Salespeople, And Used Cars In Particular


I was a neurosurgeon in training in western Canada when I decided I need to buy myself a typewriter.  I know that I reveal my age when I describe it as typing only on the piece of paper inserted into it.

I reveal my age even more clearly when I admit that I read the classifieds in print in the local provincial Canadian newspaper.

I drove to the modest apartment of a family somewhere in the wilds of Alberta, Canada.  The typewriter was nearly new with a “standard” keyboard such as the one I had learned touch typing on at the Beaver Country Day School.  Typing was supposed to be a skill a woman could “fall back on” in case high-falutin’ plans like specialized medical training did not work out.

Me — I could ill-afford to pay someone else to type up my scientific papers — especially when I actually knew how to do it reasonably well myself.  I had been cautioned by many — especially other women — never to tell anyone that I actually knew how to type because sex roles were still close enough to the surface that I could be expected to do it all my life.

I never told the gentleman I went to visit that I was a doctor, but I did ask — as I thought anyone would — where the typewriter had been and what it had been used for.

The gentleman told me he had been a used car salesman in Uganda.  He said that one of the first things Idi Amin had done when he came into power in Uganda was to get rid of all the used car salesman, who then had to close up shop and do something else or go elsewhere.  Since he had rather liked being a used car salesman, he immigrated to Canada, and was working at a car dealership where he had access to a company typewriter.

He even told me that nobody had opposed that particular move by Idi Amin, since nobody liked used car salesmen.

Maybe it was because he was selling me a typewriter and had immigrated to Canada that I found him agreeable and the price for the typewriter more than fair. I used it for many reports and for many years afterward.

When my Brother-Of-Blessed-Memory Harry and I were small, we loved to walk to the Buick and Chevrolet dealerships a few streets away.  In the new car showrooms, we would collect “car books;” advertising booklets for the latest models, as Brother Harry loved to identify cars and models.  The salesmen never had much to say to us.  But even though we were obviously far too young to buy any kind of a car (my brother 4 years old and me, 6), the salesmen on the used car lot seemed to be able to talk to us forever about nothing in particular.

I dutifully reported this curious factoid to my Parents-Of-Blessed-Memory, who counseled us strongly against ever talking to used car salesmen, for no reason I could particularly understand.

I have since learned about the archetype of the used car salesperson.  On television commercials I have seen the flamboyant loud-talking, loud-selling men who “make deals.”  We have amusingly reflected driving by upon their rich decorations of balloons and streamers and inflated over-sized mascots.

Their jargon is entered into our culture. It seems to have been eroded at least a bit by the values of consumerism.  We want to make as certain as possible that we are not — as I must say — “taken for a ride” by these folks. Please forgive my pun – it is my first one today.

Here is a nice myth-busting website all about used car sales.

My husband and I are going to need a car soon.  So often, when I was frequently giving seminars on “How To Locate and Marry Your Lifetime Love,” I quoted some kind a poll that proved that the average person spends more time researching what car to buy than researching about who they are going to marry.

This is all the more disconcerting since most people do not spend a lot of time researching their cars, either.

I have always believed that science should be the servant of man.  I have lived my beliefs and this is the sort of thing I write books about.  I learned a lot of science to couple with my own observations to figure out how to lose weight and how to get married, and was wildly successful at both efforts, which became books.

Many people have told me to my face that humans are rational and make their decisions by facts.  If this were true, life would be wildly different — sales would not be the highest paid of all careers (according to Earl Nightingale).

Cars and particularly used cars may be the most emotional sales of all.  I personally know seemingly otherwise rational people who bought the “new” Volkswagen because its shape mimicked the car of the  (The infamous “Bug”) with which they had wonderful emotional associations. I also know people who “love” a certain car, and when asked why, tell you it looks “cute.”

At the other end of the spectrum there is my husband, my darling Wade, who does massive, intense research on the internet if we are — for example — choosing a restaurant for dinner.

He did a lot of research on what kind of a (used) car we are going to buy.  Things like what makes and models last longest and need less repairs and such.

I went to visit a couple of used car lots with my husband one recent day.  I trust him like I never thought I would be able to trust another human.  He will pick the car.

Me — I was along mostly to make sure I could get in the silly thing.  I did get into three or four serious contenders.

He will get back to the men on the lot or he will shop around more — there is no need for me to be around when he does the actual negotiations and closes the deal.

The lots we visited all had people who came out to meet us and glad-hand us.  I did not realize until they would shake our hands how rare such contact is in this world.  As a matter of fact, the only other person I know who shakes hands with all the members of the public with whom she comes into contact is … me.

I am seriously wondering if I come off like a used car dealer when I call a patient’s name in the waiting room and offer a hand to shake.  I’ll keep doing it at least for now — most of them seem to enjoy the personal contact. But this is one to think about.

The rest of the car salesman’s technique is mostly talk.  Warm and fuzzy to me, hyper friendly to Wade.

I suspect we will end up purchasing from the one that had a copy of the “Carfax” for each car on the front seat and where the salesman seemed open about sharing facts like how many previous owners there had been how many miles the car had been driven, and the like.

Facts rule, and continue to constitute, in our world, the solidest rocks to lean on for decision-making.

In most spheres of life, facts are obscured, not offered.

For example, look at health care.  The only facts anyone seems open about are costs.  Quality is difficult to judge.

I work hard, really hard, to get patents to understand enough basic facts to actively participate in their decisions about medications.

I am unhappy when I get told, after one of my carefully-crafted-so-the-patient-can-understand explanations.

I have had some preceptors who have actually tried to teach me, as a physician, that the less a patient understands, the more likely they are to accept my authority and “behave.”

Such was the recommendation of my French senior preceptor in neurosurgery.  He practiced what he preached, for I once overheard him explaining a complex intracranial operation to peasants who had said to him that they were lucky their family member had such an erudite neurosurgeon.

Sacre Bleu!

(French equivalent of “Oy!”)

Me — I would love to see all medical records simplified to a “Humanfax.”

The best I can come up with now is to visualize your physician, and asked yourself, “Would I buy a used car from this person?”

If you can find one from whom you would, please work with and cherish that person.



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