A Conversation with a Contractor
In the process of building a restaurant, one has to inevitably go through the pestilent ordeal of dealing with the contractor. We had one such self proclaimed “professional” contractor who had a large establishment by himself and had apparently done some major works prior to our project. But it turned out he was more than just pestilent. The following conversation largely epitomizes his character. During the course of this conversation, I went through the following states of mind and in that order: simple overlooking, probable misunderstanding, failure to communicate, disbelief, anger, resignation and then finally I thought “Is this guy for real?” So here is what happened:
We had just finished taking measurements of the work done and sat down to carry out the calculations. All the dimensions taken were in feet and inches. We had a normal calculator which like any other calculator, uses the decimal system while computing.
Contractor: Lets start with the flooring.
Me: Ya sure. What are the measurements?
Contractor: 12.3 ft by 8.2 ft.
Me: You mean 12 ft 3 inches by 8 ft 2 inches?
Contractor: Yes yes. Both are one and the same.
Me: No no you cannot calculate like that. You first need to convert into decimal and then calculate.
Contractor: What is there to convert? Both are the same.
Me: No you see, you must have overlooked the fact that the foot is made up of 12 inches and not 10 and so you need to first convert it on a scale of 10 and then go ahead with the calculations.
Contractor: How can you do this now? We have quoted the unit price of each item in square feet. Now if you ask me to use decimal, then I will have to change the unit price for each and every item.
Me: Don’t you get it? In your quotation, only the units are in square feet. The quantity is still in decimals only.
Contractor: No no we have given quotation in square feet.
Me: Ok then tell me one thing. If I say 3 ft 6 inches, how much will you put?
Contractor: I will put 3.6 ft.
Me: How can you do that? Now you tell me how many feet is 6 inches?
Contractor: Half a feet.
Me: How do you write half when you use “Something point something”? Do you write it as .6?
Contractor: No. Half is .5
Me: That’s what I am saying. You need to convert it to decimal and then use it for calculation.
Contractor: But that is only for 6 inches. You cannot do like that for other measurements.
Me: No all we have to do is divide the no. of inches by 12 and we get the same measurement in decimal form.
Contractor: No no how can you divide? It will become less for me and I will undergo loss. I am paying the workers in square feet and not in decimals!
Me: Ok then tell me this. Say you have 3 ft 1 inch and you have 3 ft 10 inches. How will you write both of them in your way?
Contractor: For 3 ft 1 inch I write “Three point one (3.1)” and for 3 ft 10 inch I write “Three point Ten(3.10)”!!!
Me: Don’t you see the difference?
Contractor: What difference? This is how I have taken measurements in all my previous projects. Nobody has objected anything.
Me: Ok just tell me this. If you have 3 ft 2 inch and 3 ft 11 inch, which is greater?
Contractor: 3 ft 11 inch
Me: Ok then tell me how will you put it in your calculation?
Contractor: Same way. I put Three point two(3.2) and Three point eleven (3.11)!!
Contractor: See this is how I do it. How much difference will you get if you use your method?
Me: Not much actually. But it will be more accurate.
Contractor: How will it be more accurate? If you start dividing, then it will be wrong.
Me: Ok look. If you want to take the measurements and calculate your billing, then you will have to do it this way. Else I will not accept your bill.
Contractor: Ok fine. You are saying the difference is not much. You do it in decimal only!
After undergoing this conversation, I honestly began to believe that the phrase Intelligent Contractor is an oxymoron. But there was some icing on the cake as well. Apparently the measurements that we took (in decimal remember) ended up being much smaller than what he expected. So measurements were taken again the next day. In one particular item, the measurements yielded something interesting. Here is what happened:
Me: Ok so what are the measurements?
Contractor: No no we will be calculating in square feet only today. We are getting loss in decimal system!
Me: What are the measurements?
Contractor: We have 3ft 11 in by 3 ft 2 in. We will be doing it like this only! No conversion.
Me: So what are you going to put?
Contractor: I will be putting Three point eleven (3.11) by three point two (3.2) only! We wont divide!
Me: (Why the **** should I even open my mouth?)
So I let them continue with their “calculation in square feet” and they gave me a figure at the end of it. I looked at the final figure which was apparently a result of multiplication by Three point Eleven (3.11) and made a sincere effort to conceal my laughter. But my laughter manifested itself as disbelief and the contractor misunderstood it to be a sign of me being shocked to see the difference in his method and mine. Well, he was right in a way, but wrong on the whole.
And like I said, I will leave it to you to infer anything you want about this contractor. I do not wish to disparage his name and company and so I haven’t taken up any names. But either way, it was disappointing and amusing to see something like this with someone of such age and experience.
God help him!