No matter how hard we try, it is nearly impossible to tell someone how spicy something is. We have a bajillions of real words, and even some made up ones, and still, two people finding common ground on spice tolerance is a pipe dream. If it existed it would be the catalyst for a romantic comedy pairing. Even DuoLingo wouldn’t dare create a learning platform for such a burdensome task.
If we can’t successfully advise our tablemate what kind of spiciness to expect, how is some waiter—who has only known you for about seven sentences—supposed to play sherpa for your taste buds?
And if a waiter you’ve known for about seven sentences can’t do it, how the hell are those little chili pepper pictograms next to your desired entrée going to help you make an informed decision about what you can handle and what will slowly destroy your evening?
Those same cute little peppers mean wildly different things to Cardi B (I’m assuming she is the spiciest person in America) compared to your aunt who lives in Green Bay (I’m assuming she is the least spicy person in America).
The simple one to four chili pepper rating system often leaves diners with more questions than answers. Does one pepper mean it’s a little spicy or not at all spicy? How would you represent zero peppers/spice? ? Is four going to light me up (and then induce a major outage) like Clark Griswold’s house or is it an enjoyably spicy dish?
Since the FDA has its hands full these days, we at The Prompt fast tracked an approval on the following meanings of each chili pepper symbol.
The solo pepper lets you know that the meal you are about to eat is roughly the equivalent of someone changing the thermostat in your house by 2 degrees F. It’s certainly noticeable but also not anywhere near an act of war, or even a warning shot across the bow.
One pepper is a hug from a burly person. It’s your doctor asking you how many drinks you have per week. It’s a group of kids looking for you to throw their errant frisbee back. It’s one single turbulent bump on a plane. It’s holding a coffee but with a cardboard sleeve around it. It’s a text message from a number you don’t know. It’s walking past an old radiator that’s chugging along. It’s the crosswalk signal’s first “Don’t Walk” flash. It’s naming your child something non-traditional, like Xander. It’s sitting on a vinyl chair you can tell someone else recently got up from.
Two peppers is the beginning of the rest of your life… you know, the one where you are ready to start feeling things.
It’s the subway grates that blast warm air when you didn’t expect it. It’s the first bead of sweat on the brow, but also the one that you know won’t ever run down your face. It’s someone finding a CD you burned in middle school. It’s walking from shadow into the direct sun, without sunglasses. It’s someone returning a text message with a phone call. It’s catching the eye of a pretty suitor from across the room, and not knowing if you should keep the gaze or look away! It’s seeing that no-no word on the karaoke screen and not yet having a plan for it. It’s being asked to tell a joke on the spot. It’s your romantic partner asking for a determining the relationship talk in the near future.
The third pepper signals that the casual rapport you share with your friends is no longer welcome in this dojo. It’s time for serious business.
It’s a Stephen A. Smith opinion about the Dallas Cowboys. It’s some pinching that forces you to rack your brain for your safeword. It’s leaving your sandals face up for the entire day at the beach. It’s the guy at the gym who walks out with a sweatband, and you know it wasn’t a fashion choice. It’s realizing that it wasn’t decaf at 9 P.M. It’s de-boarding down the steps onto the tarmac in Palm Springs. It’s noticing that a cage at the zoo is unlocked. It’s a phone call from your boss on a Saturday. It’s a fly ball heading right for you, with the game on the line. It’s the overdraft fee notice. It’s your romantic partner asking for a determining the relationship talk, RIGHT NOW.
All four peppers is a task that requires your complete, undivided attention, but actually, is completely out of your hands.
It’s being asked to parallel park during your driving test and knowing you didn’t practice. It’s a rabid animal that is rearing back on its haunches, eyes fixed on you. It’s the phone slipping out of your hands in the bathroom. It’s being asked to read your poem aloud in front of the class. It’s the last click of the roller coaster on the way up, that you never wanted to go on anyways, but had to because your crush was doing it. It’s the landing page after Googling a list of symptoms. It’s the downpour when you are without an umbrella or jacket. It’s your parents walking in on you right after you walked in on them. It’s 1 percent battery life as you head out for the night. It’s the last moment of doubt before a fart. It’s identifying a friend inside the Capitol on January 6th. It’s the full sensory blitz of being scooched towards the skydiving door. It’s being asked to explain W.A.P.