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Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Science Of Opening A Packet Of Sugar

A friend of mine sometimes goes to the cafeteria with me to have coffee in the afternoons. It all depends on our schedules, but if we are free around the same time, we take a break from our work. We stroll down to the cafeteria, get a cup of coffee each and discuss how our day has been for the next 15 to 20 minutes.

The sugar for the coffee comes in the form of small packets that need to be opened and the contents added to our coffees. I usually pick up my packet of sugar, hold it by one corner vertically, tap the packet a few times with my other hand so that the sugar settles down in the bottom, then tear off the top of the packet horizontally, and pour the sugar into my coffee.

My friend on the other hand, has the habit of just picking up the packet of sugar and ripping it apart vertically down the middle while holding it over her cup of coffee. About half the sugar usually ends up in her coffee, and the rest scatters across the table and some of it ends up on her lap, and on the floor.

Hey, I may be an engineer, but I was not about to give a detailed explanation of how to open a sugar packet to someone who does not need or ask for such an explanation! If she was happy with half a packet of sugar in her clothes every time she drank coffee, who was I to argue with her? Maybe, that was her way of keeping the sugar out of her stomach as part of her diet plan!!

Suddenly, last week, one day, she gave me her packet of sugar and told me to add it to her coffee. She said she noticed that I never spilled any sugar when adding it to my coffee, whereas she spilled half her packet when she did. Duh! Instead of doing what she asked me to, though, I thought this would be a good opportunity to teach her how to do it. You know, give a man a fish versus teaching him how to fish, and all that . . .

So, I told her I noticed that she opened her sugar packet vertically down the middle, causing her sugar to spill all over the place. I asked her how she would open a sack of rice or the plastic pouch in a box of cereal. Obviously, she would not just rip them down the center vertically. Of course not. She admitted she would open them horizontally. So, why would she rip a packet of sugar down the middle like that? Well, that was because they had instructions on cereal boxes and sacks of rice telling her how to open them. And these little packets of sugar never had any!

It was quite an effort for me to keep from losing it at this point. How did it matter one whit whether there were instructions or not? If you knew how to open a packet of X, why would you not transfer that knowledge to open a packet of Y, whether there were instructions or not? Anyways, it is not as if I have been hiding my packets of sugar when opening them. She could watch me opening them horizontally across the top and pouring out the contents cleanly everyday.

So, I sat back with a contented smile on my face, convinced that I had educated my friend. My little contribution to the world for the day. My friend then picked up her packet of sugar, held it horizontally and ripped it right down the middle, scattering sugar crystals all over her coffee, the table and her clothes. This time, the sugar made it all the way across the table onto my clothes too! But I was too shocked to say a word or to get up and shake the sugar off my clothes. My friend seemed shocked initially, but soon the look on her face changed to one of resignation.

Well, friends, that taught me not to take proverbs too seriously. From now on, I will be giving people fish when they ask me for it, and I can spare it! If you want to learn fishing, you better be explicit about asking me to teach you fishing rather than just asking me for fish . . .

1 comment:

Ravi said...


I can totally relate to this post and could not have explained it better. :)

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