Friday, September 27, 2013

The Sears Catalogue from 1909...Part II

I recently posted about products and prices from the 1909 Sears Catalogue. If you missed it, you can find it here.

One of the most fascinating parts for me are the instructions for ordering products from the catalogue. Nowadays, we go to Amazon, click items into a shopping cart, enter our credit card number and press the button to PROCEED TO CHECKOUT.

In English.

This is how they ordered in 1909.
"Don't be afraid you will make a mistake."
 You know what fascinates me?
1.    They don't care how you order as long as you do order. If you don't have an order form, you just write it on a scrap of paper and they'll send you the merchandise. Super flexible customer service.
2.    If you have trouble with English, then just write what you need in any language and they'll find someone who can translate it.
Can you imagine the reaction to attempting either of those today?
Ordering instructions in the American catalgue: Swedish and German
I'm not trying to be ridiculous here. I can see the importance of selecting exactly the product you need as opposed to entering "10 Meter hellgrauer Stoff mit dunkelblauen Streifen" and hoping they translate it to the exact product you require. But what really interests me is how sales-driven their customer service was, despite the work involved.

On vacation in Michigan, I've heard people scoff at occasional signs written in Spanish. On the internet, I've seen articles with headlines like "America Cannot Survive as a Multiple Language Country".

You can argue whether America is a multiple language country now, but we once clearly were just that. My own grandparents spoke German and Polish. And it wasn't considered an issue. When did that openness go away? When did it become so un-American to speak a language other than English?

What are your thoughts when you see how our ancestors daily lives contained other languages?

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