Social Beef: Death by grocery shop

Buying groceries on a Sunday night may not be the most adept idea in the world.

It’s a period of time when a conglomeration of people gather in angry mobs to do a big or small shop for the week ahead. On a Sunday, the masses are especially tired and weak, probably from their weekend trips galavanting around the countryside and most often come off as grumpy, snarly, grizzly and horrid creatures. I, too am one of these Sunday night brutes. But what turns some of us into annoying food hoverists (i.e. one that hovers over food items for no reason at all)  is that we are all conducting the same act at once which inadvertently creates a vicious form of mood slime (think: Ghostbusters II) that gets buried underneath the grocery store floor and ultimately feeds off our disgusting state of mind. It’s that and the fact we are drawn to misery.

Now, I’m not saying the act of buying food is a horrendous task, no. The blame falls squarely on the flaky behaviour patterns  of strangers we end up shopping with that makes the food-collecting journey long and arduous (and sometimes hair-pulling).

And, too,  we’re also gluttons for punishment. We are fully aware that during certain time slots (Sunday nights at 7pm, for example), we will be met head-on with queues, hopheads who block aisles with their borrowed metallic carts and food browsers that take eternity before they make crucial decisions on whether they’ll be purchasing the PC or Heinz ketchup. But, as shoppers, we begrudgingly do it; we have to eat.

I recently came across this online forum that conducted a poll on this topic: do you hate grocery shopping? The poll’s conclusion was clear: 70 per cent hated (yes, hated) grocery shopping. While I’m sure there are “I love grocery shopping” polls, I have to say, I’m with the 70 per cent. I loathe the grocery shop.

It’s peoples’ actions and off-the-cuff antics that irritate me to the core. Once I saw a middle-aged man reach in and dig a handful of salted roasted almonds from out of the bulk food bin. He shoved them into his mouth, wiped the salt and drool from his lips, then went in for seconds. I was stunned. I also never returned to shop at that location again. There are also people who don’t know how to return things, such as shopping carts. I once counted 23 shopping carts abandoned in a small car park. They were stuffed in bushes, between and behind cars and inside bus stops on street level. For me, the worst of all is when the task of shopping has been completed. You’ve successfully navigated yourself around the lunatics that seem to want to buy the exact same things on your list and now it’s time to pay. Seriously, who writes a check at the grocers? And why do people want to debate a coupon’s expiry date at the time of payment? Do it before, or, better still, read the coupon date: it’s expired! And to those people who chose to start eating their food in line before they’ve paid for it: stop it. You haven’t paid for the item, therefore you do not own it yet. Would you walk into a restaurant’s kitchen and start eating from the stew pot? No. I was standing behind a mature-aged woman in line once, who ripped into her bag of apples and starting working her way through it – crunch by juicy crunch. It was clear she could not wait to get home to devour the fruit, or at least wait till she got to the car park, only metres away. Let’s be certain here: grocery stores are not food courts or places to eat. We have designated places to eat, such as homes, outside and actual food courts. Let’s be civil. Eat in your car if you must. Just not while shopping.

We, as a society, hate to wait. Our time is valuable and precious and we all would rather spend it elsewhere – not bailed up in a check out line because someone has just run off to grab “one last item” and is holding up 15 disgruntled humans. All I ever want to accomplish at a grocery store is to slip in and out, like the night, without too much fuss. But this rarely happens. Others will disagree and say they enjoy the grocery browse, but browsing is for shopping malls, video stores and libraries. Is it not?

Professor Richard Larson, a man who dedicated his career to “queue theory” explained the science behind waiting to Maclean’s Magazine. What spurred him on to do delve into such a topic was a bad case of the “waits” when he tried to purchase a red bike for his five-year old and was waiting in line for more than 45 minutes. It was 10 years before he went back to a major retail outlet. The worst part is no one can control shoppers – what they think how they behave, what they will do in line — not even the grocery store clerks themselves.

So what we need are rules.

What we need to do (“we”, the people) is to create an orderly shopping society where time limits are placed on shoppers. I propose a five-minute shopping limit. Grab what you need in that allotted time. If you find you didn’t have enough time, come back tomorrow. We need a society that leads to speedy check outs. We need to enforce a  “no eating in-store” policy. Perhaps stores could create an electronic scoreboard that would show prices and items and where they are located before you commence “Operation Shop”. That would eliminate the art of browsing and aisle congestion. If that wasn’t good enough, what if aisles were policed like highways and roads? We could have screens above each aisle that would tell you “good to browse” or “too congested to browse” and store clerks would give you the “hurry-on” if you were fixated on one item for too long.

And, why would we need screens to tell us to do these things when aisles are labeled already? It’s so we don’t have to think. We want to avoid creating the perfect storm of bad grocery store habits. That’s why. We already have the choice to be orderly and humane when we shop, but, we simply have not learned from our experiences. Instead of correcting our shoddy behavior, we tend to want to dish out revenge and make it worse for others just because someone stole your trolley with all your groceries in it.

There’s no complete solution when dealing with the aloof, but we can strive toward a harmonious shopping practice.

Consider this: one guy has a solution that may quicken the shopping journey, or at least fix (slightly) the shopping experience, such as making lists, making lists according to aisles and doing brisk five-minute shops. Here’s another blogger with some sound advice: shop early or late; never shop when you are hungry or tired; and go alone. All good,  food for thought.

While stores trial new systems and opt for what seems like a faster alternatives, it’s up to us as people to stop it with the bad manners we exude when shopping. One thing to keep in mind: you’ll never forget a bad grocery shop experience. It can last for years.


Justin Robertson is a freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter: @justinjourno

Illustration by Sarah Jennings.

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