Friday, February 02, 2007


(News-Herald, February 1) When it comes to groceries, I’m old fashioned—I like to buy them at a grocery store. I can’t help it. The spectacle of a head of lettuce nestled between a polo shirt and a car battery just seems wrong to me.
I can’t really explain what strikes me as so special about a grocery store. I suppose there’s a social aspect to it, but I’m usually in a quasi-hurry, and so can’t really stop to chat. I have read the articles that suggest single people Of A Certain Age can use the grocery store as a sort of respectable singles bar, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen that work out for anyone (Shop and Save’s pharmacy in Franklin used to occasionally employ possibly the most beautiful woman in Venangoland, but I have no idea who she is and have now publicly embarrassed her, so I don’t think that counts).
No, grocery shopping is not a perfect experience, but I think if we all agreed to follow a few simple rules, we could improve it considerably.
EXPRESS LINE: Okay, really, how hard is it to count to ten, or twelve, or even fourteen?
You get a pass when the store isn’t very busy and the checker calls you over to buck the system. But when the store is busy and people are waiting, if your fingers and toes aren’t up to the task, just bust out your calculator and do the math.
It is not, as someone once suggested to me, a matter of ten different kinds of items. 150 boxes of frozen chicken livers are 150 items, not one.
I admit that I find this behavior a little fascinating, in much the same way I’m fascinated by the driver traveling at fifteen miles an hour down 322 or 417 with fifty-seven cars lined up behind.
What, I wonder, do these people tell themselves? “People should have to wait in the line behind me because I have extra-special groceries” or “Express line? That must be a place for me to let other people watch me express myself” or maybe “Look! A special line just for MEEEEE!”
MAKING CHANGE: Okay, here’s a quick quiz. Which one of the following people do you think can make change more quickly?
A) has change organized by denomination in a handy drawer, and practices making change all day.
B) has some change, she thinks, somewhere in this purse here, just under the compact and behind the three used tissues that are now wrapped up in the car keys, which are resting right next to a half-finished roll of Life Savers with the loose paper wrapper just sort of trailing off it and , oh wait—here’s a penny. Now I’m pretty sure I saw another penny in here somewhere behind these AA batteries…
I know Person B means to be helpful, or maybe just a mildly obsessive need to be exact. And that’s kind of admirable and/or treatable. But really. Leave the change-making to the professionals.
Note: You get a pass on this one if the checker is running low on coins and need to collect some change.
EMPLOYEE CHAT: I like that local grocery employees are friendly at most stores. The folks at Shop and Save under the management of both Scott Barefoot and the Fazzell’s have always set the standard for Pleasant.
I particularly appreciate that they avoid the cardinal sin of employee behavior, which is to talk to each other as if the customers aren’t even there. I hate that. It’s rude, and it leaves me feeling as if I should sneak out and stay out in order to avoid interrupting someone’s private party.
Grumpy Employees will also chase me out of a store, mostly because they reflect badly on management. One of Sam Walton’s best pieces of advice for managers was, “The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.”
TOLERATE DIFFERENT STYLES: Finally, remember that we don’t all shop the same way. Some people like a long slow browse (“I wonder if there are any new vegetables they’ve decided to put in cans…”), while for some shop as if they’ve only got a few minutes before their cart explodes. Speed shoppers have every shelf memorized; browsers make each trip as if it was their first (“Why look! They sell milk here!!!”).
I don’t want to pick sides, but we need a simple agreement. If the browsers can agree not to park in the middle of the aisle, speed shoppers should agree to at least swerve before they roll right over some poor person contemplating the splendor of canned fat-free soup.

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