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Anecdotes of Stupidity

Overheard this on a London bus:

At the fish hatchery where I work, we have a small display that describes the now-extinct Michigan Grayling (a kind of fish). This summer, I had the following conversation with a tourist:

Frustrated, he left.

I was checking out at the local Foodland with just a few items, and the lady behind me put her things on the belt close to mine. I picked up one of those dividers that they keep by the cash register and placed it between our things so they wouldn't get mixed. After the girl had scanned all of my items, she picked up the divider and looked all over it for the bar code so she could scan it. Not finding the bar code she said to me, "Do you know how much this is?"

I said, "I've changed my mind; I don't think I'll buy that today."

She said, "OK," and I paid her for the things and left. She had no clue about what had just happened.

Overheard at a movie theater snack bar:

This happened a couple of years ago in a local electronics store.

The salesman took a quarter out of his pocket and make a huge scratch in one of the display models.

He proceeded to deface two more TVs.

My girlfriend and I visited together with her friend in an old churchyard from the 1700s. Among the tombstones was one dated around 1725 that had fresh flowers by it.

My doctor's office gives each patient a card with the date of the next appointment. One lady came in with her card on August 23rd, and here's what happened:

This went on for several minutes.

The following call came in at 7:30 this morning:

I work as a cashier at a grocery store that was celebrating its grand re-opening. To draw customers, we were mailing out coupons for various free items, such as eggs, soda, chips, etc. The coupon for the chips was very specific: it had to be a 13 1/4 bag of Lays Potato Chips.

One lady was a bit confused. Upon handing me her bag of chips and the corresponding coupon, she said, "The coupon says thirteen and one fourth, but I guess this is close enough, right?" I checked. The net weight of the bag was given as 13.25 ounces. I looked up, certain she was joking.

She wasn't.

This stupidity was a story my friend told me about his girlfriend at the time. When he told me the story, I didn't believe him, so I asked his girlfriend (who thought the South Pole was hot because it was in the South), and she confirmed the story.

He and his girlfriend were necking in his car when there was a power failure. All the street lights when out, and all the houses around were dark. She said, "Oh no, you won't be able to start your car!" He told her it would start just fine, and then she said, "But your headlights won't work! You won't be able to see where you're going!"

Near here (Hastings, MI) is a restored water powered grain mill. It has been turned into a public attraction and several historic buildings have been moved to the grounds.

The guide, telling about a two story house, explained that the upper story was added several years after the lower part. One family insisted on knowing where the builders found an upper story that fit. The guide explained that "they just built it," but the family still insisted on knowing where the builders found an upper story that fit. Finally, in exasperation, the guide said, "They bought it at Sears."

The family went away happy, apparently not aware that the house had been built long before Sears had ever been conceived.

I was signing the receipt for my credit card purchase when the clerk noticed that I had never signed my name on the back of the credit card. She informed me that she could not complete the transaction unless the card was signed. When I asked why, she explained that it was necessary to compare the signature on the credit card with the signature I just signed on the receipt. So I signed the credit card in front of her.

She carefully compared that signature to the one I signed on the receipt. As luck would have it, they matched.

I was working in a photo store, which specializes in restoring old photographs, when a lady brought in a old picture of a man sitting behind a cow, milking it.

She pointed to the feet sticking out under the cow.

I am a very frequent taxi user, especially for the trip from Melbourne's airport to the city center. The trip started in the usual fashion; I gave the taxi driver the destination, got grunts in return, and we edged out onto the motorway and accelerated to about 115 kmph. Then the driver braked down to about 90. He then eased back up to 110. Braked to 90 again. After four or five repetitions I asked if there was a problem with the car.

I pondered this for another couple of brake-accelerate repetitions, then spoke up again.

We reach 110. The driver backs of the pedal. The car slows, magically.

At the end of the ride I showed the driver how to accept credit card payments on his system and wished him better luck with his second fare.

With his car up on a lift in the garage where my father worked, the owner of a 1970s Cadillac (with the extra wheel well fenders that covered a fair portion of the tires) asked that all four wheels be rotated such that the valve stems were "pointing up" (and therefore not obstructed by the fender extensions). This was to ensure that the next time he pulled into a service station to put air into the tires, all four valve stems would be accessible without needing to move the car several times to get access.

In my high school civics class the air conditioner didn't have the vents to direct which way the air would blow for most of the first semester, so everyone who sat in the back of the class would freeze, while the people sitting in the front were always hot. One day, somebody in the back decided to take a stand against the teacher and declare the class to be cold. He stood up and said, "Mrs. Barnes, it's cold in here. We need to turn the air off."

Since this was a class that always had to argue, someone else said "Turn it off?"

The first person, being the exceptionally bright student that he is, retorted, "Yeah, off. O - F."

Then one of our other geniuses decided to pipe up and said, "I would have laughed so hard if you had spelled that wrong."

In my high school biology class, one day, we were watching a video about wildcats in Africa. At one point, a flood had receeded, and the cats were hunting for fish stranded in small pools of water. A girl in the back piped up.

I work in the Toy Department at a Walmart, and one day I was asked to do a price check. The cashier explained to me that a customer wanted to buy some puzzles, priced at 4 for $5.00, but they were ringing up at $1.25 a piece. Apparently neither the customer nor the cashier ever made it through sixth grade math.

I used to work in an art supply store. We sold artists' canvas by the yard, and you could get it in either of two widths: 36 inches or 48 inches.

I was pulling into a gas station one day when I saw a woman drive off with the nozzle still in her gas tank. She jerked the nozzle right off the hose. Realizing what she had done, she pulled back in, took the nozzle out of the tank, and put it back on the pump. Then she went inside to straighten things out with the management.

While she was inside, a young man pulled up to the pump. He took the nozzle, with no hose attached, into his tank. He couldn't seem to figure out why he wasn't getting any gas. He even took the nozzle out and repositioned it in the tank a couple times. I thought about pointing out the obvious problem to him but then decided that he'd be embarrassed enough when he figured it out on his own.

About a year and a half ago I went with a couple of buddies to a hardware store to get some paint for my living room. Since we were buying paint we started talking about various facets of house painting, home renovation, etc. I brought up the fact that I wanted to paint my bedroom camouflage when I was little, but my parents wouldn't let me. The clerk looked at us with a straight face and said, "How would you go about mixing camouflage paint anyway?" I had to walk out of the store very quickly so I wouldn't laugh in the clerk's face.

In Canada, we have recently begun receiving and using new $10 bills that are harder for counterfeiters to reproduce. I overheard this conversation, between two ladies, on a bus:

I was at the airport, checking in at the gate, when the airport employee asked, "Has anyone put anything in your baggage without your knowledge?"

I said, "If it was without my knowledge, how would I know?"

He smiled and nodded knowingly, "That's why we ask."

The stoplight on the corner buzzes when it is safe to cross the street. I was crossing with a dense co-worker of mine; she asked if I knew what the buzzer was for. I explained that it signals to blind people when the light is red.

She responded, appalled, "What on earth are blind people doing driving?"

At a goodbye lunch for an old and dear co-worker who is leaving the company due to "rightsizing," our manager spoke up and said, "This is fun. We should have lunch like this more often." Not another word was spoken. We just looked at each other like deer staring into the headlights of an approaching truck.

Once I was on a school trip to England. We flew there in a Boeing 747. Shortly after take-off, the flight attendant had distributed candy. One girl didn't know what to do with the wrapper, so she started trying to open the window. Others nearby started snickering, but she shouted, "Shut up and help me open this bloody window!"

Twelve years ago, while stationed in Germany, I walked into the post exchange at Leighton Barracks in Wurzburg to purchase some velcro. I told the woman in the fabrics section that I needed two yards of the stuff. She frowned and informed me, "We only sell it it feet." At first I thought she was being humorous, but when I realized she was serious I said, "Ok, then, give me six feet." For a moment I was afraid she was going to cut it into twelve-inch segments, but instead she hauled out a length and began measuring it against the yardstick attached to the table. She paused, looked, thought, then measured out two yards, cut it and rang it up without another word.

While I was watching a football game on TV with my friend and his wife once, a player was knocked out of bounds with considerable force. He plowed right into a technician holding one of those satellite dish-shaped microphones who did not even have time to attempt to avoid the collision. During the replay which showed the technician getting knocked over backwards and doing about three summersaults, his wife replied sarcastically, "Right, like that little shield was going to protect him!"

I work for a cable company. About two years ago a storm caused terrific damage to a neighborhood about three blocks from our office. A customer called to complain that his cable was off. I asked his address. When he gave it to me, I recognized it immediately. I had done a damage survey less than an hour before.

Yeah, that makes sense. Let it rain in the house but don't miss must-see-TV!

It was about this time I wondered how he was calling me -- remember, the phone line was down too. He answered the question for me.

A family was plagued by a "techno-terrorist" who terrorized the family in many ways. The family would be on the phone talking to a relative or friend, and the hacker would break into the conversation and say some pretty rude things. He also managed to turn the lights on and off in the house. Everyone was baffled, and the police were eventually called in, along with Bell Canada, and the electric company. Bell and the electric company both insisted that such a thing could not be done, but everyone was convinced of the hacker's ability to control the phones and electricity in the house. The electric company rewired the house three times, all to no avail. Everyone was completely baffled as to how someone could do this. Modern technology was to blame, of course.

After about three weeks of terror, the son confessed. It turned out that he gained control of the electricity by going to the main power feed and turning it off, and he gained control of the phones by picking up another extension in the house. Needless to say, the family was stuck with the bill for rewiring the electricity and the phones, and they were fined by the police to boot.

While on a ski trip in Wyoming, I encountered a husband and wife on the slopes who asked me if I would take a picture of them. I said I would be happy to, and I did. Then I asked if they wouldn't mind taking a picture of me.

"Oh...sorry," the man answered, "but we only have two pictures left, and we wanted to take some pictures of the lodge."

When I brought my mother-in-law home one afternoon, she discovered that she didn't have her key to her second story apartment. I went to the garage, took out the ladder, and climbed up, finding that all the windows were locked. As I stood there on the ladder, deciding whether to break the window or not, she looked up at me and said, "Too bad Mrs. Jones (the owner of the building) isn't here. She has a key to my apartment, and she could go up and open the window for you!"

A friend of mine was showing me a little fold-away phone number list that he kept in his wallet. The way it worked was that the piece of paper with the telephone list is glued to two magnets the size and shape of a credit card. The paper folded up accordion-style and was secured by the two magnets sticking together.

I set a VCR up for my father and asked if there was anything he'd like taped soon so I could show him the on-screen programming. There was, and I did, and I said, "Then you just put a blank tape in and shut the VCR off, and it will come on and tape your program at the right time."

Sound instructions. Except my father had heard that you shouldn't leave a blank tape in the VCR, so he took out the tape and shut the power off.

Without the tape in the VCR, the timer icon blinked in warning. So he unplugged the VCR.

At a nursing home where I worked several years ago, a nurse on frequent evening duty had bought a VCR in order to tape some of the shows she missed while at work. However, she had some trouble programming it -- not once had it taped anything -- so she asked if I could help her. She would bring the remote and the instruction manual with her the next evening.

On a break the following evening I walked her through programming her VCR, and she repeatedly said that she had done exactly like I showed her, but it still hadn't taped anything. I was a bit mystified, so I handed her the remote and asked her to show me how she programmed it. She looked in the evening's TV listing, found a show she wanted to tape, and pressed all the right buttons on the remote, just as she was supposed to do, if she wanted to set the VCR correctly. And then she asked me: "So when I get home, it will have taped the show, right?"

Her home was about 15 miles from the nursing home. I politely explained her that it was probably outside the remote control's range, and if she programmed her VCR before leaving for work, it might help. It did.

The mother of a friend went to New York City for the first time and was approached by a homeless man soliciting the sale of a bottle of exclusive moisturizer, normally retailed at $80, for only $5. She reached for her purse enthusiastically and said, "Sir, will there be tax on that?" When the man recovered from laughing, he made the sale -- tax free.

Several years ago when we were still in high school, my friend, her sister, and I were watching the Olympics. Her sister asked us why rodeos weren't an Olympic sport. We said,"Because the U.S. is probably the only country where rodeos take place." She was very quick to argue, "Nuh uh, Oklahoma has rodeos too."

It's amazing how stupid people can be on the telephone. I used to work for a major northwestern bank in the collections department, and we would frequently get calls like this:

As if calling long distance will magically make the individual magically appear in the office!

When my friend got her driver's license, her sister looked at it and, quite perplexed asked, "'Donor'? What did you doan?" My friend corrected her, "I donated my organs in the event that I die." Her confused response: "Don't you need them?"

I work for a cable company, and this is without a doubt the stupidest question a customer has ever called in with. It was during a blizzard, which had knocked out power in the many areas.

Then he hung up, without so much as giving his name or address.

Once I found myself in the dubious position of Customer Assistant at a university computer center. We had three computers that were used for students to sign up for email accounts. Signs were on all the walls, in and out of the computer lab, that read "Email Account Setup This Way" and pointed toward these three computers. Still, every day, two or three people would ask us where to sign up for an email account.

Frustrated, I created a seven step sign in large letters, detailing the exact procedure to follow in order to get to these computers:

How to Sign Up for an Email Account

  1. Look at the other end of the room from where you are standing.
  2. Notice the computers labeled "Email Account Setup."
  3. Go to one of them.
  4. Sit down at it.
  5. Fill out the form you see in the Netscape browser with your relevant information.
  6. Hit "Submit."
  7. Remember your username and password.

One day, soon after putting this sign up, an older man came in with his daughter. He walked up, started to speak, and then noticed the sign. He read it, looked over his shoulder, turned back, read some more, looked over his shoulder again, conversed quietly with his daughter, read a bit more, then walked up to the window and asked, "Where do we sign up for an email account?"

I pause, expecting him to supply me with the address.

He hung up. Saved me the trouble, actually.

Some time ago I worked for an independent TV station in Northern Ontario. The transmitter was off the air, and it was my job to go to the transmitter site to restore service. Before I left the station manager asked me why there was no sound or picture. I explained the transmitter was off, and I was on my way to fix the problem. He then instructed me to ask master control to run an announcement that we were off the air and would be back on as soon as possible.

Just when I was beginning to have faith that the world of politics was becoming standard knowledge for nearly all Americans, this happened to me.

I was in the hallway where a girl was talking to her friend. In a nutshell, she was convinced that the name of a person running for President of the United States was "Bush Cheney."

I just about lost it, but then she topped herself. She said that the prime opponent was someone named "Kerry Edwards," adding that she thought he was a guy but could be wrong, "because Kerry sounds like a girl's name."

While looking at a house, my brother asked the real estate agent which direction was north because, he explained, he didn't want the sun waking him up every morning.

"Does the sun rise in the north?" she asked.

When another person jumped in and explained that the sun rises in the east (and has for some time), she shook her head and said, "Oh, I don't keep up with that stuff."

I used to work in technical support for a 24x7 call center. One day I got a call from an individual who asked what hours the call center was open. I told him, "The number you dialed is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week."

"Is that Eastern or Pacific time?" he asked.

So my colleague and I were eating our lunch in our cafeteria when we overheard one of the administrative assistants talking about the sunburn she got on her weekend drive to the shore. She drove down in a convertible but didn't think she'd get sunburned because the car was moving.

I was in an advanced high school physics class, and the teacher was talking about a new military weapon that used sonic waves on the battlefield to burst enemy soldiers' chests. One person in the class spoke up and said, "Well that's stupid! Why don't they just wear headphones?"

My sister has a lifesaving tool in her car. It's designed to cut through a seatbelt if she gets trapped. She keeps it in the passenger side door's map pocket.

My friends and I were on a beer run and noticed that the cases were discounted 10%. Since it was a big party, we bought two cases. The cashier multiplied two times 10% and gave us a 20% discount.

I was hanging out with a friend of mine when we saw a woman walk by us with a nose ring attached to an earring by a chain. My friend said, "Wouldn't the chain rip out every time she turned her head?"

I couldn't find my luggage at the airport baggage area. So I went to the lost luggage office and told the woman there that my bags never showed up. She smiled and told me not to worry because they were trained professionals, and I was in good hands. "Now," she asked me, "Has your plane arrived yet?"

I worked for a lighting control manufacturer, and our toll-free number was only one digit off from one of GE's. This resulted in a number of misdirected calls, but the most memorable was this one.

I finally got him to read the number on the box and pointed out that he was off by one digit. He thanked me and hung up. Ten minutes later, he called again and (lucky me) got me again.


In my high school geometry class we were using protractors. This bimbo girl (imagine valley girl like speech) was holding her transparent plastic protractor saying:

She was holding it upside down. I thought she was kidding. She wasn't.

I work at a Target store in a large city, where I work in customer service and sometimes as a cashier. Like most other retail stores, we have credit card machines (called PIN pads at our store) at each of our registers, so that people can pay with their credit cards as employees are ringing up merchandise. The PIN pad clearly states on the screen, "Please select card type." Beneath this are two buttons clearly marked "Credit" and "Debit." If you do not press one of these two buttons first, nothing will happen when you slide your card. The instructions on the PIN pad seem simple enough to me, but I am constantly amazed at the number of people who just cannot seem to comprehend the process. What follows is an exchange between a particularly rude customer and me.

The woman walked up to the counter with credit card in hand. I finished ringing up her purchases (she had already been rude by this time), and she marched up to the credit card machine, stared at the screen for several moments (mind you, this screen was instructing her to select her card type first) and proceeded to swipe her card. Several times in a row. Upside down AND backwards.

So she pressed the debit button and swiped her card. The machine instructed her to key in her PIN number, since the card was a checkcard being used as debit instead of credit. I noticed that the customer was standing there looking confusedly at the screen again, so I asked her to key in her PIN number for her debit card.

I decided not to argue and asked her if she had any other card she'd like to use. She said she didn't. I asked her if she'd like to write a check. No. I asked her if she wanted to use cash, and she said she didn't have any with her.

Luckily, the woman's husband came walking up, wondering what was taking us so long. She explained the situation to him.

I won't even venture a guess as to what she was talking about.

About 6-7 years ago, I was in a philosophy class at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (good science/engineering school) and the teaching assistant (TA) was explaining Descartes. He was trying to show how things don't always happen the way we think they will and explained that, while a pen always falls when you drop it on Earth, it would just float away if you let go of it on the Moon.

My jaw dropped a little. I blurted "What?!" Looking around the room, I saw that only my friend Mark and one other student looked confused by the TA's statement. The other 17 people just looked at me like "What's your problem?"

"But a pen would fall if you dropped it on the Moon, just more slowly," I protested.

"No it wouldn't," the TA explained calmly, "because you're too far away from the Earth's gravity."

Think. Think. Aha! "You saw the APOLLO astronauts walking around on the Moon, didn't you?" I countered. "Why didn't they float away?"

"Because they were wearing heavy boots," he responded, as if this made perfect sense (remember, this is a Philosophy TA who's had plenty of logic classes).

By then I realized that we were each living in totally different worlds, and did not speak each other's language, so I gave up. As we left the room, my friend Mark was raging. "How can all those people be so stupid?!"

I tried to be understanding. "Mark, they knew this stuff at one time, but it's not part of their basic view of the world, so they've forgotten it. Most people could probably make the same mistake."

To prove my point, we went back to our dorm room and began randomly selecting names from the campus phone book. We called about 30 people and asked each this question:

If you're standing on the Moon holding a pen, and you let go, will it (a) float away, (b) float where it is, or (c) fall to the ground?

About 47 percent got this question correct. Of the ones who got it wrong, we asked the obvious follow-up question:

You've seen films of the APOLLO astronauts walking around on the Moon. Why didn't they fall off?

About 20 percent of the people changed their answer to the first question when they heard this one! But the most amazing part was that about half of them confidently answered, "Because they were wearing heavy boots."

I once heard a conversation between a BBC Radio 4 presenter to a paleontologist:

A malapropism from my photojournalism teacher:

"As a journalist, you need to be fair and objectionable. If you're a liberal doing a story on a conservative, you need to be objection -- objec -- fair. You always have to portray your subject objectionably."

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