Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Supermarket Sheep

When I blogged about bargain hunting in supermarkets a few weeks ago, I was reminded that I’d forgotten to include something quite important.

It was about the desire for a protocol around bumping into friends or acquaintances whilst doing your shop.

What are the rules around this?

Last week, I was clattering around the local Morrisons and found myself on the first aisle, amongst the fruit and veg. While trying to find apples that displayed the mutually exclusive characteristics of being cheap and looking tasty, I bumped into one of the other parents from my kids primary school. We had that moderately stilted conversation, that you have in supermarkets, when you’re aware that neither of you had really planned this chat, people are behind you trying to get to the apples and you’ve got other stuff you’ve got to get on with, as soon as the shop’s out of the way.

So you go through the motions, ask each other a couple of questions and not really listen to the answers. Eventually, one of you says,

“Right, better be getting on. See you later.”

Then you go your separate ways. This is where there should be a rule made. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve now had our conversation and that should be it. I should be free to completely ignore you for the rest of my shop. It’s not like we arranged to meet here, like going for a drink or something, so let’s agree to just crack on. Supermarkets are full of things I don’t care for, like rude kids and people who clip you with their trolleys and pretend it was an accident, even though they really meant it, because you’d dawdled for a microsecond too long near the beans. Therefore, I want to spend the least amount of time possible in them.

Instead, because we met in the first aisle, we now enter into some sort of synchronicity and have to have several more verbal transactions. My heart sinks further and further with each one, as the law of diminishing returns forces us both to endure those shit one-liners that were solely designed for this purpose.

“Ha ha, we’ll have to stop meeting like this!”

“Hey, I’m sure I met your twin brother a few minutes ago!”

“Still here then?”


“Are you stalking me?”


“Am I stalking you?”

“We’ll be working here, if we hang around much longer!”

All of the above are delivered almost apologetically, with a rolling of the eyes, as if to say,
“It wasn’t me that made these rules. I’m sorry, but we’re just locked into this. Let’s deliver the lines as best we can and hope to fuck that one of us is going to forget something a few aisles back and break this cycle.”

I have, on occasion, been that cheesed off with this panto, that I’ll invent a bargain on the other side of the shop and go there for a bit, till I’m sure there’s no chance of us bumping into each other again. This usually backfires. Chorlton’s a small place and I just meet someone else and have to start all over again.

The real hell of hells occurs, if you go through the complete circuit and then find yourselves paired in the queue at the checkout. You’ve already used all the ‘conversation’ that was available to you and are reduced to spending ten minutes saying,

“This queue’s not going down very quickly, eh?”

“Why does the other queue always move more quickly, eh?”

“This queue’s moving nice and quickly, eh?”

I have a real terror of this happening. It’s the perfect storm of supermarket synchronicity and to be avoided at all costs. I’ll happily join the massive queue for the cashier that I know will try and break my eggs and squash my tomatoes, if it means not having to feign interest in the price of the chewing gum on the impulse buy shelf, near the till.

There is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. On several occasions, without any conversation occurring, I’ve tacitly agreed with someone to just not enter into this modern dance. I’ve seen him and he’s seen me. We’re friends and are secure enough in our friendship to think simultaneously,

“I really can’t be arsed having a chat. I’ve got to get out of here before I throw a chicken at someone. I’m just going to avert my eyes and pretend to be looking at something else, whenever there’s the possibility of an encounter. When I get to the top of each aisle, I’ll have a quick look. If he’s down there, I’ll skip an aisle and double back. If we bump into each other in the car park after, we’ll continue with the charade and say something like, ‘Were you in there? Fancy that!,’ before nodding in collusion and legging it.”

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