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Shopping with Social Misfits at the Supermarket

December 5th, 2012 7 COMMENTS

Supermarkets and Social (In)Civility

Supermarket Bumper Carts

No matter where you live, you’ll find yourself in a supermarket several times a week. Supermarkets reflect society, particularly regional differences — the food, the brands, the people. Thirty years ago, the distinctions were glaring, now they’re subtle. But how people behave in a supermarket is . . . well . . . “revealing.”

I’m not going to point out regional differences, that would get me in trouble, but I will say that supermarkets are a mirror of how we treat others and how we view our social responsibilities.

Which of these have you seen recently?

1. Crap in a Cart: Not literally (except twice, both times with a bonus diaper), but all the debris left in a shopping cart by the previous shopper: flyers, plastic bags, drink containers, food wrappers, banana peels. When did it become the next shopper’s responsibility to dispose of the previous shopper’s garbage?

2. Dogs in a Cart, on a Leash, in a Purse, in a Baby Sling. I love dogs. I really do, but other than assist animals, when did it become acceptable for dogs to shop at a supermarket? I see it all the time. Most employees won’t approach the dog shopper because they’ve learned that people lie about their dogs. They’ll claim that their animal assists them in some physical, emotional, or spiritual way. Meanwhile, I have a frisky dachshund licking my leg in the produce section.

3. Lanes? I Don’t Need No Stinking Lanes. In America, we drive on the right — not the left, not in the center. The right! Now, I realize you’re comparing the Spanish EVOO to the Italian, the Moroccan, and the Chilean, but move your cart and your butt because the biker dude behind me is clipping my ankles with his cart. And he’s beginning to enjoy it.

4. Tongs? I Don’t Need No Stinking Tongs. Germs . . . bring them on. You won’t see me carrying around disinfectant wipes. That said, the tongs for the rolls, donuts, and bagels are there for a reason. Same with the scoop for the bulk items and candy. I don’t want your nicotine-stained fingers touching my buns or your nose-picking kids fingering my Gummi bears. Here’s how it works:

• Grab tongs (by the handles you idiot).

• Squeeze them around product.

• Place product in bag (not in your mouth).

• Replace tongs in slot (yes, the slot you idiot )

5. Lines? Who Me? My wife claims this is gender specific. Bet you can guess which gender. She’s standing at the deli counter waiting her turn. A guy wanders up to the counter, waives his hand (or snaps his fingers or says “Hey, can I get some help here”) and proceeds to place an order. Then, when the clerk politely asks him to wait his turn, he gets pissy. Makes sense to me. When God wants two pounds of sliced bologna and American cheese, he wants it now. Not in five minutes. In case you believe this is income specific — it’s not. Substitute “Smoked Turkey and Gouda” and it’s still a man snapping his fingers at the deli clerk.

6. Sure Glad No One Else is Shopping Today. I fear the day when supermarkets put motors on La-Z-Boy recliners and attach a basket to it. Those folks will never leave the grocery store. As it is, they meander down the aisles, oblivious to anyone else, parking their cart at one end of the aisle while they look for Pork and Beans two aisles over. They view grocery shopping as part vacation, part adventure, and part entitlement.

7. What the Heck. I’ll Leave My Cart Right HERE. Seriously, How DAMN hard can it be to roll the cart to the cart return? I’ll admit it’s a pet peeve of mine, mostly because some regions of the country are courteous and polite about it, and others are inconsiderate, slack-jawed buffoons. They jack the front wheels on a curb or push it into an open parking space, when the buggy return area is ONLY TWO CARS AWAY. Carts in return corrals don’t roll into cars. Carts in corrals are easy to grab while headed into the store. Carts in corrals don’t block parking spaces. Returning the cart shows that you passed Civics in high school. Returning the cart shows you give a rat’s ass about someone other than yourself. Oddly, this is also not income specific.

8. Pajamas, Robes, and Slippers. I’d complain to your mother, but she’s probably in the store wearing even less.

9. Please, Thank You, You’re Welcome. Again, I’d complain to your mother (and father), but they just said “Whatever” (three times). First when I politely asked them to move, next when I thanked them for moving, and last, when I said “You’re Welcome.” I’d suspect sarcasm, but the tone was pleasant. Almost cheerful. Enlighten me. When did “Whatever,” “Yea,” and “Sure” become substitutes for P, TY, and YW?

10. Reality Show Checkout. My wife and I take bets on whether the cashier will share a disturbing personal story with us. We’ve heard about broken marriages, cheating boyfriends, infectious diseases, shootouts, drug busts, and a sexual escapade that still makes me blush.

I feel for supermarket cashiers. I really do. I worked in retail for seven years and occasionally someone would reveal a tale of personal anguish. But there was always a line that you didn’t cross. However, reality shows have clearly lowered the barrier on what strangers will share with other strangers. Frankly, there’s money to be made on cable television showing conversations between cashiers and a customers. In my opinion, cashiers should be earning on-the-job college credit for therapy and counseling.

On a Positive Note

That said, I’d like to end my bitching on a positive note. It’s small but meaningful. A few years ago, a very large supermarket with stores primarily in the West clearly made a decision about how its employees would interact with customers. I’m guessing they required them to take training classes and told them that secret shoppers would score them. I have no idea if that’s true, but I can tell you that something changed.

When I shop there, I can count on an employee asking me if I need assistance — whether it’s the produce manager, a stocking clerk, or some random employee. If they see me, they ask. Nine times out of ten, I don’t need any help, but when I do, they don’t simply point to Aisle 8. They walk me to Aisle 8 and to the section. It seems silly, but I like it. The prices aren’t always the cheapest, but I go there more often than other supermarkets because they appear to care about my shopping experience and want my business (whether they do or not). They are civil and polite, and oddly enough, I experience fewer instances of the 10 behaviors listed above. Who would have thought that the “Golden Rule” really works?

Feel free to add #11 to 20 to this list. We all have pet peeves. Oh yes, did I mention how much I hate the person who stands in front of the freezer with the door open for 5 minutes trying to decide which ice cream or pizza to buy. Odd how it never happens in the frozen vegetables section.

Go figure.

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions and engineered aluminum extrusions (ClassicMODUL). Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100.




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7 Responses to “Shopping with Social Misfits at the Supermarket”

  1. Chris says:

    #11 Put it back and in the right place. If you thought you wanted it and changed your mind then go back to where you got it and put it back. Not in the aisle you are currently in especially if it is a freezer section items and you are in the cereal section. Or in the magazine section at check out.,,hand it to the clerk they will gladly have it returned to it’s proper location. And while I’m at it…above all else don’t open something eat part of it and leave it. Where did you grow up.

  2. Mel says:

    Chris —

    Do you mean like a bag of cookies? Holy crap, have we gotten to the point where grazing on unpaid food in the supermarket has become acceptable?

    It reminds me of those people who won’t dispose of their trash at a fast food restaurant and justify it by saying, “I’m creating a job for someone.”


  3. Chris says:

    Let’s hope not…but here in California we had to consider a bill saying it’s not OK to show up naked in a restaurant or park…scary I know…so sampling un purchased food in a grocery store could be considered OK here. I hope not but one never knows what this state will do next.

    And let’s not get me started on a whole other topic.

  4. Sad, but true … I see these behaviors all the time! Just tonight I saw a block of cheese sitting on a shelf with the crackers (thankfully it was still in the package, but no longer chilled) … It’s amazing how basic courtesy & manners have completely disappeared in so many places these days. But I am glad our local store is much like yours with a staff that is professional and helpful. Too bad they don’t offer etiquette classes for their lazy & clueless customers!

  5. Troy says:

    The feminine variety of #5 is to come up to the counter, blatantly NOT take a number and then, when the person who comes after them and does take a number is called, yell in a nasally voice, “Excuse ME… But I was here FIRST!”

    The three quarter length wool coat and clear plastic snood is not required, but it does seem to be the uniform of choice for this type of individual.

  6. Mel says:

    Number? I don’t need no stinking number!

  7. Mel says:

    Nothing makes me want to buy groceries like seeing a paunchy naked middle-aged man getting ice cream at the supermarket. Ouch!

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