Recently I discussed how workers at customer call centers can turn into computer-like zombies. The other day I stood face to face with such a person.
I was trying to order two coffees at a fast coffee shop. My wife likes her espresso with a drop of foamed milk on top – “Espresso Macchiato”, meaning “stained espresso” in Italian. I take mine pure. So I order:
Me: Two espressos, one of them Macchiato.
Coffeeshop cashier: Huh?
Me: One short espresso, one espresso macchiato.
Cashier: what’s that?
Me: It’s espresso with a little foamed milk on it. It’s called espresso macchiato.
Cashier: you can order espresso, or you can order macchiato.
Me: OK, one espresso, one macchiato.
Cashier: [accepts the order without further comment].
You see, it wasn’t that he had never seen a Macchiato – he works in a fancy coffeshop that sells it routinely – it was that the expression “espresso macchiato”, which is grammatically correct and in common usage worldwide, had failed his string processing subroutine. His computer had a button for espresso and a button for macchiato; there was no button for the combined form. A customer ordering anything without a button dedicated to it could be served no more than a Klingon ordering a serving of Gagh.