Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Trouble at the Tills

My fellow writers have raised concerns about the trials of supermarket shopping, but I actually find the weekly food shop quite enjoyable. The key is to go at a quiet hour (otherwise it just gets nasty) and enjoy swooping from aisle to aisle, looking at all the foods and their potential glorious concoctions. I do have to avoid the confectionery aisle, though; it infects my otherwise fairly healthy shopping basket in a way I have no control over. But otherwise, the supermarket and I are firm friends.

With its perfectly controlled room temperature and fancy deli section, it’s rarely a place I want to hurry from ... unless, you know, I actual have real things to be doing. And that first meal post-foodshop: what a treat! No missing ingredients, all fresh stuff and even a choice of desserts if I’m feeling crazy. What happy (if admittedly sad) times!

Despite my slightly sad affinity with food shopping, however, there is one aspect that ruins the whole experience for me: the checkout. I seem to have a most miraculous gift of being at the back of every queue, and my few attempts at strategic queue-dodging - leaving one queue for another seemingly faster one - more often than not backfires. The longer queue that logic tells me to avoid always seems to move quicker due to some over-zealous newbie on the checkout, while the shorter queue contains the kind of person who tries to claim 10p off a packet of crackers and who has to fill out a complicated form to do so. Of course said person has left their reading glasses/pen/the actual voucher/common sense at home, so I am left with the overwhelming urge to give the dude 10p from my own purse.

All this fury quickly dissolves any zen-like feelings I may have had in the first leg of my shopping trip, and so, by the time I get to the checkout, I’m irritated. When it gets to my turn, the checkout assistant seems to be on some sort of performance-enhancing drug and speeds through my stuff, leaving me having to pack my bags in a frantic, uncoordinated fashion. The others behind me huff and puff and look at me in the impatient manner that I probably had with the 10p man. (Hmm, there might be a lesson in there somewhere.) I, burning from their looks of hatred, hurriedly pack my bags, pay and limp off with one bag ridiculously heavier than the other.

Then there are the people who pack your bags for you. I find this all a bit unnerving. Am I supposed to just stand and watch while someone packs away my cereal? Too weird. I understand it for those who can’t physically do it themselves, but for me? I always feel really lazy, as though I’ll get so used to it that I’ll get carried away and give them a list of other chores of mine that they can be getting on with.

I also take issue with the ‘novelty’ packers. I have on more than one occasion met Brownies and Scouts who offer to pack bags in order to raise money for some camping trip to Bognor Regis. It’s always one of those moments where I have to decide whether or not to be that grumpy cow who refuses, thus breaking the hearts and dreams of an innocent seven-year-old missing a front tooth, or to play the game and let them pack the bags. So, obviously I do what any person attempting to feign normality would and begrudgingly say yes. But much like The Times payroll, if I’m paying for a service that was previously free, I expect excellence, and putting canned tomatoes on top of my bananas is not the way to go, kiddo.

Of course, I grit my teeth, remind myself that it’s a gummy pre-pubescent who knows no better and I pay the mite for the privilege of having my fruit bruised. But this ridiculous charade, plus the longer than necessary wait in the queue, always threatens to ruin the harmonious start to the trip.

To combat this, I’m thinking of seeking refuge in alternatives such as the self-service checkout. As soon the machines stop breaking down every two minutes, that is. Read more by Selina.