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“What’s your most favorite thing?” Try writing that to a properly trained English teacher and watch him roll his eyes. I hated “superlatives” when I was in school—the problem of saying “more” correctly. Is it “simpler” or “more simple?” My teacher scolded that you can have only one “favorite,” or you don’t have a favorite at all. Even among a number of things you “favor,” only one is your “favorite.”
These days, we’re told we can never have too much. We want more and better of whatever—more money, more shoes, better houses, and so on. Our appetites are insatiable. Thus, superlatives have become more prevalent than ever. Perhaps they say something about our perceptions.
A friend and I were wondering, can you perceive “better than excellent” and should you care? Of course, people exist whose palettes are so refined that they can, indeed, discern a difference between a truly exquisite $20 bottle of wine and one costing upwards of $800. But most of us poor peons simply perceive “excellent.” I’ve slept in several great hotel beds in a few highly exclusive hotels, but once we enter the realm of “really comfortable,” I can’t say I know the difference between a wonderful night’s sleep on one bed or another. In the same vein, my husband and I watch the Hollywood award shows for which celebrities spend exorbitant amounts of money to display red carpet glamour. Are the women—or men–more beautiful in expensive clothes? Not really. Gorgeous is gorgeous. Once a garment fits perfectly in a fabric that drapes as the design requires and is exquisitely tailored, you’re done. Charge what you will, it’s still excellent. More is a matter of subjective taste.
My point is that we often pretend we can tell the difference between a product that’s excellent and one that’s excellent and also pricey so we can appear more sophisticated and of higher social status. (Remember Steve Martin in THE JERK saying, “I like fresh wine”?) I’m reminded of my mother’s experience many years ago as she prepared to be a Weight Watchers runway model – someone who had been successful at reaching her weight goal. The woman hired to handle the fashion show stopped my mother to compliment her on the dress she had worn to the fittings. “That’s a nice dress,” said the woman. “Who’s the designer?”
My mother smiled. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I bought it at K-Mart.”
“No, really,” replied the woman, convinced my mother was being coy. “Where did you get it?”
“K-Mart,” repeated my mother, annoyed.
The woman grabbed the collar of my mother’s dress and jerked it out far enough so she could read the label in the back. The dress was, truly, from K-Mart.
Unfortunately, we often assume more expensive is better. It isn’t always. We’ve all seen women, for example, horrifically dressed in fabulously pricey clothes that did not flatter the wearer. Likewise, some ancient wines are dreadful to drink.
Once in a while, as we gaze longingly at an awe-inspiring house with six bathrooms (it better come with a maid!), we need to remind ourselves that once we reach “excellent,” we can stop and celebrate. We’ve made it! Ignore Madison Avenue’s insistence that we should never be happy with what we have. Dare to be satisfied.