Catchphrases · Notes from West London

“Would you like an ice cream?”

Most summers our children eat a lot of ice cream. It should probably be regarded as an occasional treat but for years it was a regular, unquestioned, daily part of our holidays. Two summers ago we decided to change this, or at least change our approach to buying it.

We were on holiday in Wexford, it was mid-afternoon, and I asked my son if he wanted an ice cream. He asked if his sister was having one. I replied, “That’s not the right answer to the question. When I was a boy the correct answer was ‘Yes please’, if you wanted an ice cream, and ‘No thank you’ if you didn’t.” Since then we have tried to establish the rule that the only way to get an ice cream is to answer the question correctly. Any answer other than “Yes please” means “No ice cream for you!” We say this in the same way that the Soup Nazi says “No soup for you!” in that classic episode of “Seinfeld”.

We had fun that afternoon (while the children were eating their single cone mint choc chips) making up unacceptable answers to the question. We started with annoying phrases like “I don’t mind”, “Oh, go on then”, “Ooh, I wouldn’t say no” and “Are you having one?” And we progressed to ruder responses like, “Well, duh, of course I do. What are you, stupid?” They all resulted in the same reply: “No ice cream for you!”

Many adults could learn this lesson too. “Do you want a cup of tea?” is a Yes / No question. Either you want a cup of tea or you don’t. I don’t even need a please or a thank you at the end of the response. (We have become accustomed to the idea that the word “please” at the end of a sentence is often silent.) Responses such as “Oh, go on then” and “I wouldn’t say no” have annoyed me since at least the 1980s. Being able to say “Yes” or “No” is a useful skill. Being able to say “Yes please” or “No thank you” is even better.

Incidentally, for health reasons we very rarely buy ice cream when out and about in colder months, even as pudding after a meal. Apparently the combination of warm air inside, ice cold pudding, then cold air outside makes the children more prone to coughs and colds. Even if that’s medically bogus we have dramatically reduced the amount of ice cream that the children eat. That previously unopened tub of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra that accompanied last weekend’s apple crumble had been in the freezer for at least a year.


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