Yesterday I had an experience right out of the "hold the chicken between your knees" scene in "Five Easy Pieces." (yes, of course it is on youtube)
We were at Dairy Queen trying to buy two small cones. They were running a special deal that you could buy two small dipped cones for three bucks. (the dip, if you aren't up on DQ, is some substance the cones are dipped into that hardens into a chocolate-like shell). The counter person rang up two small cones for regular price, which came to $3.99. Expecting that the special would have been rung up by any sensible person, I mentioned that the special was two cones for three bucks. She said, those are for the dipped cones, two regular cones are $3.99. That is the price for two small plain cones.
You see where this is going.
We didn't want the dip, just the cones. The counter person could not understand the apparently quite complicated concept (My long suffering wife later called it 'abstract thinking') that the dipped cones were exactly like the regular cones only with the additional step of the dipping process. It follows also that the dipped cones were simply the plain cones that had been dipped. She didn't understand this complicated fact, nor could she be made to understand this complicated fact. She stared at me blankly and said 'I don't understand what you are saying" (This is a translation from the indigenous language of the 757).
Meanwhile, the cones had been made and the guy who made them stood there, breathing on them. He said, "do you want these plain cones?" I asked him to pretend to dip them. He refused.
Another employee did seem to grasp the small cone-to-dipped cone continuum but couldn't ring it up without voiding the original cones. The manager came over.
In an irrelevant but interesting detail, he wore an eye patch.
He refused to ring up the special. "The special is only for the dipped cones" he told me, with something approximating hatred in his voice. I tried reasoning with them that the regular cones and the dipped cones were actually the same thing, the only difference being that the dipped cones were dipped. No dice.
The phrase "the customer is always right" (learned when I myself worked at two separate ice cream stores as a 16-17 year old) blended with the reality of "discretionary spending during the worst downturn since the Great Depression" to produce a crystal vision in my brain that I would indeed be sassified. No.
Reasoning that not dipping the cones actually saved him both materials and labor costs got nowhere. The manager became belligerent. He said one substitution would mean everybody would demand substitutions. I pointed out that technically this was not a substitution but a subtraction. This didn't persuade him. I mentioned that he would have to discard the cones now thoroughly staturated by the open-mouth breathing of the cone maker. This argument equally had no weight.
I was left with no option other than to walk out. We had frozen custard instead around the corner with zero hassle.
My wife was not surprised at the exchange but she was surprised at my surprise (not to mention my need to discourse on it at great length while eating the custard). Her take is that I was asking far too much of the DQ employees to think abstractly.
I ask you, dear reader, if it is indeed abstract thought to differentiate a dipped from an undipped cone? If this is abstract thinking beyond the power of even DQ workers, can you please tell me where I sign up for the slow boat to China?