The Art of Giving and Taking Directions

With the advent of the GPS, verbal and written directions have become almost obsolete. Yet, I have found that during this past year of daily walks around my neighborhood, I have often been approached by drivers and pedestrians looking for the way to a restaurant, a street or a public building.  If there’s one thing I do extremely well, it’s directions.  Partly because of my organized, schematic way of thinking, partly because of my background as a math teacher, I hold my directions in high regard!

Before GPS, a friend of mine once got a page and a half of written directions between 2 locations about 10 miles apart. Included were every landmark, large or small, turns that should not be taken, signs in the windows of stores, different kinds of trees along the way and other quite insignificant and confusing facts to muddle how to get from A to B.

On the other hand, about 30 years ago, I called Pepe’s Pizza in New Haven for directions and wrote them down.  They went something like this (I can’t remember the exit number): off I 95, go 2 blocks and make a right turn, then turn left after the next block, make a quick right and go 3 traffic lights.  Make another left and the following right.  I got off the phone thinking I’d get hopelessly lost, but the directions got me right there despite not mentioning the name of one road!

Once, in Europe, we asked directions of a non-English-speaking denizen.  With elaborate hand gestures and pictures in our guide book, we showed him where we wanted to go.  He countered with a well-drawn map with pencil and paper which got us there successfully.

There is an art to giving good directions but, just as important, an art to following them!

Once, while directing my friend to my house for her first visit, I said, “at the light, bear right.”  Somehow she interpreted that to mean, “go straight,” although there was a clear road off to the right.  Before GPS and before cell phones, she had to stop at a store to phone us.  I ended up meeting her with my car and leading the way.

When I give verbal directions on the street while enjoying my daily walk, I make the directions as easy, succinct and clear as possible.  Yesterday a woman in a car asked how to get to McDonald’s.  After ascertaining which one she wanted (we were pretty much in the middle of two in different towns), I gave it a moment’s thought, told her to make a U-turn, while indicating where she could do that, and said, at the light, turn left and in a few lights, it will be on your left.  I wished I could follow her to see if she got there.  Later, I admonished myself for leaving out, “there will be a Japanese restaurant on your right and McD’s will be on your left.”

And then, of course, there are people who don’t know their right from their left but that’s a different story.

rachelmankowitz

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