Comparative idiot-proofing

Brits are smarter than Americans. Want proof? They’re surrounded by less idiot-proofing and they—or at least enough of them to keep the country staggering forward—survive.

Example number one: The cliffs here in north Cornwall are high and dangerous, and in places the footpaths run right along the edge. And no one builds a hand rail or fence (unless the fence is there to keep the cattle or sheep back; the humans are left to fend for themselves). For the most part, no one even puts up a sign. They’re cliffs. It’s assumed you’ll have sense enough not to walk off the edge. Besides, you’d have to fence off half the Cornish coastline if you wanted to protect everyone from themselves.

Our local beach does have a sign about falling rock on one side. People ignore it, but short of installing sheepdogs to herd them away, the council’s done as much as it’s willing to. No fences.

Penkenna, north cornwall

Irrelevant photo: The beach on a much nicer day than the day when I’m typing this. The gusts are high enough that I took the dogs on a stagger,  not a walk.

Example number two: Our car doesn’t have as many you-idiot buzzers as American cars, and I assume other people’s are the same. The makers count on you having the brains to take your key out of the ignition when you get out. In the U.S., they know better, because as it turns out I don’t have the brains–and let’s pretend for a moment that I’m typical of the human race. The other night, I not only left my key in the car, I left it turned so that it drained the battery. (On the positive side, the car was still where I left it.) So in the morning, when I went to drive Wild Thing to a doctor’s appointment (ah, yes, excitement; we were younger when she first got her name, but she still manages to live up to it) the car was dead, dead, dead.

You wouldn’t expect a person to complain about a car not insulting her intelligence, would you? But it does make me miss my insulting American car, which would’ve given me some sort of nasty you-idiot sound and I would have rolled my eyes and put the key in my pocket and sworn I didn’t need the reminder.

Here, the only thing I do (and I do it fairly regularly) to make my car give me the you-idiot noise is leave the lights on. You know, when it’s not dark enough for me to see that they’re on but overcast enough that they made me more visible. And then I forget I turned them on but the car—thank you, car—remembers.

When I drove cab—and we’re going back a few thousand years here—the company bought a bunch of new cars that, for the first time in Blue & White Cab Co. history, made a deeply aggressive you-idiot noise when the driver didn’t wear a seatbelt. A sizable percent of the drivers were of the Don’t You Tell Me What to Do persuasion, and they dealt with it by either fastening the belts permanently behind them or unplugging the wire between the belt and the screamy thing.

They even took a certain joy in it, as if they’d snatched back some control over their lives from an overwhelming and powerful system, and I do understand the impulse, just not the direction they take with it.

The going justification for not wearing a seatbelt was that we jumped in and out of the cab dozens of times a day—to open doors, to load and unload groceries and luggage, to ring doorbells and roust out passengers who said they’d be outside waiting for us but weren’t, so who could be bothered fastening and unfastening the damn thing each time?

Well, me, actually. Maybe it was just innate caution and maybe it was tales from friends and family who’d had their seatbelts fastened during accidents and had come through without a scratch. Maybe it was the accident I had, in a car with no seatbelt, where I ended up in the back seat with the lid of a coffee pot on my head and one boot still beside the gas pedal, ready to keep driving even without my foot to help it. I didn’t have a scratch on me, but I was dazed for the rest of the day.

We didn’t really jump out of the cab that many times a day. I mean, come on. Open the door for people? Only for the elderly and for people who needed to be, um, encouraged to leave. We weren’t fuckin’ limo drivers, trying to make our passengers think they were aristocrats.

Yes, cab driving did wonders for my attitude.

Anyway, I wear a seatbelt so regularly that it took me nine years to find out our current car screams when the driver doesn’t wear one. But I now officially miss all that other you-idiot buzzing. I not only had to ask our neighbor to drive Wild Thing to her appointment, I had to call the roadside assistance, which I’m grateful that we have because we don’t have a charger. While I waited for them, I was so pissed off that I tried out a hot cross bun recipe I’d found on the internet. I couldn’t think of anything else to do with myself. But the recipe turned out to have some uncertainties: How sticky a dough is a somewhat sticky dough? Is that bread flour or plain flour? Are those photographs really the buns you made or did you download it so we’d be impressed?

I used bread flour and left the dough too sticky, so the buns flattened out and even if they hadn’t they wouldn’t have been round anyway because I’m a practical baker, not a decorative one, plus they didn’t taste particularly like hot cross buns although they weren’t bad, and since I couldn’t be bothered putting a cross on top because the cross is decorative and I don’t have a lot of patience for that and would feel kind of weird about the religious symbolism anyway although I wouldn’t if I were buying them instead of baking them [quick pause for breath here], they ended up being cold secular buns. Not at all bad but not hot cross buns.

Then the guy came to jump the car and the world looked like a marginally better place. I don’t need a buzzer to keep me back from the cliff edges, but I will not complain about being insulted by my car.

If you want a cold secular bun, stop by soon. They’re going fast.

69 thoughts on “Comparative idiot-proofing

  1. I think somewhat sticky is the level of sticky where it is tricky to get off your hands but not so impossible that you turn into a dough monster…

    I am always leaving my keys in the car, but generally remember but the time i get to the house as my house keys are on the same key ring.

    what is worse is I have been known in the past (at university in halls and in a real adult house) to leave my keys in the outside of the door…
    mind you I also put tea towels in the microwave and hot cups of coffee in the fridge…

    if all of these things had warnings, my life would be very beepy…

    mind you my fridge does beep if I leave it open too long, which makes putting the shopping away noisy!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Liking this post, despite that incendiary first sentence, only because this may be one of the most perfect images created in any post I’ll read today: “Maybe it was the accident I had, in a car with no seatbelt, where I ended up in the back seat with the lid of a coffee pot on my head and one boot still beside the gas pedal, ready to keep driving even without my foot to help it.”

    I don’t think we Americans are any more idiotic than our British cousins. Maybe we’re a little more anxious and we see catastrophe around every corner, and a little more optimistic and we hope to try to prevent it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In Europe, Idiot proofing against leaving the ignition key in the car when the driver gets out is dependent on the manufacturer/model. I have a Japanese car (designed in Germany, built in the UK) that buzzes if you open the drivers door with the ignition key in the lock but not turned on. And it also buzzes if I open the door with the ignition off and the car’s external lights are on. But I don’t think it buzzes if I open the door with any of the interior lights permanently on, so I can still drain the battery that way (and I have). It probably doesn’t buzz if I drive it over a cliff, but then I wouldn’t hear that because I’d be screaming too loudly at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post. The Greeks know how to live on the edge, seatbelt-wise. A Greek best seller is a cheap little clip that you plug into the seatbelt socket and it prevents buzzers buzzing.
    A mechanical gag as it were. Also many Greek roads are basically tyre shredding pot-holes joined together by the occasional bit of tarmac. A buzzer to warn about these would be useless as it would never stop buzzing. I would have to buy a device to disable it. All the buzzing best. Kris.
    Don’t forget to give me a buzz.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I used to drive a Volkswagen Jetta. These cars have what I call a “christmas tree dashboard” – some lights flash, some stay on. Check Engine light, Brake light, Seatbelt light… Ugh. And, of course, the screamy thing. My car was always trying to tell me something. Now I have a much older model Ford Ranger that almost completely ignores me. We get along quite well.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Cold secular buns. Heh.
    I make hot cross buns sometimes at Easter. My crosses are made of icing, and I think of them more as sugar moderation exes. They make nice breakfast.
    I think I appreciate my car’s idiot warnings. The get-gas-now warning, the ping-ping that lets me know the lights are on. I feel like my car cares, unlike a cold British car ;)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Ellen,
    One reason for the “American attitude” may be their constant liability lawsuits. Whatever goes wrong, it’s never my fault, but somebody else’s, and they need to be sued. That, of course, makes the manufacturers think of the most stupid claims [as juries award high amounts of money even in theses cases] and warn against them.
    So, maybe I should warn you the staring at my comment here for too long may be detrimental to your eyes. ;)
    Have a great weekend,

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Cold secular buns sound good. I made Paul Hollywood’s fancy schmancy hot cross buns a couple of years ago–and they were delicious but not remotely related to any other hot cross buns I’d ever seen. I refuse to make them as often as once a year, they are so complicated.
    On the subject of you-idiot-buzzers, our car (a 2004 VW) used to make some of these noises, but one day a few years ago decided to go mute. It so refuses to speak that we don’t even get a clicking sound to inform us that the turn signal is on. (Only one near-miss because of this, but I’ve become used to obsessively checking that the light isn’t blinking after I exit a roundabout.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • That the car would stop buzzing and screaming doesn’t surprise me, but I can’t see the link to the clicking sound. Maybe it’s mad at you. Have you been calling it names or anything?

      I’ll look at the Paul Hollywood recipe–not so I can try it but to be grateful I didn’t.


      • So how come professional car people don’t get it that our car has gone mute? They only get as far as theorizing about a speaker not working, but that still doesn’t explain the silent turn signals. Oh well. If that’s the worst thing in a car over 10 years old, we can’t really complain, can we?

        Liked by 1 person

  9. We used to say “if you make something idiot proof, God will just make a better idiot.” My car screams at me to remove the key, turn off the lights and buckle-up. I’m OK with that. My daughter and I often find ourselves crossing over the fence that’s designed to protect us, in order to get a better picture of something. I don’t think that makes us idiots, but I guess if we one day die in the attempt, others can say what they want. Since I’m not a fan of hot cross buns, I’ll gladly try the cold secular kind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d invite you to stop by and see what you think of them, but J. did that this morning only to find that I’d frozen them. Which really is taking the cold part too far.

      I love the saying about making a better idiot. Thanks for adding that to my store of absurdity.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Do you remember the 1980s GM cars that talked to you? “YOUR DOOR IS OPEN. YOUR DOOR IS OPEN. YOUR DOOR IS OPEN.” A friend had one and that car stirred the desire to find a hammer and beat the dashboard until it stopped. Buzzes and dings are a big improvement although my 1999 Camry could silently turn its own headlights on/off as needed, something I just loved. My new Corolla makes me handle this job once again and emits an angry buzz when I forget to turn them off. It does not seem to care a bit if I forget to turn them on. It also will not let me see vital info like how much gas I have left when it thinks it needs to go in for a service visit. I am indignant but almost trained after 9 months. Where I could use a friendly little auditory reminder is on my front door. I leave my keys there frequently. The latest generation of luxury cars can keep itself in its lane and brake as it sees necessary. I wonder what such an American car would do on British roads. Can a car have a heart attack?? The buns sound great. Wish I could drop in. Also, I covet those rocks on the beach. With the drought, rocks are replacing lawns here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rocks sound like a great idea. Not only don’t they need water, you don’t have to mow them. The drought’s still going on, then? It’s dropped out of the news here and I somehow decided it had broken.

      Cars that do things like turn their own lights on make me nervous. Because whatever can break down will, sooner or later. And there you’ll be, forgetting how to turn them on yourself because it’s been three years since you had to. Or something along those lines. Now that Wild Thing can’t drive, we’re both hoping for self-driving cars to be unleashed on the world, but given what I just said about things breaking down. Hmm. Worrying.


    • >The latest generation of luxury cars can keep itself in its lane and brake as it sees necessary. I wonder what such an American car would do on British roads.

      Ok, provided the car can handle the twisty country roads here. In fact, cars with anti-tailgating capability are available in the UK (and the rest of Europe). I know someone with a Volvo (I forget whch model), that has radar sensors at the front. They make it impossible to drive into the back of the car in front of you, as the Volvo puts the brakes on when you get too close. Car dealers selling these vehicles include in the test drive letting you drive as fast as possible at a simulated brick wall (a pile of cardboard boxes). The car always stops dead way before it can hit the “wall”.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I wonder if I could make myself do that. I have a hunch I couldn’t.

        And while I’m in wondering mode, I’ve wondered whether driverless cars will allow someone with limited vision–or someone who doesn’t have a driver’s license for some other reason–to “drive” them. Will they need someone behind the wheel who could take charge if it all goes wrong? And will that person be awake/not reading when it does?


        • I believe that current research about the safety of driverless cars reveals that if all cars were driverless, they would be very safe. However, when you look at the real-world situation where there’s a mix of human driven and “driverless cars on the road, the driverless ones can cause accidents, because they aren’t (at present) smart enough to deal with the quirks of human drivers.
          I suppose that the powers that be could always legislate that a driverless car can only move at a maximum of 5 mph and must have a man waving a red flag walking in front of it. Hang on… hasn’t that happened before?

          Liked by 1 person

          • I’m sure someone will propose that, but I’d argue that it doesn’t have to be a man. A woman with an orange flag (to mark the difference, of course) would work just as well.

            When I first started coming to Britain, I could handle driving on the wrong side of the road well enough, but every so often I’d see a car coming toward me with a huge dog in what I’d have sworn was the driver’s seat, and that threw me for a long time. I expect driverless cars will have the same effect.


  11. I mentioned the cold secular buns to husband and he said to tell you (apropos the cross in them) “They’re not votive buns, they’re voting buns”. He also said something aboit three raisins and Donald Trump, so it’s probably best just to ignore him….

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I find the fasten seatbelt indicator is useful when alerting me as to whether my passenger has his seat buckled- at this point in time, I don’t need an alarm for myself- yet. It was a great learning experience for my son- once, when it alerted me he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt, he told me he didn’t need to fasten it since our destination was only 2 minutes away. I told him most accidents happen within a half mile of the home and sure enough, the following week, we were in an accident a quarter mile from home- with both our belts buckled :)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I could only hope…no wish…for a life that beeps and buzzes under any or all conditions. I’m thinking the excitement would probably kill me unless the cliff hazard found me first.
    I’m at the back of the queue…you still got buns?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m with Pit on why the US seems idiot-friendly. Common sense never won any law suits.
    As for me, since electroshock, I AM an idiot and can’t remember where the car is let alone if the keys are in it. I’m very grateful for all the gentle nudges I can get.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Here from Janice’s Meet and Greet on Mostly Blogging.
    I was all agog to see how idiot proofing compares in the UK, to us Americans.
    Now I feel like an idiot. We do have WAY too much idiot proofing. That’s because everyone sues at the drop of a hat, or cup of hot coffee. IT”S COFFEE. IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE HOT.
    AH, to live in a country where they assume you’re of average intelligence!
    Then again, the idiot buzzers in the cars ARE a nice touch!
    I love buns, secular, cross, hot or cold…. Save one for me???
    PS I have visited you before, but it was a l o n g time ago. Why did I wait so long to return?
    Reference 3rd line above….

    Liked by 1 person

  16. There is a perfectly simple reason we Americans have idiot-alarms on everything – we do not live simply. We are never in-the-moment, but sadly our brains are always somewhere else (LOL – and this is NOT a good thing Martha -LOL). What color is the sky in your world today? (fantastic post by the way – now you have given me one more thing to connect with and think about – oh – wait – I left my keys in my car – gotta go

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yup, get those keys out while you still have a battery.

      The sky today has shown us a startling amount of blue. It’s been a gray, wet winter and any day we see blue we’re as ecstatic as Minnesotans are when they first hear icicles dripping melt water into the snow.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. I loved this! It’s hilarious how many idiot proof gadgets and gizmos Americans put on products. The assumption being “You stupid consumer, you’re too dumb to realize how to operate this thing without a buzzer or bell reminding you what an idiot you are.” I think there’s also a profit motive, as these gadgets and safety-features keep those companies in business and manufacturers can charge more (“Hey, we installed this special idiot proof device to make your new purchase safer, so we’re gonna charge ya more!”)

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Cha-ching is right- – -I believe that our/my nation (US) has gotten too lazy. Where is the difference between need and want? I need more time in my day – and why? I read, write, care for my 7 yr old grandson, run 3 businesses and will always look for more time….but “gadgets” are not always the answer – stepping away from them maybe!? I love to read and write – but my real fav is the gardens. I carry my cel incase of emergency (my grandson has ADHD & is in therapy for abandonment &depression issues – so sad at only 7) but it is my time to meditate, relax, enjoy the art of playing in the dirt and making things grow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A hundred years ago, I took a women’s history class at the University of Minnesota–a wonderful class–and one thing I remember the professor talking about was the impact of labor-saving household equipment on women’s work: standards and expectations went up so that the work didn’t necessarily decrease. It’s magic! So do all our gadgets help us make space in our lives? Good question. Not necessarily.


    • The worst of it is that I actually need the damned things. I’m dependent on them and my life has become unmanageable.

      Okay, it was already unmanageable and not for that reason, but still…


Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.