Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

Everyone knows that apples and oranges are more alike than different. After all, they’re both fruits that grow on trees and tend to be round and of a size that fits nicely in the hand. So why do we use the term “that’s like comparing apples and oranges” to illustrate the folly of comparing two dissimilar things – and why do French compare apples and pears while many South Americans compare potatoes and sweet potatoes? 

The point of these comparisons is to show that while some things appear to be alike in many ways, it takes a closer look to reveal that the similarities are mostly superficial. No matter the language, the comparison is drawn to highlight the importance of subtle differences noticeable only to people who take the time to go beyond the apparent and examine the things that lie beneath the surface.

Oranges are orange while apples are red, yellow and green

Neither apple nor orange has a synonym but only one has no English word that rhymes with it. Both are grown and eaten worldwide, where 7,500 varieties of apples and 400 varieties of orange are grown (apples grow best in cool climes and oranges in warm ones). Americans eat an average of 9 pounds of fresh oranges and 20 pounds of fresh apples a year. Both are used to make juice, but only one makes cider.

Only one of them dominates commonly-used expressions, noticeable when someone pulls a switcheroo:
  • An orange a day keeps the doctor away.
  • One bad orange spoils the whole bunch.
  • Everything is in orange-pie order. 
  • Don’t upset the orange cart.
  • As American as orange pie.
  • The orange never falls far from the tree.
  • She’s the orange of his eye*.

*The apple of your eye is someone who you are extremely fond of and very close to. It translates from the Hebrew “little man of the eye,” referring to how when you look right into someone’s eye from up close, you can see yourself reflected in their pupil as a tiny little person.

In the news

I thought about comparing apples to oranges when I read how China’s state-run news agency recently mocked the U.S. donation of 80 vials of Covid vaccine to Trinidad & Tobago. The China Daily compared it to Beijing’s donation of 100,000 doses to Trinidad & Tobago, a country of 1.3 million people.

Calling it the worst public relations moment of the year, Chen Weihua, columnist for the China Daily, said “That is more like the amount for a nursing home, not a whole country.” No mention was made of how Pfizer vaccines cannot be re-frozen, and so when an organization has vaccines left over from their allotment, they have only two choices: they can give it to someone who needs it or they can throw it away. The U.S. Embassy in Port of Spain recently gave its extras to the Trinidad & Tobago Ministry of Defense. MSN News printed this comment from a Trinidad & Tobago tweeter: “But what de ass is this?” 

Propaganda is the act of deliberately spreading false or misleading information to cause harm to an adversary

China and the U.S. are adversaries.

Trinidad & Tobago has a love-hate relationship with the United States

Gulliver may be a big shot in Lilliput, but in Brobdingnag, he’s no more than a flyspeck. The commercial and industrial center of the mostly tourism-driven Caribbean, Trinidad & Tobago is a big fish in a small pond. A British holding for hundreds of years after being kicked around between the Spanish, French and Dutch, Trinidad & Tobago is far more influenced by the United States than by England. America is Trinidad & Tobago’s cultural touchstone and their source of movies, music and television, where all U.S. networks are delivered to Trinidad & Tobago via cable and satellite. 

As is the case with many countries not a part of the First World, resentment abounds

China capitalized on this resentment with a nice piece of propaganda, painting their country as benevolent and the U.S. as miserly. No mention was made by the Chinese or by anyone in Trinidad & Tobago about the $3 million the U.S. gave Trinidad & Tobago less than a year ago to fight the pandemic or the 500 million doses of Covid vaccine the U.S. is donating to the world’s lowest-income countries. As the saying doesn’t go, how do you like them oranges?

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