Monday, April 19, 2010

Eggs, Milk, Bread, Camaraderie

I love to go grocery shopping.  I savor the potential that the various products, ingredients, foods, staples, and produce represent.  I also love to cook, so the two probably go hand in hand, although I know a lot of good cooks who hate to grocery shop.  

Recently, I was at the check out at the Atlantic SuperStore in Sussex.  The young clerk greeted me cheerfully which is a sharp contrast from the typical grocery shopping experiences in New Jersey where the employees regard you as an intrusion in their day, resent your presence, and do nothing to mask their intense boredom with their tasks and lack of respect for the customer.

After picking up a few sundries, I exchanged pleasantries with this young fellow who remarked about the weather, recounted his recent passport application and photograph taking experience, revealed his desire to acquire a new large flat screen television, and shared his brilliant idea for a store promotion in the camera department.  I learned more about him in our three minute exchange than I know about neighbors that I've shared a communal wall with in our building for over two years.

But he crossed a line.

He started making opinionated comments about several of my purchases as the conveyor belt brought each item toward the scanner.  As a small wedge of expensive blue cheese approached, he picked it up, turned it over and exclaimed, "OH, gross!" gaining the attention of the customers next in line.  He lifted it higher with one hand, pointed to it with the other, and with shrugging shoulders, declared his dislike for the aroma, flavor, and overall principle of this particular kind of cheese and continued to remark how he can't understand how people can spend so much money on different cheese varieties.  I quietly defended myself, suggesting one man's cheese is another man's wine--age, flavor, region and price all influencing our tastes.

Next he sympathized with my seasonal allergies as he scanned my Claritin (tm) tablets, approved of my choices of fresh oranges, and inquired about my banking practices when I used an American debit card to complete the transaction.

On one hand, I felt myself bristle at what I initially felt were intrusive remarks, comments, and inquiries, but on the other hand, appreciated the contrast from my New Jersey grocery store counterparts, who rarely even make eye contact in the few moments of exchanging cash and receipts. Because I actually enjoy going to the grocery store, these are familiar people I have contact with several times each week, every week.

I wanted to say something to caution him about this fine line of assumed anonymity that he was crossing, but decided I liked it somehow, after all.  It was a true human interaction.  Oddly, something I'm often lacking while living in the dense population of New Jersey but relish in New Brunswick.

I hope he gets that fancy TV soon.


  1. When I buy something at a NJ supermarket and the clerk never looks up or says a word, I have an intense desire to brazenly steal or break something as I leave, just to picture the futility of the scene where the police question the clerk. "So this guy, what'd he look like? Whaddaya mean, you don't know? You said hi to him, right? No? Well ya looked at him, right? No? Seriously? Yo miss, is there sumthin wrong with you? Seriously?"

  2. I'd rather have a wordless exchange at the checkout, myself. The cashiers at my neighborhood supermarket know me by name. One lady has made it her life's work to convince me, using language stronger than necessary, to use my greenpoints card. Another decides to use our precious time together to tell me how much she can't stand this coworker or that one, in a voice loud enough so they hear, which forces me to respond as loudly such neutral comments as, "Oh, we all have our differences," or, "I can't imagine she did it on purpose." But by far the most ANNOYING thing is when the cashier, like your fellow, has a running commentary on my items. And she can't comment on my GOOD choices, like fresh produce. Nope; it's the days when I buy, and only buy, two gallons of ice cream, cake mix and frosting-- before 9 am-- that Dottie has to comment on how, my, SOMEONE has a sweet tooth.

    It is this fear of the talkative checker that has prevented or will prevent me from ever buying the following: condoms, personal lubricant, anything to do with feminine itching, hemorrhoid cream, flushable toilet wipes, zucchini, the National Enquirer, dandruff shampoo.