameness didn't seem to bother my daughter. She was so happy to be in Macy's, even if it looked like a Kaufmans, that she walked through the store and said, "I feel like I'm in New York."
Well, I'll tell ya, I've been to the Macy's in New York, and so has my daughter, and the used-to-be-Kaufmans looks nothing like it. But with the name comes a perception of something special and something straight out of Miracle on 34th Street.
My father understood perceptions. When my sister served donuts and pastries for breakfast one fancy Thanksgiving, he took a bite of a Long John and said, "hell, it's nothing more than a hot dog bun with some cream stuffed in the middle." Then when she served a nice hot cup of Earl Grey, he said "hell, it takes like medicine." There was no impressing him with dolled up baked goods or Mother-land tea names. Either it was good or it wasn't, and it didn't matter what you called it to make it seem better than it was.
Maybe someday, the rest of us can adopt that same down-to-bare-earth approach and not be taken in by names and the perceptions that follow them. Until then, I'm going to enjoy a bittersweet biscotti, which of course is much better than a plain old chocolate biscotti. The name tells me so.