Home > Advice, cultural commentary, humor > Instructions!


V bought a new kettle yesterday – not an electric kettle (she makes those explode) but the type that you use on a gas hob. And it came with its own little manual – four pages of instructions. That gave me pause for thought, because it seems the larger the thing you buy, the fewer instructions come with it.

My computer, for example, came with no instructions at all apart from how to plug it into the wall – admittedly that was probably because a lot of the other stuff I’d want to know was preloaded into the setup files.

I’m just wondering if there’s some inverse law of instructionality. The more complex the thing, the fewer instructions you get with it, because it’s supposed to be self-explanatory? I’m now dreading going to buy a bag of nails because I’m anticipating a manual the size of a telephone directory…

The instructions themselves are amusing, though I suspect only to people like me with twisted and OCD minds: ‘After boiling has occurred, turn off the heat source and wait for a short period of time. Lift the kettle from the hob ensuring the hands are protected through the use of an oven glove or other suitable insulator. Open the whistle and commence pouring.’

This reminds me of an exercise I did many years ago, in which I found it was surprisingly hard to describe a process in sufficient detail that a robot could follow it.

There was nothing in the instructions about making sure where the coffee cup was…

Some of the instructions are whimsical. ‘Do not attempt to remove the lid immediately after boiling as there is a potential risk that heat from the escaping steam will cause scolding [sic].’ Even household appliances get to tell me off??

And some of the instructions might also apply to me. ‘Examine regularly to ensure that knobs, whistles and handles are not becoming loose.’ ‘Avoid extreme temperatures as this may cause bronze tinting.’

While I’m on the subject, can anyone explain why warnings on some products are different in different languages? I have a can of deodorant (yes, I do use such things) which says in translation from the Portuguese, ‘Abuse of solvents is prejudicual to health’. However in English it says ‘Solvent abuse can kill instantly’. Maybe it’s somehow less dangerous if you can read Portuguese? Or English readers are more stupid and need the consequences spelled out graphically?

  1. August 15, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    LOL, I couldn’t agree more. I had a friend that was convvinced years ago that the British tobacco industry was trying to kill off its customers. He ended up switching to foreign cigarettes because, and I quote, “foreign cigarettes don’t kill you like British ones…they don’t have warnings on!” Obviously they are now making them the same way…because they all have warnings on!

  2. August 25, 2010 at 1:09 am

    Yes thinking about it, the actual wording of the warnings will be legislated for in different ways in different countries. And different kinds of things will be regarded as hazardous.

    Do they make mirrors differently in the US to elsewhere? Because ones on cars always have warnings about things being closer than they appear. That’s probably why I gave myself a fright looking in one when I hired a car in the US a few years back…

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