Please Read Before Using

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When I drive west from Denver to Craig, I notice a sign posted on I-70 shortly before the off-ramp to Silverthorne, a busy town which sits at the bottom of the long, steep hill I-70 descends before swooping up again. The sign tells truckers not to exit if they’ve lost their brakes. I like to think truckers will see for themselves the folly of taking a short, downhill exit into a busy intersection without brakes, but I suppose you never know.

The sign reminds me of the assembly and use instructions that accompany purchases and divide folks into two groups: those who read them and those who don’t. I read directions; I can’t help it; I’m captivated by words. My husband Joel ignores directions; he could help it; but he can’t be bothered. When assembling a metal shelving unit, he dives in, uses interesting vocabulary interspersed with “huh!” and assembles a sturdy three-shelf unit.

I, on the other hand, must find my glasses, skim all instructions, arrange the components in order of use and collect the necessary tools from wherever Joel left them. Then I begin following the directions, step by careful step, until wayward pieces and a unit askew force me to ask for my husband’s help.

I feel bad when I ignore appliance manuals filled with dos and don’ts. Someone took care with those words; I should read them. Recently, I examined the booklet for my new crock-pot and was relieved to discover its eight pages of directions included French, Spanish and Chinese, leaving a mere two pages in English for me to study.

I’m also happy when I discover a manual includes instructions for different models, because I don’t have to read about those I don’t own. However, while leafing through the instructions, I invariably notice the premium model with its programming options, blinking lights and clever attachments. Then I experience buyer’s remorse: “Oh, I wish I’d chosen the dryer with a steam-refresh option. I wouldn’t look so wrinkled.”

Sometimes the instructions contain surprises. I use my microwave to re-heat coffee, warm-up leftovers, and thaw stuff. But the manual informs me that in addition to cooking broccoli, bulgur, and brownies, this miracle machine can toast nuts, heat herbal neck packs, and kill the salmonella lurking in sponges.

When my coffeemaker burbled and died several months after purchase, I searched its manual for warranty information. In the section on maintenance, I discovered my negligence. I had neither decalcified the coffeemaker every forty brew-cycles nor replaced the water-filtration disk every thirty. A person could get dizzy trying to keep track of when to do what. Wouldn’t common sense suggest that coordinating the two tasks would be more efficient? And is the suggested schedule necessary, or is it a ploy to sell cleaning solution and filtration disks?

I think corporate lawyers write the safety warnings in manuals. Why else would I be warned to avoid looking for a gas leak with a lit match, to refrain from putting my hand inside an operating blender and to prevent children from standing on a cooktop in use?

I also sense a low estimate of my intelligence when I read if my mixer doesn’t start, I may have failed to plug it in, turn it on or notice there is a power shortage in my neighborhood.

Yesterday, I purchased a new toaster; I need to stop writing now so I can read its manual. I hope the directions will warn me not to use it to warm my fingers, because I’ve been thinking about doing so.

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53 thoughts on “Please Read Before Using

  1. Please, Janet, please, don’t use the toaster while bathing. That was an actual warning on a small toaster oven we bought years ago.

    This post made me smile a lot and laugh a little. I installed a storm door a couple of weeks ago. Each step of the instructions had large pictures accompanied by text in three languages. I missed some steps because Step 5 had a very minor Steb 5-B that was to the right of French and Spanish Step 5-A.

    Also, with all the alarm bells, lights and simulated voices in vehicles today, I wonder how many truck drivers need to “test brakes” as often as the signs would suggest?

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    • Do you suppose they write such warnings because they were sued when someone did the thing they are warning us against? Or because they or a loved one tried it? About your storm door: I am a very good reader and sometimes I am stymied because of the sort of thing that gave you trouble. Also, I’d never thought about the test-brakes sign, but you would think a truck’s computer would take care of that issue. Really, I think most such directions are written from fear of being sued or experience being sued.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think you’re right. When I had my cabinet shop, the insurance company wouldn’t let me build chairs unless I put a warning label on them not to stand on them (to change light bulbs and stuff). Isn’t that just what you’d want on a custom made chair?

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m not overly adroit with mechanical objects. But I’m proud to say that I figured out how to use the delayed brewing option on my Mr Coffee brewer. At night I push various buttons in the correct order, and add the coffee and H2O. Then, in the morning the machine turns on and makes the coffee before I get out of the bathroom.

    Success!

    Liked by 1 person

    • My compliments on your success, Neil. Of such small victories are happy lives made. I have my own version of your delayed brewing button: my husband. He gets up first, turns on some lights, makes the coffee and calls me when it’s ready. And he doesn’t require programming.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Good questions, Sally. In response to the first, I’ve had to replace at least three coffee makers in the last twenty years, but still have the same husband. And for the second: unfortunately my husband did not come with an instruction manual, though it’s a good idea. Perhaps you and I could collaborate on a manual for husbands in general. It could be quite funny, especially the warnings.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I never was keen on reading instructions, but when i bought my last microwave oven, reading the instructions made a big difference. I would not have got it going if I had not read them.A lesson learned !

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  4. Love it, love it, love it!
    Aw Aunt Beulah, this has tickled me so much.
    Mr.Cobs isn’t a reader of instructions, he’s a picture looker and makes a statement of “Right, got it.” and he then sets to and does what is required. Only … he doesn’t.

    I have two bits of ‘furniture’ from Ikea in my craft room, both of which have two pieces of ‘wood’ fixed on them, upside down and the wrong way round. Apparently he actually didn’t read that instruction. [sigh]. LOL

    LOVE this post so so much.
    Sending squidges ~ Cobs. xxx

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  5. There were many reasos to make me smile in this post. First I am familiar with the guy who won’t read the mnanual, but will fly into a tizzy to find it when he can’t fiish the job. I too ama manual reader, however, I recently bought a new hand mixer merely to get the small whisk beater with it. It is the same model as I have been using for umpteen uyears, but for some reason I can’t get the beaters to stick in. I can’t read the manual anymore as I am losing my eyesight. I placed it in the thrift shop box first, them removed it and ask my daughter to figure it out. No point in asking the guy who wo’t read the manual.

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    • I’ve noticed from the comments from my readers that it is mainly the guys who won’t read the manual. I’m also familiar with the frenzied search for the manual when things don’t work out well that you mention. We people are so predictably funny, aren’t we? I hope your daughter got your mixer going for you.

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  6. So have you read the one where you can make toasted cheese sandwiches in your toaster? Hm,,,,don’t do it. Trust me on this one. Simply don’t do it!!! Cute piece. Your humor was evident from the beginning until the end. (((Hugs))) Lucie ;>)

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  7. Oh I could rant on for hours over this post AB, so I’ll contain myself to the first one that I noticed this morning on my toaster …”Caution toast may burn”. Thank you manufacturer wherever you are, I have lived through toasting with a fork (yes it burns), toasting with a manual toaster (yes it too burns) and fifty useless automatic toasters that still burn regardless of the setting selected, I get the message TOAST WILL BURN! Have a good day or evening and watch your toast it may burn.

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  8. Oh Janet, you don’t need the steam-refresh option—you always look un-wrinkled! 🙂
    I have to admit that I’m a person who skims manuals and then never really “gets” the instructions.
    As for warning labels? Well, that’s a way to absolve companies and corporations from any possible claims regarding their products!
    Thanks for another fun read.

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    • I agree about the warning labels being to prevent lawsuits, which is quite a commentary on the society we live in. And I need to confess that my unwrinkled appearance is because the last time we had to buy a dryer, I took my time, researched, talked to friends and bought the steam-refresh option, which I think is the most innovative thing to happen to applianced in years.

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      • So steam-refresh is the answer, huh?
        We have a 17 year-old dryer and, until reading this post, I had never even heard about this option. When this dryer fails, I’ll go for the innovative appliance!

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      • I like it, Rita. I’m surprised how much I use it. For example, when I pull out my winter sweaters and turtlenecks that I folded away clean, they usually have creases and wrinkles (which probably tells you something about my folding capabilities). Fifteen minutes in steam refresh, and they are good to go.

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  9. Hahaha! You are so humorous, Janet. At my house, the roles are reversed. I’m the one who dives right it while my husband carefully reads the instructions. However, when I come to a snag in my project, I am still the one calling for him.

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  10. I laughed out loud at this – and my husband is going to read some of the warnings at a health and safety meeting next week to lighten the atmosphere.
    I don’t even try to put things together, but when my computer updates itself without my asking it to, I rarely read the “what’s new”, so I end up cursing and swearing, because what I used to do doesn’t work now.

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    • I always smile when I see a comment from you, Sally; it’s good to hear from you. It tickles me that your husband is going to share some of my post. It sounds like the perfect meeting to do so. I could be your twin with technology updates; I, too, curse and swear and for the same reason.

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  11. Again, you have managed to caricature my husband and i! Except that he is the meticulous reader, and I am the habitual mucker-upper. Most of the time it is fine, as I leave The Assembly to him. Except on days when I am home before he is, and I just can’t wait! And then he is left to literally pick up the pieces when he gets home!

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  12. I can laugh and identify with all that you say, but woe when there are NO instructions. I returned to the camera store to say there were no instructions with my new camera and was told they were only online. I had planned to read them on a ten hour transatlantic flight and be an expert when I landed. This was before there was wi-if on planes.
    But, I once assembled a computer desk and hutch from a flat box and the feeling of accomplishment lasted me for months. The tray slid and the door opened/closed…..it was a miracle.

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  13. Is that the same computer desk we sat in front of as I showed you pictures of my grandchildren? If so, I can understand why you walked proud for months. I just upgraded my Fitbit clip-on to a Garmin watch and the only instructions were online. Maybe it’s me, but I simply cannot find my way through a lengthy manual using the table of contents and index online as quickly as I can a printed copy. (I suppose that admission gives those who don’t already know a good idea of my age). I finally just called my brother who had the same watch.

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  14. We sat at the big computer cabinet while we looked at how your grandchildren had grown. My handiwork is smaller, in another bedroom. (But still pretty darn impressive.)
    I agree with you about online instructions being so difficult. Since we’re the same age, it might be us, but I still say Bah! to anything but written instructions. I’d at least like a choice. May I have your brother’s number? Does he know anything about cameras?

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    • So when I woke up in the other bedroom, did I roll over and see your handiwork? Or was it added since my last visit? I’d willingly share my brother’s number, but he wouldn’t be much help with a camera; though he does have a good idea on how to use one. When his wife and he travel with their children, they rotate their camera to a different person each day. Back home, they have great fun looking at what each of them deemed worthy of a photograph on their days.His son once took several photographs throughout his day of a new pair of shoes he purchased and was wearing. PS: Way to go Virginia!

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      • Yes, the desk/hutch was in your line of vision. Switching the camera sounds entertaining for a family. I thought I saw photos of them in London?
        This is a great post! You’ve noticed absurdities that make us all shake our heads.
        PS: yay also to Maine and New Jersey!

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  15. The REAL question is when you check off the “I have read and agree” box on just about everything on the internet, did you REALLY read the 47 pages of fine print?
    I sure don’t, but then I’m forced to lie and say that I did, in order to progress to the next screen.

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  16. Oh, you are so right, Shelley. I never read those things because I have no idea what I’m reading; it all sounds like a lawyer’s gobbledygook. So, like you, I lie. But, unusually, I don’t feel guilty about it.

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