Why men won’t ask for directions

Since women are always wondering why men will never ask for directions, it’s only fair to wonder why women always leave their shopping carts in the middle of the aisle.

The reason men won’t ask for directions is very simple. It’s because most people don’t know north from south – especially women – although I say that with great respect. But really, why can’t they move their carts over to the side so the next fellow can get by?

All men know from bitter experience that getting out of the car and going into the gas station to ask for directions is a waste of time. Fortunately, iPhones and new cars are equipped with the global positioning system (GPS), so this problem is largely avoidable today.

But it wasn’t always so.

Some years ago, I stopped at an antiques store and asked the lady inside how much farther it was to a bookstore I wanted to visit. She said half a mile. It was four miles. See what I mean? She did sell me George Washington’s personal silverware set though, so it wasn’t a total waste of time.

Another time, at a cocktail party, I tried to break the ice with a very haughty elegant woman by asking her how far it was from the sublime to the ridiculous, expecting a laugh in reply, to be followed by some additional witty repartee and then a meaningful, long-term relationship.

Instead, she looked me up and down distastefully and said I ought to know how far it was since I must have made the trip many times myself. It just shows you that it never pays to ask for directions because there are a lot of haughty elegant people out there who are themselves lost most of the time.

And it isn’t only women. Many men are just as clueless about directions. When Charles Lindbergh was making his historic nonstop flight from New York to Paris in 1927, he spotted a fishing boat as he neared the Irish coast on his second day aloft. He was flying by dead reckoning and wasn’t sure exactly where he was. He throttled down, circled the boat, and shouted, “Which way is Ireland?” The stunned fisherman just stared up at him open-mouthed with no reply. Obviously he didn’t know which way Ireland was, even though he had just come from there himself. That really happened.

Another traveler, Mark Twain, who circled the globe several times and visited most of the continents during his long career, wrote about the galling problem of having people say, “Well, I’m a stranger here myself,” when asking them for directions. That’s why Twain usually traveled with a guide or agent to handle the details of train schedules, steamer departures and the like. From “The Innocents Abroad” to “A Tramp Abroad,” Twain seldom had to deal with wrong answers or blank stares when asking where the hotel was, which was fortunate because he was usually galled by many other things.

In “Roughing It,” Twain recounted how he and his companions became lost in a blinding snowstorm in the Sierras, at which point their horses deserted them. Not having anyone to ask for directions (not that it would have done any good), and unable to make a fire, they composed themselves for what they thought would be their last night’s sleep. When they awoke next morning, still alive but thoroughly chilled and covered with snow, they saw their horses standing a short distance away at the station house they had been trying to find all the previous day.

The lesson here is that if you want to know how to get somewhere, get an animal or an iPhone. They also are good at sensing earthquakes — the animals, I mean.

Just avoid cocktail parties, gas stations and antiques stores, and when shopping, never, ever say, “Hey, lady, can you move your cart?”


Mark Godburn is an antiquarian bookseller in North Canaan. His book, “Nineteenth-Century Dust-Jackets,” is available from the Oak Knoll Press.