Having been in sales for many years, there was a phrase that was often used for the best sales person. It would be said that such and such a person, “could sell ice to an Eskimo.” This meant that this person was so skilled at selling that they would be able to sell something to someone that they not only had no need for, that they could get for free, but further, that is was in abundance any where they turned, yet they still “bought” it, like an Eskimo buying ice.
I remember adopting that phrase and using it in reference to people as I was using to train my staff on how to sell, back when I was in the corporate world, of old. Of course, no one that I knew ever took the phrase for face value, it was just an expression, an exaggeration to emphasize a point. Or was it?
I hadn’t thought about that phrase for a long time until I had two back to back experiences that made me think, maybe ice has been sold to the Eskimos over and over again, and we’ve been the Eskimos. Then all of a sudden I looked at the phrase and thought of it as evil. Because, if someone dared sell ice to an Eskimo, it would have to be a really dumb Eskimo, in which case, someone was taking advantage of a handicapped person for personal gain without the awareness of the other person of their own handicap, or someone was so fast talking, slick, etc., that they made such an argument, or confused the issue so “well,” that the person was compelled to by based on their confusion or persuasion, something that they obviously didn’t need.
I had never thought about that phrase that way, although I had often thought about sales in general that way. There are productive sales people and destructive sales people, and that is a whole other story. But that phrase was so ridiculously exaggerated that I never thought that an Eskimo would buy ice, but lately, I have been wondering, how much ICE have I bought over the years?
One of the incidences that made me stop and think about all this was, happened on my recent trip to New York. I had the pleasure of being a guest at the home of one of my Mother’s relatives. I was in New York to sing, and my performance was literally down the street from my Mom’s cousins’ home. When they found out I was coming to town, they insisted I stay with them, and happily I did.
Even more happily, the moment I arrived from the airport, they had warm, delicious Italian food waiting for me at the table. What a reception. I asked for salt and right away they jumped up to get me salt. What the put in front of me was a famous American brand of salt which I have not used personally, in decades. When I asked if they had any other kind of salt, they looked at me and said, “why this salt is not good? It’s the best salt in the world.” I looked at them with utter amazement. At this point in the history of our American “culturization,” I would expect that from someone born here, but not them, they were immigrants. Worse, they were immigrants from Sicily, the land of “the best salt in the world!”
I said to them something to this effect. You mean that the two of you were born and raised in the town that harvests the sea salt that is all natural and all pure and sold in specialty stores all over the world to discerning culinary chefs and those who are into healthy and natural eating, and that you have bought into the propaganda that this salt, which has been industrialized and is commercialized, devoid of any of it’s natural healthy elements, as being the “best salt in the world?”
God bless them, they both looked at me at once trying to rebuttal based on all the propaganda and commercials they had heard, seen, learned about this salt and what they new to be true or believed from their experience growing up with their natural sea salt in the “old Country.” They both looked dumbfounded at me and then slowly produced words that sounded like, “it’s true, he’s right.” We were quite for awhile. I wonder what they were thinking? How much “ice” had they bought all these years?
A week or so later, I was visiting my Mother who first thing in the morning, happily made me a warm cup of coffee with so much love. And yet, when I tasted the coffee it was so very much not to my liking. I tried to drink it not to hurt her feelings, but she noticed that I wasn’t enjoying it and asked me what was wrong. I proceeded to tell her that I didn’t much like it. She right away blurted out, as if “programmed” to do so, “but it’s,” and then she said not only the name brand, but proceeded to recite to me the exact words the commercial used to say for this brand of coffee that I remember hearing over and over again when I watched TV as a child.
I was taken back. Here my Mother was not only Italian, she was Sicilian. In Sicily, besides salt, they have some of the best coffee in the world. Between Italian coffee, Espresso, and Turkish coffee and Arab Coffee and Greek Coffee and African Coffee… all neighbors to Sicily, coffee was something they new well. And here, after being in this Country all these years, and listening and believing what she heard and saw on TV, over her own knowings. How much “ice” has my mother bought all these years and served her family?
But I realize, they are not the only ones. There was a time when I bought that brand of salt and that brand of coffee and thought the same things they did. Of course, I wasn’t like them, I wasn’t born in the land where those things are better. But worse than that, though I no longer use those products and have happily found better replacements, better flavor, healthy products, etc., what products, and ideas do I still buy and buy into without thinking that I just might be buying “ice?”