I don’t like complaining and negativity, but sometimes it feels good to vent about low-stakes situations and details that don’t matter. So, I’m starting the new year with a list of trivial things that bug me.

Forced small talk. This usually happens in a service setting, like a hair salon. I’m friendly and I don’t mind a brief exchange about Covid or the weather, but I don’t need a long conversation. I often sense that the other person doesn’t want one either but keeps talking anyway. It’s somewhat like an “Abilene paradox,” where a group does something that no one in it wants to do.

For example, at a recent dental appointment, I felt bad for the hygienist, who probably wanted to focus on scraping plaque off my teeth but instead felt she had to ask what I was doing for the holidays. Even though it was hard to form words with my mouth propped open and full of instruments, I answered.

A subhead in a news story telling me how long it is, like “a three-minute read.” I used to just click without knowing this information and if I got lost in a long piece because it was good, then so be it. Now if I see “a 12-minute read,” I might not bother.

Minor missteps that detract from a book, movie or TV show. I’m not talking about bloopers. I mean the things that jolt me out of the viewing or reading experience because they feel wrong.

One example is the “TV show present,” as my sisters and I used to call it. This is when the lid of a gift box is wrapped separately from the bottom so it can be easily undone in the scene. Even in this era of high-quality television, I occasionally still see this. Has anyone ever wrapped a gift this way?

Bag of caramels, once 14 ounces, now 11.

In the same vein, although I loved the book The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles, which was set in 1954, one of the characters talks about having tiramisu at an Italian restaurant in New York City. American restaurants didn’t serve tiramisu in 1954. I even Googled this and found a food blogger who traced the dessert’s origins to a restaurant in Italy in the early 1970s.

Shrinkflation and recipes. I was recently making a recipe, which was handwritten by a friend in the 1990s, and it called for a 14-ounce bag of Kraft caramels. I looked at the bag of Kraft caramels on my counter and it was 11 ounces. I suppose I should’ve paid more attention to these details before I started baking but I didn’t, so the cookies I made had fewer caramels in them. (I said this was trivial stuff, didn’t I?)

My phone ringing. Most of my communication with friends and family these days is via text, so when my phone rings, I fear it’s bad news. I breathe a sigh of relief when I pull it from my purse and see Spam Risk or caller ID from an odd place like Butler, Ala. Either way, that marimba-like default iPhone ring makes my heart jump every time.

The faux intimacy and folksiness of mass texts from politicians. Am I really supposed to believe that the vice president of the United States and I are on a first-name basis and she’s actually texting me?

A PowerPoint where the presenter has text-heavy slides and reads them aloud, word for word. I’ve sat through too many of these lately, mostly on Zoom, and they are excruciating.

Curmudgeons. Based on all of the above, I might be one.  

Nancy E. Anderson

Nancy E. Anderson is a writer, communications consultant and swim coach. She has lived in Evanston since 1992.

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  1. Some deaf PowerPoint presenters with hard-to-understand speech rely on those text-heavy slides to communicate with their hearing audiences. You need to realize that there are always exceptions to the things that drive you nuts.

  2. You are one of my favorite curmudgeons, Nancy Anderson! Thanks for taking the lid of your list of grievances. I’ll share one of mine – “What’s with all the salt when it snows? People who pour salt on their sidewalks like they’re laying carpet drive me up a wall. Shovel the snow and save the salt for real ice!”