Lessons from the Grocery Store

Many shoppers at the grocery store irritate me to pieces. I suspect that I irritate folks, too, so I try to think gracious thoughts about other people, even the ones who leave their cart on a busy aisle (because they are having to wait to get down the row) and walk an aisle or two away to get something else, therefore creating additional snarling, because the rest of us now have half an aisle to navigate through and . . . . But I digress.

In the produce department, there are several routes around bins and rows of fresh food. If one avenue is blocked, there are always a couple of others a shopper can use to circumnavigate. Last week, I was standing in front of a display along a wall, trying to decide which kind of packaged salad to get (American Blend? Simply Romaine? Field Greens?). A man beside me, heading the opposite direction, appeared to be trying to choose between strawberries and grapes from a large, free-standing bin. There was a space, about a foot, between our carts. A woman, rather slender, walked up to where we were, with carrots, or something, in her hand. She took a look and decided to plow through. The man and I both scooted our carts as far as we could to make more room, and the lady shoved through the gap. When I looked around, I saw that on the other side of the strawberry/grape bin, there was no one at all. No shopper or cart would have been in her way.

The whole thing made me begin to wonder: Is our grocery store behavior an indicator of our entire personalities?

I really do try to be patient at the grocery store. If there’s a cart snarl, I wait for my turn. If an aisle seems particularly crowded, I push my cart on to other departments in the store and come back a few minutes later. Often that aisle has cleared. (Just so you know, this tactic does not work the week before Thanksgiving or Christmas. Everyone is in the flour/sugar/spice aisle. And the cooking oil, for those brave folks who are planning to deep fry a turkey.) If someone is standing on the right side of the aisle, but studying the products on the left hand side, thinking about what they want, I go past them but I say, “Excuse me.” When I go to the baking aisle to get some cinnamon, and come up behind someone who is trying to decide between Adam’s Best Pure Vanilla Extract, Imitation Vanilla Extract, Organic Pure Vanilla, Vanilla Beans, or Vanilla Bean Paste, I stop behind them and pretend to be interested in the different varieties of flour, so they will not feel rushed into making a too-quick decision. (They’ll be pretty unhappy if they get home and discover they ended up with the store brand “Vanilla-Imitation.”) I do that sort of thing all the time. What does that say about me? Am I being considerate? Or, am I afraid of confrontation? Do I worry someone might think me pushy? Should I care if someone thinks I’m pushy? AM I pushy, and I don’t want anyone to realize it? Am I over thinking the whole thing?

Are the people who have fifteen items but get into the ten-item line cheaters? Or, are they hurrying to get home to a sick child? Or, was the line empty and the checker said, “Oh, come on. I’ll check you out here,” but before the transaction was finished, three more people, with ten or less items, queued up behind? Am I rigid if I bypass the ten-item line when I have eleven items? Or, am I conscientious about following guidelines?

That go-ahead-and-push-through-the-carts woman I encountered in the produce section. Is she decisive? Does she know what she wants and how to get it? Is she a goal-oriented person who works to solve problems and get things done? Or is she just a jerk? Or maybe she has a very hungry bunny rabbit at home who is out of carrots and desperate for a snack.

If I go two aisles out of my way to avoid the crowd at the free sample table, rather than threading through them, am I a wimp, a person who avoids all sorts of challenges and holds back when things need to be done? Am I choosing to shy away from situations that might get testy? Or am I just polite?

I don’t know. But I’m going to  be a little more aware now, when I’m grocery shopping. I think we might be showing our true colors while we’re maneuvering up and down those corridors.

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
Ephesians 4:2 (NRSV)

Years ago, a friend said she made the mistake of asking God for more patience. She said she realized, too late, that one learns patience by going through difficult, tedious, frustrating situations. If I’ve got to shop for groceries anyway, I guess it’s as good a place as any to hone that skill.

4 Responses to “Lessons from the Grocery Store”

  1. Bud Jablonowski

    The grocery store plus versions invite us to many more encounters of diverse people of different agendas and cultures. Much the same as the rest of the world but packed into a small space. A year or so ago I developed a self control canned reply to all that you mentioned- I’m not in that big of a hurry, please go ahead.
    I think our rush and entitlement attitude sometimes is born of selfishness so I try to stomp on that part of me
    Grocery clerks face hourly abuse so I try to leave them with a heart felt “May God bless you” and really mean it. With love

    • Gayle Lintz

      Sometimes I’m amazed at how kind and friendly the checkers are, when I know they’ve spent hours on their feet and dealt with all sort of customers, who are themselves at all points on the shopping behavior spectrum.

  2. Suzy

    As usual thought provoking and a cause to be aware grocery store etiquette/behavior. Heaven knows I spend a lot of time in the grocery so shouldn’t I be on my best behavior while there?

    Did I tell you house in NC is under contract, due to close toward end of the month?

    Are you mostly in Waco now t hat April is “retired?” Hope you still visit often so you keep GIgi skills at the top of the game. Peter is adorable. Thanks for the picdture in his little gift outfit!

    Love to all, Suzy


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