Luncheon Meat

I say ‘luncheon meat’, because I don’t want to put Sp*m in the title, and have the blog delete itself. Mind you, what a great phrase ‘luncheon meat’ is – that little formal suggestion of luxury, so at odds with the can and its contents.

Anyone with email will be familiar with the West African scammers who try it on with tragic tales of needing to shift a million dollars into your account. Does anyone ever fall for them? I suppose they must. On my very first day on the internet, in the mid 1990s, I fell for a request for my name and credit card details. The next day I had 300 emails (the original had used my address to replicate his game, which was, I think, all it was, since my account was never tampered with). One third said ‘I am a bit dubious about whether this is a real email’. One third used expletives of such violence that they frightened me. The other third sent me their credit card details.

I had an interesting one yesterday. I am sure there is a PhD to be written on the language of luncheon-meaters, but I haven’t the time or energy. I hope my analysis will benefit them, however, and perhaps this blog will turn up in a footnote, or a toenote, at any rate.

It begins

“Dear Customer”

Well, that’s reassuring. I do some online shopping now and then, so it could be me. Now for the introduction.

“This is to inform you that we have successfully processed the delivering of this your package (The box) and have been waiting for you to forward to us the details or information where you prefer it to be delivered to.”

This is a beautifully text-book example of how to write dialect. It takes until the twelfth word, “delivering”, for the phrasing to go wrong. Now comes the wonderful, nebulous reference to my alleged order “this your package (The box)”. In re-defining “this your package” as “The box”, there is a nice, spurious attempt to make my supposed goods seem grander, partly achieved, the writer hopes, by the use of brackets. Ah, (The box)! Now we have the confusing politesse of “details or information” (a choice!) and the intriguing misuse of “where”. I have apparently forgotten to say where (The box) should be sent. What’s in (The box)? I must have forgotten. But there is more.

“Besides, any information given to us now by you is the information that will be on the package’s receipt. So be careful when listing the details.”

The supererogatory use of “Besides” is neatly followed by the mis-mash of tenses, and the extravagant concern, obviously appealing to my low self-esteem, and my cretinous failure to say where (The box) should be sent. The word “receipt” is another neat stumble. Presumably it’s the label we’re talking about here. Still, our writer wants to be helpful in a detailed and generous way, since he’s dealing with an idiot of my peculiar mental incapacity. So here’s what details I should first list

“1. Full Name:
2. Home Address:”

My full name, eh? The whole Thomas William Greenwell? (Notice how those colons have no real function.) What else is required?

“3. Current Home Phone Number:
4. Current Office Phone Number:”

I suppose they should be current, as against the numbers I used in a previous incarnation, employment or life. Now for a surprise.

“5. A Copy of Your Picture:”

I hadn’t seen that coming. The owner or vendor of (The box) would like to see what kind of bloke I am. Or has he been seduced by the elegance of my order to the extent that he wishes to see just how good-looking I really am? That must be it.

“6. Occupation:
7. Age:”

What WAS it I ordered? A dating agency kit? I wish he’d stop using those colons. They’re getting to be a pain in – well, the colon, I suppose. Now we must get down to some serious information.

“8. ID Number: (such as Driver’s license number or passport number which you will issue to our diplomatic agent at the day of the package’s arriver to your country).”

There’s that great accidental insistence (“you will deliver”) and then the phrase – it could have come from a Gerard Hoffnung routine – “our diplomatic agent”. In trying to say that the carrier of the package will, a bit threateningly, I think, come to my country, perhaps my door, the writer has also somehow involved me in a situation familiar to the James Bonds and George Smileys. The language implodes with “arriver to” – if this was fiction, that would be a great verbal tic to give a character. So, having asked for my passport details – doesn’t he realise everyone has read The Day Of the Jackal? – he signs happily off:

“Meanwhile, the package’s Affidavit of claim and it’s” – whoops, authentic looking abuse of the apostrophe! – “Insurance certificate will be posting” – tense! – “to you by tomorrow once we receive the $130USD for the two prepared documents.” Well he’s been good enough to promise a (capitalised) Affidavit of claim, but what is it? And where did these two documents come from? Are they what’s in (The box)? And what would an unprepared document look like?

Oh yes:

“Note: at the package’s arrivals date, you will need to sign our company’s delivered form which will indicate that the package has successfully been delivered to you.”

Some great slips here. “Arrival” goes plural, “delivery” becomes “delivered” and there is a surreal rigmarole about a delivery form indicating delivery, and a successful delivery, too. I was sad to see that (The box) had been downgraded to a “package” again. No box at all, any more. Still, what great courteous long-windedness. Time for him to sign off:

“Thanks.
Manager”

Oh dear, wrong tone there, I think.

I still wish I knew what it was I hadn’t ordered. It’s like reading a short story in which the last page is missing. (This actually happened, on a grand scale, to the novelist Malcolm Lowry’s wife, Margerie. She had a crime novel published – a whodunnit – and they missed the last chapter out when it was printed. Anxious and angry readers wrote in.) But somehow, I don’t think I’ll reply to this one just yet.

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