Sunday, 30 March 2008

Grocery shopping: when ‘out of stock’ drives you out of your mind

When I’m rich I’m going to get myself a personal shopper. Not for clothes and other unimportant trivialities, but for groceries. Because grocery shopping, in and of itself so damned irksome, comes with a whole bag of extra irritations.

In addition to all the usual annoyances – finding parking; checking every single ingredient on every single food product you put in your trolley lest something in it causes you to grow an extra head or turn your toenails blue; checking the sell-by date ditto; forking over much of your salary for eight measly bags of essentials; running the gamut of the trolley-pushers whose sole aim in life is apparently to allow the trolley to run full-tilt into the back of your car; etc – there’s the matter of just finding the things you need.

Our nearest big supermarket, 20 kilometres distant, has improved immeasurably over the eight years I’ve been shopping there – at least now they know what capers, poppadums, anchovy fillets and coconut milk actually are, and sometimes they do even stock them – but it still hasn’t got a handle on, oh, you know, replacing things when they run out.

When enquiring after a product – say, the contact lens solution my kids use, and which I usually buy from this supermarket – they always follow the same protocol (perhaps they are trained in it, who knows).

First, they make you repeat the name of the product several times and in a variety of ways, while looking at you in a puzzled fashion, as if you’re speaking Urdu. ‘Contact lens solution? The solution you use when you insert your contact lenses? The fluid that comes in a blue and white bottle that you use if you wear contact lenses? The stuff you use to clean your contact lenses? The bottled liquid that’s usually stocked here, on this shelf, right here, where I’m pointing?’

Then they suddenly break into smiles, apparently at last understanding what you’re after: ‘Oh, eye drops!’ they’ll say, smirking a little as if you’re the half-wit.

‘No, no,’ you’ll say. ‘Not eye drops. Con. Tact. Lens. Sol. U. Tion. You use it if you wear Con. Tact. Lens. Es.’

They’ll look a little sadly at you, as if sorry to be such a disappointment (or perhaps sorry that you’re being such a disappointment), and say, ‘Oh, contact lens solution,’ and just as you think you’re getting somewhere they’ll add, ‘I don’t manage this aisle. I’ll go get the person who does.’

You might ask (or I do, anyway), ‘As a matter of interest, what aisle do you manage?’ And they’ll say, ‘Stationery,’ and you’ll ask, ‘And who’s the person you were chatting to here, in this aisle, where the contact lens solution is usually stocked, while I was looking for it?’ And they’ll say, ‘Alfie, from Pet Food,’ and you’ll have to suppress the urge to poke them in the eye with your car keys.

Off they’ll go to find the manager of the aisle you’ve been searching high and low, and that manager will finally turn up, often out of breath and looking fractious, as if you’ve just interrupted something very important (a conversation, probably, in Dairy with Camilla from Fruit & Veg).

You’ll then repeat the first few steps, all the way up to and including their assumption that it’s eye drops you’re looking for, and your assertion that it’s not.

Then (and this really is my favourite part of the process) they will begin searching the shelves high and low, muttering under their breath and sometimes moving other products out of the way in case the contact lens solution was cunningly hiding from you, but they, with their greater knowledge (presumably) of the aisle they manage, will be able to locate it.

You’ll watch this for a while, then you’ll say (if you’re me, through gritted teeth), ‘It’s pointless looking. I’ve already looked. It’s not on the shelves. Do you have any in stock? Perhaps in the back? Has it run out? Is it on order? Would you like me to stand here and burst into screaming sobs and begin tearing my hair out by the roots?’

They’ll look at you in some surprise for being so unreasonable and say, ‘I’ll go and ask the manager,’ the manager in this case being, assumedly, the god of the supermarket. And off they’ll go, at a calm and measured pace, leaving you with an unhealthily hammering heart and teeth that are being ground down to nubs.

You will in the meantime take the line of least resistance and move along, finishing your shopping. And by the time you're ready to find a checkout, still no-one will have informed you about the availability or otherwise of contact lens solution. So you’ll go and find the manager yourself (he usually has to be called away from something very important – a chat, in all likelihood, in the Bakery with Vanessa from Canned Goods).

The manager will, of course, have absolutely no idea of what you’re talking about, and you’ll be required to repeat the first few steps, up to and including etc. He’ll then tell you, immediately and without evident thought, that the product is out of stock but is ‘on order’.

You will then (if you’re me) say, ‘Do you really know what product I’m talking about?’ and if he nods (and he always does), you’ll say, ‘Okay, what’s it called?’

The manager will clear his throat and look embarrassed, then search about his person for a piece of scrap paper on which he’ll ask you to write down the name of the product so he can order it for you. This piece of scrap paper he will return to his pocket, to be used later when he needs to swab his fingers after a messy clean-up in aisle 7, then throw away.

And you’ll pay for the groceriers you could find, then go to the chemist to buy the contact lens solution, where you should have just gone in the first place.

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1 comment:

meggie said...

O yes indeed!
What really riles me almost to the point of screaming insanity, is the weekly 'Specials' which are nowhere to be found. When you finally track down a staff member, they look at you with glazed eyes. Eventually you make them understand you wished to purchase the advertised special. They shuffle & mutter, & avoid eye contact, then reluctantly ask if you would like a 'rain check'?
The urge to swear uncontrollably at the top of my lungs is sheer horror to control.
No wonder I have high blood pressure.