Nine years ago I had to work a Saturday shift at Brookline Booksmith. It was a morning shift and they happened to asked me to write something on the A frame wipe board that sits outside the shop. Since it was July 14th I thought I’d write something witty and francophone. I wrote “’Allons enfants de la Patrie, le jour de gloire est arrivé !’ Ten points if you can sing the whole thing.”
I figured that the most of the good people of Brookline would look at the sign and think-“Oh! That’s the French National Anthem they’re quoting” and walk away (or, preferably walk into the bookstore-drawn in by our clever reference) pleased with themselves for noticing that and pleased with us for bringing it to their attention. I figured a much smaller select set would know that La Marseillaise is actually appallingly long (I just looked up on wikipedia and it has 7 verses) and that no one (certainly no American) in their right mind could be expected to remember all of the lyrics. That was the joke.
Apparently it didn’t quite take because when I got back from lunch the front desk called for me to tell me that an elderly female had come into the store to say that she had been walking up and down Harvard Street for an hour trying to remember the lyrics to the first verse and that she was now ready to recite them to the appropriate authority and receive her ten points.
If this had happened six months to a year later-when I was more sure about what was okay to do, I would have listened to the old lady recite and handed her a few coupons with good cheer. As it was the front desk said “We’ll pretend you’ve gone home.” And I agreed to that.
When I wrote the thing on the board outside of the store, I was making a joke-remember all the words of the Marseillaise and we’ll give you ten points. The Booksmith doesn’t give points, but that doesn’t matter because I was asking the impossible. I might as well have written “Derive Pi for us and we’ll give you ten points.”(not that there was anyone at the store—myself included who would have understood if there had been any takers to that one.) And no one picked up on that.
Which is why I should not write advertising copy.