Wednesday, October 11, 2006

European Numbers

Almost immediatley after returning from Ukraine, I began to see a new doctor, which in America means creating a new pile of paperwork -- forms, releases, notices indicating who to contact in case of emergency (i.e, death), the usual stuff of the medical-industrial complex.

I ran into trouble because I got to this paperwork too soon after living in Europe for a year, where, like the true Zelig that I am, I adopted the use of European numbers. I'd always had a tendency to slash my sevens mid-stem, but now I began to draw my 1 not like a straight up and down line, in the American style, but like a one with a bit of a hooked barb on top. Imagine an arrow with only half a tip. Or better yet, just look at the digit as it stands on the screen. Call it Euro-trash. Throw a beret on it if you must. But don't deny this: It is a Continental one, not an American.

The Europeans draw their ones like this because it comes natural, I suppose, but as the hooked tops sometimes float out to one side, thereby making a 1 appear to be a 7, they give their sevens a slash to avoid the confusion.

Only in America, sevens are not slashed, and ones are straight lines, so when the doctor saw me, I must've come off as that classic male character, the one who refuses to seek medical attention until the pain is unbearable and it's all but too late.

"And you've been experiencing this pain for seven years?" he asked.

"No, no," I said. "Seven? God no. Just one."

He looked at the Patient History form I'd filled out. Made a face. "But it says here"--he shook his head, corrected it with a squiggle, moved on.

The receptionist was no different the next time I came in. While trying to arrange my next visit, she paused over her keyboard, unable to pull up my file. "What was the birthdate again?" I told her. Still nothing. "You're sure?"

"Fairly well, yes."

She rose, not quite convinced herself, and went to get the hard copy from the massive filing cabinet in back. She returned reading from it. "I have here that you were born in 1977."

"No, no," I said. "That's seventy-one." She sat down and laid the file out before her. I leaned in through the little window. "Don't you see the slash?"

"It looks like a seven."

"Well that one does because it is -- don't you see the slash? -- but the other is most clearly a one. If that weren't the case, I would've been born on the 77th day, not the eleventh, and that most certainly isn't the case now, is it?"

She hit a few keys on her keyboard. "So is October 23rd good?"

It sounded very good indeed. The twenty-third? No confusion at all. A two, a three -- the same no matter where you go.

2 Comments:

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Hilarious, though I have a feeling that people like me would be better off being left alone by all those digital appliances such as numbers and dates. By the way, I love your new template.

The Author said...

Thanks, Vilhelm. And I'm sure my friend will like to hear that people like the new look he's given me. It is great.