Grocery shopping can be anything from a tedious necessity to a welcome opportunity to get out of the house. It can also entail a sometimes surprising confrontation with one’s own less-than-flattering qualities, including self-absorption, sloth, and outright rudeness. Isn’t that terrible?
Not necessarily. Here are five examples of ostensibly bad supermarket behavior that, when viewed sympathetically, reveal certain hidden redemptive aspects.
1. When forced to crawl behind an elderly person poking along with her cart in a narrow aisle, you mutter under your breath, “Jesus Christ, you stupid bitch, fucking move out of the way.”
HOW IT IS ACTUALLY QUITE HELPFUL: Isolation is one of the most pernicious burdens facing elderly Americans. By vocally announcing that you are aware of this shopper, and that you have an opinion about her, you help her to feel “seen.” Moreover, you instill in her a feeling of agency and significance. You are a fully-functioning adult; by impeding your progress, she acquires a sense of importance. She matters.
2. You are neither elderly nor slow, but sometimes, like a bad driver, you inexplicably stop, boom, coming to a dead halt in the middle of a busy thoroughfare. Why? Oh, for any number of perfectly valid reasons: to ponder, to decide, to remember what you came to get, to hope your hopes and dream your dreams and to try to guess where the breadcrumbs are. And if that compels the person behind you to sprain an ankle in an effort not to run you over with their cart—so what? That’s their lookout.
HOW IT IS ACTUALLY QUITE HELPFUL: Just as, when driving, the knowledge that there are maniacs and morons on the road prompts us all to be more alert, so the awareness that we can, at any moment, plow our cart into some self-absorbed nudnik makes better shoppers of the rest of us.
3. While unloading your purchases from the shopping cart onto the conveyor belt so the cashier can ring them up, it’s just too much trouble for you to put your phone down for two fucking minutes, because what you’re reading on it or saying into it is just so very, very important, that you only unload the groceries with one hand. So of course this increases the likelihood that you’ll drop something, either back into the cart or, even more hilariously, on the floor. Plus, when it comes to big or unwieldy items, like a whole chicken or a ten-pound bag of potatoes, you try to do it with two hands while still using the phone, which is not only super-efficient but majorly thoughtful to the poor bastards waiting behind you.
HOW IT IS ACTUALLY QUITE HELPFUL: Everyone knows that it’s important to be mindful, and one of the first steps toward mindfulness is to slow down. By deliberately unloading your groceries with one hand, you are essentially doing it at “half speed”—and, thus, providing a healthful, revivifying opportunity for the cashier, the bagger, and everyone waiting in line behind you, to pause and be mindful and so forth.
4. You buy an entire, full cart’s worth of items, but as the cashier scans them and they pile up in the bagging area like unclaimed suitcases on a luggage carousel, you don’t lift a finger to pack them, whether someone is there putting them in bags or not. You look at your phone the whole fucking time.
HOW IT IS ACTUALLY QUITE HELPFUL: The last thing any employee wants is a customer demonstrating that the employee’s job is unnecessary. To some, it’s bad enough that there are self-checkout units in supermarkets, which can only threaten to make cashiers and baggers obsolete, and shift the burden of packing (as well as ringing up) to the customer. We already went through this, two generations ago, with gas stations, where we now have to pump our own gas, clean our own windshields, get dangerous hydrocarbons on our precious personal hands, and expose ourselves to bad weather—all of this everywhere except in New Jersey—while Big Oil passes the savings along to itself.
By standing around like a lox, as though it never dawns on you that someone will have to actually put your ten tons of groceries in bags, you signal to everyone—management, staff, and the pissed-off customers waiting for you to leave so they can check out—that supermarket employees are essential, especially when dealing with people like you.
5. In the parking lot, after transferring your groceries from the shopping cart to your car, you leave the cart in an empty parking space instead of moving it to the cart collection area or taking it back to the front of the store. Anyone wanting or needing to park in that space must, therefore, get out of their car and move the cart aside.
HOW IT IS ACTUALLY QUITE HELPFUL: The more parking spaces that aren’t actually occupied by a parked car, the more the parking lot, and those in it, are exposed to healthful fresh air. Indeed, if everyone left their empty cart in a different parking space, pretty soon there wouldn’t be room for any cars. The ripple effect of this—requiring a lot’s-worth of shoppers to either go elsewhere or stay home—would strike a significant blow against air pollution and global warming.