Caffeine Pizza With Medical Benefits.. Huh?

Reading signs with "new eyes" can jolt you into seeing the unexpected.

Posted Apr 30, 2013

I recently had a visitor from Denmark, a creativity expert who jolted me to think differently outside of the training workshop he led almost more than he did during the workshop.  

Like most Danes, his English is remarkable.  He uses slang and idioms, along with the rest of it, throwing words around and framing phrases in ways that were completely correct but more charming that the normal way we might.  He used “forth and back” instead of the more common "back and forth."  We talked for hours about our research, what we're learning, colleagues who drive us crazy, why I love Denmark and he loves the U.S.  But he was most insightful, almost without knowing it, when he noticed simple words and phrases that I ignore because I see them so often. 

He lives in northern Denmark, where everything is at sea level and they refer to any patch of ground 30 feet (about 10 meters) above sea level as a “mountain.”  In my part of the world, the high desert “foothills” of mountains start around 3000 feet (just under 1000 meters).   One Sunday we drove into the mountains, which were covered with Douglas firs.  We passed cattle ranches, a llama farm and a ramshackle wooden barn, abandoned years ago.  Every time I pass it, gravity has taken another tug on the wooden slats and roof.  It no longer stands but rather leans over, like a person whose back aches. 

And as we drove through the small towns that dot the windy state highway, he read the signs and asked what they meant.

“What’s ‘adopt a highway’ mean?”

“Why does it say ‘dog run’?  Do you want the dog to go away?” 

“’Watch for game.’  I don’t see a game anywhere?  And then what's that "game crossing" part mean?  Do gamers play near here?  What game is it?”

It didn't take long till I too started to read signs the way he might, similar to the way a young person just beginning to read might do.  

So I was ready for the sign that really showed me how much we take for granted without thinking.  It sat outside Harpo’s gas station and convenience store.  As I put my Danish eyes on, I started questioning myself....

A pizza that has caffeine?  Or does it?  It must have caffeine if it peps up? And could it have some medical benefit as well?  And those numbers?  Is that the size of the pizza – maybe six centimeters wide?”

 HUH? 

Now look at the words and you'll realize just how much we assume and use abbreviations:

MED THIN PEP PIZZA.  5.99

Now I knew this sign referred to a medium (sized) thin (crust) pep(peroni) pizza that sells for 5 dollars and 99 cents.  But it would completely baffle my very smart Danish friend.  He would be confused and intrigued, with the wonder of a child.  And that's what did it for me.  I found a way to jolt myself from my mundane and fast read of those signs I normally ignore.  It also helped me understand how much we may depend on abbreviations and knowledge of American eating habits.  By seeing like a Dane, though, I bring new eyes and perhaps a little creativity into my life. 

Try it sometime.  Take a drive with a foreigner or if you don't know any, borrow a 10 year old.  She'll  do the same thing - seeing signs, headlines, or slogans in ways that we don't.  What a great way to wake up your creative game.