Q: Why did it take Moses forty years to lead his people through the desert?
A: He didn't stop to ask directions
Q: Why does it take millions of sperm cells to fertilize an egg?
A: They're male; they don't stop to ask directions
I work with maps for a living. The single most important reason I don't stop to ask directions is it's more often than not a waste of time. The average random person is clueless about things in his or her immediate neighborhood. Sometimes I get lucky and find someone who knows straight off. Usually then I find out I was headed in the right direction all along and I would have gotten where I was going - sooner - without bothering to stop at all. These happy cases are more than offset by the blank stares and garbled directions I get when I ask directions. In the time it takes me to stop and ask two or three different people where something is, I can usually find it myself. If I do stop and ask, I try to find a place where I can be sure of getting information; typically a gas station where they're likely to have a map.
Game show host Pat Sajak has a perspective very close to mine:
In the matter of asking for directions, women assume we men are too proud to ask, when, in fact, we are wise enough to realize that people will give directions even if they have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. Rather than admit ignorance, most folks are content to improvise directions with an air of absolute certainty. Their assuredness is so convincing that, when you finally realize you’re even more lost than when you asked for help, you figure you must have heard them wrong. And, assuming you’re with a woman (which, of course, you would be if you’d asked directions in the first place) you’ll stop the next person you see for further misinformation. Men would rather take their chances with maps, signs, stars or even instinct than to trust the kid wiping strawberry goo off the Slurpee machine to tell them where Milly’s Antique Emporium is located.
In 1998, when I was still in the Army Reserve, I and a major were assigned to a Partnership for Peace mission to Bulgaria. Things wrapped up a day early, meaning we could reschedule our departure from Sofia. That, unfortunately, meant a layover en route, which meant we would have to figure out how to keep ourselves amused for a day in Paris. But the taxpayers had bought our tickets, and we felt they were entitled to our very best efforts.
Although the French have a certain reputation when it comes to Americans, we had a wonderful day and were treated courteously everywhere. The French don't like clods or fools; don't be a clod or a fool in France and odds are you'll do just fine. The last item of business was my friend wanted to visit the Hard Rock Cafe to get a T-shirt. So we were standing on a street corner reading the map when a very nice lady gendarme came up and asked if she could help us (her gender doesn't enter into what came next; it could just as easily have been a guy).
We explained we were looking for the Hard Rock Cafe, so she attempted to help us find it on the map. That bothered me a bit, since I'd expect a cop to know where the tourist spots were. Then she tried to locate where we were on the map. The thing that bothered me about this was that we were across the street from the Louvre. It's a bit hard to miss, being half a mile long as well as one of the most famous places in Paris. A Parisian cop could not find the Louvre on a tourist map.
Oh, did I mention there was a picture of the Louvre on the map? Which looked just like the half-mile long building right across the street?
And people wonder why I don't ask directions.
A few weeks ago my wife and I drove up north to see the autumn leaves. We ended up in the town of Laona, where an antique steam train makes tourist runs. So we thought we'd check it out. My wife asked directions at a convenience store. "Done for the season," she was told. But we were only half a mile away, so we decided to check it out anyway. The train was indeed running. Not only did this woman barely half a mile away give us bad information, she was certainly close enough to hear the whistle.
Created 20 September, 2006; Last Update 30 August, 2011
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