“I’m going to write a letter!”
We’re familiar with this cry of outrage, a cliche at this point.
It comes from a disgruntled mother, old man or time-wealthy millennial after a retail establishment fails to offer a baby-changing table, honor an expired coupon or hire their friend.
We value our right to complain to the businesses that wrong us so much that we dedicate entire apps and websites to it.
But the customer complaint was not invented with Yelp or passive-aggressive tweets.
It is, apparently, nearly as old as written language itself.
The British Museum displays the oldest known written complaint — inscribed in a clay tablet in Mesopotamia almost 4,000 years ago.
The Oldest Known Written Complaint
A man named Nanni wrote the letter in 1750 B.C. in response to a sub-standard delivery of copper ingots from a merchant named Ea-nasir.
I’ll give you a second to recall seventh-grade history class.
And because I already looked it up on Wikipedia, I’ll explain that copper ingots are chunks of copper ore. Nanni would have been buying the raw material for his contemporaries to use to create tools, cookware and other things you’ve seen in museums.
Ea-nasir promised high-quality copper, but when Nanni’s servant arrived with payment, he deemed the copper “not good.”
Instead of remedying with an apology or a coupon for free ore on his next visit, Ea-nasir rudely told the servant, “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!”
The bad service infuriated Nanni so much that he created this tablet, inscribed with a lengthy complaint.
What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt?
Think of the manpower deployed to administer this complaint!
A guy like Nanni isn’t carving out letters himself. So at least one man was involved to inscribe this tablet.
That man had to be literate, which wasn’t common in Mesopotamia. He also had to find a clay tablet, which weren’t incredibly hard to come by, but you certainly couldn’t pick one up at the corner store.
Someone must have tried to stop Nanni from his frivolous use of resources and man-hours. But he was just so mad.
Nanni dictated, and someone inscribed this tablet — full front and back, by the way. Then someone had to deliver it.
This isn’t a huge Mount Sinai-style tablet, at least. It’s just 4.6 inches tall by about 2 inches wide. It’s like a thick iPhone covered in cuneiform writing.
But it still required at least one guy, maybe a horse and maybe one of those carts they ride behind the horse. I’m picturing a guy in a cart making last-minute additions to the tablet on his way, not paying proper attention to the road.
That’s at least three people and a horse to get this message to the merchant. And there’s no sign of a reply from Ea-nasir.
That should make you a little less angry next time your local restaurant’s Yelp profile takes a few extra seconds to load.
You can rest easy knowing you’re not alone: The disgruntled opinions of the masses have been falling on the deaf ears of the likes of Big Copper for millennia.
Your Turn: Have you ever written a letter to complain about customer service?
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).