When I was getting my hair cut last week I had a bewildering conversation with my hairdresser. She is a friendly, chatty young woman who talked to me about all sorts of things including how she had once been forced to run down the hallway of the mall to get away from a stalking ex-boyfriend. She had to hide out in a store where a friend worked.
I had been having the usual chat you have with new hairdressers about whether or not I was married and if I had children. This led her to ask me about dating and what I thought it took to sustain a long-term relationship. I said that I thought it was important for her to establish her own career and interests before deciding to commit to someone long-term. She didn’t seem too convinced of this idea, but she said that for the time being, she was happy being single. We agreed that dating today is not what it was when I was her age, twenty-three.
It was clear that we had very different life experiences but that became even more obvious when we talked about Sears. In the mall where she works there is an empty store that used to be a Sears store. I asked if she knew if there were plans for any other business to take over the space, but she didn’t know.
Then I said that Sears was the Amazon of its day. When she looked bewildered I explained that they used to have a catalogue that we would browse in order to buy all sorts of things. Sears could be relied upon to deliver the goods after a few weeks, and for people in remote areas, the catalogue was often the only way to buy furniture and appliances. I described how it was as thick as a phone book and included everything in their store.
The first problem was that she wasn’t familiar with the idea of a phone book. After a pause, she said, “Oh, yes, I remember my aunt cutting out coupons and taking them into the store for a discount.” “No,” I said, “This was bigger than the coupon book.” I gestured with my hands to explain that it was about two inches thick, but the concept was still a mystery. I don’t think she had ever seen a city phone book like the one I had in mind.
I added that the Christmas Wish Book was a big deal every year, but for her this was a bridge too far. I was speaking an unknown language. She didn’t seem to understand why a department store would make a print catalogue of all the items it had for sale, let alone make a special one for Christmas. I tried to make a parallel between Sears and stores listing goods on Amazon, but I think it was hard for her to see any similarity at all.
The whole conversation made me painfully aware of the huge cultural distance between the life of a sixty-nine-year-old and the life of a twenty-three-year-old. If two women can’t understand each other’s perceptions of storing phone numbers, dating, and shopping, there isn’t much hope for a meeting of the minds.
I thanked her for my haircut and she thanked me for my motherly advice.