Reasons why Fran will make things clearer next time she's in Costa

I went to a writers' day recently and stopped in a nearby Costa at 9.30am as I was early arriving. I ordered a coffee, then spotted in the fridge some impressive chicken salad baguettes. That's when I remembered I was meant to be taking a packed lunch with me to the writers' day. Serendipitous!!

The assistant gave me the wrapped baguette on a plate, which I didn't need, but, hey, no worries. When I got to my table, I slid the baguette into my rucksack alongside my notebook and pens, and began to sip the coffee.

Barely 30 seconds later, the same assistant came past my table, looked down at my empty plate, back at my face, and said, 'Have you finished with this, Madam?'

I didn't realise the implication at first or I'd have said, 'Oh, the baguette was for lunch. It's in my bag.'

Instead, I realise, I let him think that I had necked that baguette in half a minute in the same way a sword-swallower appears to: all in one, and without it touching the sides of my mouth.

When I left the shop, I dared not look behind me in case he was whispering to his colleague. 'Shall we get her back in to do it again? Shall we ring the Guinness Book of Records to come and film it?'

Do you ever have incidents like this, when you realise you've been misunderstood and wish you could explain yourself? So often I miss the moment and then have to leave it be, knowing I've been misjudged. But what could I have done? Whip the baguette out of my bag and shout, 'See! I'm not the Amazing Baguette-Swallowing Lady you thought I was!'?

You gotta laugh, eh? Except that inside I don't think I was laughing. The incident touched on all my insecurities about weight and image. Were they looking at me as I left the cafe, thinking, 'She must do that baguette trick every morning. Look at her.'

Sorry to get serious on you. But I hadn't realised until writing that incident down just now why it had stayed with me.

Now I've got serious, I'm going to have trouble shaking it off. Bear with me, peeps.

It happens when you're a child, doesn't it? You misunderstand situations all the time and get into trouble because of it. You don't realise bugger is a swearword, so you say it and your mum goes bananas. You didn't know your sister had a test the next day so you interrupt her while she is doing her homework and your parents hit the roof. A teacher says, 'Give me one minute.' You time her, then ask again. She gets cross.  A parent says, 'What do you say?' when you leave someone's house, and because the instruction is vague, you say, 'Can we not have baked beans again next time we come?'


I wrote an article for a magazine recently about metaphors, and how some children, particularly those on the autistic spectrum, don't pick up on the hidden meanings in instructions such as 'Pull your finger out' or 'Pull your socks up.' I read a story about a little boy who was kept in at break time for literally pulling his socks up when given the latter instruction by a supply teacher. The teacher, not aware of his particular needs, clearly thought he was being cheeky by pretending not to understand.

That kind of story makes me sad. So many things happened to me like that in my childhood that my heart hurts for the little boy, sitting alone in the classroom, deprived of his break time, and maybe not fully understanding why.

Have you ever been misunderstood in a similar way, either in childhood or as an adult? I'm sure we've all got stories.

Here's Nina Simone. She sings, 'I'm just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood.'

I'll pray that prayer next time I'm anywhere near Costa.


  1. I've been able to shrug off the times it's happened to me as an adult, but there are two occasions burned into my memory from when I was a child. The first was when I made up my own word to say when I was frustrated; it was a cross between s**t, which I knew I should not say, and shucks, which did not adequately express my feelings. My word was "shicks" and when my mother mis-heard me say it, she exploded. Nothing I could say would soften her up! (Adults didn't like to admit wrongdoing in those days.) The second was more serious and I still regret it, although I don't know as I could have done any better. My family, including my grandmother, had attended a wedding, where my cousin the bride (much older than I was) had given one rose from her bouquet to my grandma. While we were sitting in the car waiting for our turn to exit the parking lot, I struck up a conversation with my mother, in which I told her that when *I* got married, I wouldn't give my grandma one rose, I would . . . (give her the whole bouquet) but I didn't get to say the part in brackets because mom cut me off after the damning part and forbade me to say one more word! I know it sounded bad, but she never let me explain, which would have made us all feel more positive toward that particular sentence.

    About your sandwich, though, if another's perspective might help salve that wound -- I bet the server either noticed you tucking it in your purse, or didn't remember you were the same person who had just ordered it (seriously), or really really really couldn't care less. And if he did care, or comment, or even thought something negative, YOU know better. Pffft to him.

    It must be so very hard for those who interpret words literally to cope when they are misunderstood and can't even figure out why, even in hindsight the way other people often can. Is your magazine article available online? One of our grandsons is, I believe, on the spectrum, and I am interested in reading anything that might help me understand how he thinks and how to better communicate with him. He's not been diagnosed; the parents for a number of reasons have delayed getting help. But there are several significant delays in development, although he is also clearly a smart child. My point being that I am on my own to read and absorb information as they have no insights as yet to share with me!

    1. Jenny, thank you for your detailed comment and for your stories. Expressing oneself so that others understand is a minefield, isn't it?! As for my article, it's only available in the print magazine itself which is called emagazine, but if you email me at with your own email address, I'll send you the relevant part of the article and my list of references and you could look up more.

    2. Thank you for your kind offer, Fran. I will email you right away. I didn't realize my comment would end up so long - sorry!

    3. Don't apologise! It's a compliment to any blogger :) Have emailed you back. x

  2. I'm sure I have been misunderstood many a time...and misunderstood others myself....I don't let it bother me. I can't be THAT unique.

    1. You are an example to the rest of us who tie ourselves in knots ;)

  3. You tipped the baguette into your bag? Was it wrapped? Or did it spill the contents all over everything else in there? I would have apologised and said I was sorry but I meant for the baguette 'to go' and have it bagged.
    I've had my share of misunderstandings, but usually say right away that I didn't realise what was meant.
    I like your new background.

    1. They were already packed up in plastic, River. I should have just said 'I don't need the plate, thanks,'. I was probably distracted at the time by a display of cinnamon whirls and busy being tempted ;)

    2. Oh, and I'm so glad you like the background. I like it too. The other one was a bit beige ..

  4. I'm sure it often happens to many Fran and esp those with autism (of which I have close knowledge in my own family). Re yr baguette since there wd have been no crumbs on the plate the truth wd prob have been guessed. But yr major point is a sad fact of human life and fortunately if there's a balance between that and kindness, tolerance and acceptance, hopefully we can all carry on surviving...

    1. Yikes - maybe they think I LICKED the plate clean, Sheila!! I never thought of that!!

  5. I suppose the time when we can remember the 'awful' things we did or said without that horrible burning feeling of embarrassment will be the time we
    have truly grown up. (Replace 'we' with 'I'.)

    1. What if I've only truly grown up at the age of 106?!


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