Monday, June 25, 2007

We don't have franken berries either

Nancy Friedman at Away With Words posted this exchange that she found at Overheard in New York.

Someone going by the name Waplow submitted this--overheard at a Starbucks:

Tourist: What kind of berry is a triberry?
Barista: What?
Tourist: You're selling a triberry muffin. Well, what's a triberry? I've never heard of that before.
Barista: It has blueberry, strawberry, and raspberry in it. They call it triberry because it has three kinds of berries in it.
Tourist: So there aren't any triberries in it?
Barista: No.
Tourist: Then why do you call it a triberry muffin? That's false advertising.
Barista: As I explained, it's called that because it has three berries in it.
Tourist: But none of those berries are triberries?
Barista: No. There is no such thing as a triberry.
Tourist: I don't understand.
Barista: Look, do you want the muffin or not?
Tourist: I don't think so. I don't want to eat anything unless I know what it is first.
Barista: So what can I get you?
Tourist: Do you have a donut?
Barista: No.
Tourist: Never mind. [leaves]
Barista: Dumbass.

What's my commentary? Brand names? Taking things literally? Ambiguity?

Actually I'm going to ignore the exchange for now. What I first noticed was an implication about the players. A Tourist and a Barista. I wonder what information the 'reporter' had that led to the label Tourist. Was it an accent? Was it a t-shirt that said Hey there! I'm from the Midwest! Was there some sort of announcement?

So let's assume that indeed there was a clear indication that it was a tourist. Why use the label? Why not Customer? Tourist doesn't add anything necessary to the structure of the joke. But there is a definite misoxenic pitch in this. Looking over the archives at Overheard in NY this is not typical. Many of the dialogs that identify a tourist do so when that identity is relevant to the conversation and necessary for the humour. Such as the following overheard on the subway:

Manic tourist lady #1: Oh wow, the front of the train. I've never been in FRONT before. Look! Haha! No driver!
Manic tourist lady #2: No driver? Seriously? Excuse me, sir? Who's driving this subway?

Local looks up from paper and looks around frantically.

Manic tourist #2: Wait, seriously? Oh my God, should we get off?
Manic tourist #1: Oh, calm down. He's just joking. We can't get off 'til Union Square.
Local: Ma'am, I swear to God that I'm not joking. Nobody's driving this train. I'm just as terrified as you are.
Manic tourist #2: Oh, whatever. He's one of those New York assholes we heard about. Ignore him.

--Location: 4 train, 59th St


  1. Calling the man a tourist does add a little to the derision. He's not just your everyday idiot customer, he's your idiot out-of-town customer.

  2. Wait. You never ended up saying which one has such an aversion to oxen, the tourist or the barista, or why.

  3. I hope I never have to explain my blubarb pie like the poor barista.

  4. But that's my point Jon. That there is something funnier about it merely because it's an out-of-town idiot. It definitely adds something to the derision: xenophobia.

    And yes we all have some of that in us.

  5. What, now we're scared of oxen, too?

  6. Overheard in New York is famous for its interesting archetypes, which may be assigned by anonymous editors--hard to tell. "Hobo," for example, is so much more folkloric than "Apparently Homeless Guy." Other only-in-OINY labels include "Queer," "Thug," "Ghetto College Kid," "Goth Girl," "Hipster Guy," "Lady Suit," and--my favorite--"Articulate Crazy Man."

    Also note that you can vote for the Overheard quotes. Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down, and WTF? need no explanation. But I had to Google "Alsome," which turns out to be the way the REALLY cool folks say and spell "awesome." (Well, spell it anyway. I'm not sure the two words are pronounced very differently. Hey, Linguist Guy, whaddya think?)


Thanks for reaching out.

You can also contact me at wishydig[at]gmail[d0t]com.