Things ain't what they seem

the Thai world of misleading advertising


Several years ago, I was having a late Sunday lunch at a small restaurant just off Soi Ekkami. It’s an eaterie that frankly speaking serves up distinctly average Thai meals but is better known among local Thais for its mouth-watering array of home-made cakes and pastries. I’d better not mention the restaurant’s name because the Cheesecake House probably wouldn’t like it.

Anyway, on this particular day – at the height of the Thai strawberry season – the restaurant was promoting a special ‘strawberry and scones cream tea’. It consisted of a pot of tea for two, a couple of plump freshly-baked scones with cream, jam and butter and a small helping of fat, ripe strawberries. At least that was what was offered in the photograph. What could be more satisfying and what could feel more British than a cream tea on a hot Sunday afternoon? I gave the waitress my order and rubbed my hands together in that state of giddy expectation you only experience as a precursor to strawberries and cream.

When the cream tea finally appeared, what was plonked in front of me bore little resemblance to the hype. I counted one miserable-looking scone, a miserly dollop of jam and cream and three strawberries that had definitely seen better days. I didn’t complain. I’ve learned that there’s little point in these situations, but it did kick-start something that still irritates me more than most things. I’m not sure of the legal or formal expression – or even if one exists – but let’s refer to it as ‘pictorial misrepresentation’. It sounds so much nicer than ‘lies and bullshit’. Pictorial misrepresentation is when you sit there scratching your head wondering how someone (usually a business owner) can possibly get away with it. One section of wall in the Cheesecake house is festooned with press clippings detailing the owner’s story and how she developed a passion for bakery while living in the USA. You couldn’t complain about your measly high tea to her because she was probably entertaining friends on an obscenely large yacht somewhere off the Phuket coast, but you’d think that living for many years in the good old U.S – where the consumer is king – would make her slightly more appreciative of the golden rule – ‘what you see is what you get’.

We’ve all been duped at some stage haven’t we? We’ve all arrived at hotel rooms chosen from brochures that promise us ‘a paradise on earth’ only to find out it’s anything but. And while your heart may sink and thoughts of a dream vacation may rapidly diminish, you can’t help but begrudgingly admire the trickery of the photographer and his wide-angled lens. I’m sure that pictorial misrepresentation goes on all over the world. It’s just that Thailand never seems to think there’s anything remotely underhand about it.

If I could give out an award for the worst offender, then let’s engrave the name of Swensens ice-cream parlours on the trophy right now. The vast gulf between the photographs on the menu and the stark reality of what gets delivered to your table is almost beyond words. That’s not to say Swensens ice-cream products are not enjoyable; they’re just always a huge disappointment. Can that thing sitting in front of me with a plastic spoon sticking out really be the same as the item on the menu with its lush maraschino cherry, the jelly beans, the lashings of chocolate sauce, the American flag – all fighting for space in a glass vessel you can barely hold with both hands.

I’ve had it in for Swensens ever since a couple of years ago, when they introduced a devilish creation called ‘Mars and Me’ - two halves of a Mars Bar lain lovingly atop a double scoop of rich chocolate ice-cream and a sprinkle of chopped nuts. Yes I know it’s not very imaginative and I know it would usually only appeal to a seven-year-old but you see, I’m a glutton for such small pleasures, particularly if they’re made of chocolate. I just couldn’t wait to sink what teeth I’ve got left into it. But what’s this? Two scoops of rich chocolate ice cream, a sprinkle of chopped nuts, and unless I’m very much mistaken, the two halves of a two-fingered Kit Kat? Glory be. Call the waitress over. I need a word.
“Where’s the bloody Mars bar?”
“Sorry sir. Mars no have”
So we’ll just stick any old chocolate bar in there and hope the customer doesn’t notice. Well….what could I say?

Pictorial misrepresentation. We’ve got to get together. We’ve got to beat it together. By the way, I’m off to renew my 10-year British passport this week because my current one expires in October. This means having passport photos taken. Does anyone know of a photo shop where they can get on the computer and make me look ten years younger? Just an idea.


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