11 January 2020

Shopping

When I was a boy, living in my home village in the heart of East Yorkshire, I would often visit our local shops. In those days the village had a population of 350 to 400 but we had six shops and a cafe. It seems almost incredible because today the village has a population of 2500 and there is only one shop.

The three shops I visited most often were Mrs Austwick's sweet shop, The Post Office run by Mrs Rosling and the general grocery shop run by Mr Peers. Many is the time that my mother would send me to Mr Peers's shop with a list or going further back in time I would accompany her there with my hand in hers. 

Mr Peers always wore a light brown shop coat. A bell above the door rang when you went inside. The shop's aroma was a mixture of everything in there from fresh bread to ham that was cut freshly on a lethal slicer and from apples to biscuits that you bought by weight from big wholesale tins.

Mr Peers was not a jovial man as I recall but he was polite and friendly. He gave his customers the time of day as pleasantries were exchanged along with current village news and local gossip. That was part of the shopping experience. Items bought were placed in one's basket - for there were no plastic bags - and then Mr Peers would calculate the bill on his ancient till with its brass number buttons and the little window at the top where the total would pop up on little white wafers made of tin.

Fast forward to 2020. 

This afternoon I visited a crowded "Aldi" discount supermarket to pick up a few things, including batteries, fresh pasta and a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Then I waited at one of the check-out conveyor belts. Soon it was my turn. 

The young shop assistant didn't say a word to me as my few items were scanned very swiftly and then he said, "Cash or card?" as I hurried to get my purchases in the plastic bag I had just taken from my pocket. No doubt as "Aldi" employee  guidelines recommend, he wanted me out of there as quickly as possible and he looked at me with evident disdain as I grabbed the bottle of wine because he was already scanning the next shopper's load and I was getting in the way.

Perhaps I should have tried to engage him in conversation - echoing the pleasant ambience once experienced in Mr Peers's shop. I might have asked about the weather or what he thought about the assassination of Qassem Soleimani under the direct instructions of Donald Trump or about what it is like to work for "Aldi".

Yes - shopping is certainly different these days.

42 comments:

  1. Did you go into any Publix grocery stores when you were in Florida? They encourage their employees to be very friendly and today I had the opposite experience of yours as I did my shopping. I had everything on the belt and the woman was scanning the items and she asked, "What do you have planned for the rest of the afternoon?"
    This was a nice, friendly question but I WAS NOT IN THE MOOD FOR CHAT! So I told her, "Not much," which pretty much shut things down. I'm generally friendly and do appreciate the personal service at Publix but today wasn't that day. I have to say though that I never feel rushed at Publix. I appreciate that.

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    1. Never went in a Publix but we liked Piggly Wiggly. Great name for a supermarket chain. Is it still going?

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    2. Piggly Wiggly IS still going! We have two here in Florence!

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  2. I understand what you are talking about as it has happened to me on occasion. The worst is when you feel rushed out of the place as you described! Most of the time I get fairly friendly people checking me out and I admit I often will start a conversation. My husband is a talker and when he shops he always looks for his favorite cashier so he knows he will have a conversation. But no, it is not like the old days any more!

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    1. Are these friendly people who check you out guys? You might get more than you expected Bonnie!

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  3. The joy of shopping up here on the plateau at our local supermarket is the friendliness of all the staff. I get on well with them all. We always share a chat and a laugh. They're a good crew at our local IGA. They cheerful, and very helpful...particularly when giving information on the best series streaming on Netflix, Stan etc.!! We're always sharing information! :)

    (Independent Grocery Alliance (IGA) is an Australian chain of supermarkets.

    IGA is owned by Metcash, but individual IGA stores are owned independently. It is the Australian branch of the international American-based Independent Grocers Association.)

    Carlo's IGA own twenty five IGA and SUPA IGA stores throughout NSW and Queensland. Carlo Cavallaro was born in Sicily and migrated to Australia with his parents, when he was just 14 years old. His base is in New South Wales. He's a very pleasant man whom I've met a couple of times. The first time being when I was one of the four locals to assist Carlo in the opening of the new supermarket...about six years ago the grand opening was...the cutting of the ribbon and of the cake! I felt honoured to have been asked to partake in the opening of the new centre.

    The nearest Aldi store is down at Helensvale on the Gold Coast...but I never go down to the hustle and bustle of the GC...to much of a hassle...I stay away from the madding crowd and even more maddening traffic. Randall used to keep me in good supply of their chocolates, though!

    One of the joys of living here where I do...is the friendliness of the business owners and their staff. It's a bit like "old time rock 'n roll"...but in a different form...it's old time shopping! :)

    Boy! I've written a novella!!

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    1. Tamborine Mountain always sounds like a great, peaceful and friendly place. And you are its most famous inhabitant. If Tamborine Mountain was a separate nation you would be Queen Bee...I mean Queen Lee. Happy shopping my friend!

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  4. Believe it or not, I still shop in a locally owned grocery store called Kriegers. It smells like the aisle of fresh veggies (I bring my own produce bags), the meat counter (I only buy bacon), the apples, the potatoes, melons in season, and on and on. I might be hard pressed to figure out feeding a family on the price of locally grown and fresh produce, but I would. It is always busy, but we are courteous in the too small aisles with our carts. There are many twenty and thirty year olds with children, and parents and children all carry plastic baskets to get their groceries to the counter. If you can find such a place in a reasonable driving distance, I would recommend checking it out. Oh, and did I mention the locally backed chocolate eclairs?

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    1. Do you perchance live in 1962 Joanne? Sounds idyllic.

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    2. https://kriegersmarket.com/
      Take a look! Tell me what you think.

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  5. The chain of grocery stores where I shop (Food Lion) always has the friendliest staff. They're unfailingly polite and do a great job. It's part of the reason I'm loyal to them!

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    1. Lion is not my favourite food item but I don't mind cheetah.

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  6. Shopping is different but you have a very good idea to slow things down and bring back some humanity to shopping.

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    1. They would argue that slowing down would increase the shopping bill.

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  7. But by the same token you would not be able to buy New Zealand sauvignon blanc at Mr.Peers. And just to be really peevish, people who spend time chattering at the till about the weather, etc, really get up the noses of the long queue forming behind ;)

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    1. When the only words are "Cash or card?" I think that is inhumaan and shows a lack of respect for the people who really pay the wages. If there are long queues then there should be more till workers.

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  8. I'm spoiled for choice here, and within a five minute drive downhill, I have stores from at least five major supermarket chains at my disposal. Aldi and Lidl being two of them. Lidl is always going like the proverbial fair, Aldi is quieter and only seems to ever have one till open! However, all the cashiers are normally very pleasant, polite, and helpful.
    Before these food giants came along, there used to be a very small, old fashioned family run supermarket, where nothing was ever hurried and there was time to chat. Strange how all of us who remember it, still miss it!

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    1. In the end they just want our money. Maybe it was ever thus but in the past that bitter pill was somehow nicely sugared.

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  9. It would be good to go in a shop and meet characters like Arkwright or Granville in Open All Hours, l rarely go shopping because we have to go up and down every aisle. In Aldi it's the middle aisle that only appeals to me.

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    1. Is that where they display ladies' underwear?

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    2. It's the place where you pay five hundred quid for a 32 inch screen plasma television and place it in the trolley next to your 27 pence Crappo de beans.

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    3. Mmmm...I love crappo - except when its on my shoe.

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  10. Your Mr Peers sounds just like Arkwright in the TV sitcom Open All Hours. Did his cash till snap shut? Having lived in Germany for 4 years, I know Lidl and Aldi have a policy of getting a fast turnover of customers, so they do rush you through the check-out. The German answer to this is to put your items straight back into the trolley or basket. There are usually areas beyond the checkouts where you can then pack your items into your shopping bags at a more leisurely pace. But I agree that the experience is far less personal.

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    1. Why should I pack my bags at a side area? I don't like that. This is why I rarely shop in Aldi. My local Lidl store is much friendlier and they allow you time to fill your bags at the checkout.

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  11. My source for nearly everything I need is an Aldi market less than 5 minutes on foot from my home. I go there usually once or twice a week and am both happy with their products and their staff. No matter who,it is at checkout, they always greet every customer with a friendly hello or good morning, and another greeting when you leave, such as 'Schönes Wochenende' or so. They are swift and efficient, so that even the longest queue usually means a wait of only a few minutes.
    I like their ever growing range of organic products and the freshness of their fruit and veg. Most important for me, though, is the nearness, since I do not drive and need to carry home everything on my own.

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    1. I like the products at our two local Aldi stores but I don't like the cold, robotic way they deal with customers at the checkouts. I guess it's different in your neighbourhood store.

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  12. Have you thought about how you might handle these social interactions in a more mutually rewarding way? For example, Mrs. D seems to know many of the Sainsburys checkout people by name. They talk about what their children are doing and other important topics, and then she comes home and relates it all over again to me. One of her strategies is to accumulate thick wads of discount vouchers which take ages to process, thus prolonging the encounter. It may be that the checkout people prefer talking with her rather than the other customers because, well I don't really want to insult them but whenever I have accompanied her to the supermarket, most of the others in the queue look as if they suffer from tourettes syndrome.

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    1. There must be a lot of inbreeding in your corner of West Yorkshire. No wonder you don't mention the place. I think the attitude to customers at Sainsburys is very different from what you encounter at Aldi.

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  13. I'm not certain but I believe they have a certain amount of stuff they have to scan per minute/hour/quota! Not fair is it. I was in Turin recently and the lady on the check-out kissed 2 guys on the cheeks, asked how was mama, nice weather we're having today and so on and so on ….. and I was enchanted, even if I was in a hurry. Gotta love Italy!

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    1. Just a little bit of genuine human connection is all I am asking for. This is why I very rarely shop in Aldi.

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  14. You have sparked the memories here with this post. I'm old enough to remember when Sainsbury was a small shop and they used to pat the butter into shape with wooden paddles. Mum would send me over the local shop with a jug to buy vinegar and yes, I remember the biscuits all lines up in square bins in front of the counter. I won't go on or people will think I'm old, lol
    Briony
    x

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    1. Even our young people can remember delicatessen counters in supermarkets - now even they seem to have disappeared.

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  15. We don't have much of a choice of supermarkets over here and tend to visit Tesco once a week. I try to look for the special checkout queue that is set aside for those who need more time. It is usually for the older generation who take a long time sorting out their shopping and paying so you need to be prepared for a longer wait if you join that queue. I don't mind so much as I hate being rushed into trying to unload the trolley then pack all the shopping while the cashier is waiting impatiently for me to pay and the queue behind is sighing. Unfortunately, they don't offer that service every day so I often end up in the "get a blooming move on" queue.

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    1. I would also pick the old gits' checkout if there was one.

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  16. I shop at Superstore which by the name you can tell is a huge store but the cashiers are still nice. There are a lot of Indian women working there, or south Asian I think they identify as in the UK, who are always happy to share recipes and shopping tips with me.

    Whenever I travel I love going to grocery stores in different countries to see how other people live and to see what puddings they have.

    It's strange that I should be reading about your grocery shopping experiences as a boy because just last night I dreamed about telling a young woman what it was like for me when I was a child. My parents went to a place called Tomboys because it was the cheapest place to shop. You got a grease pencil when you went in and marked the prices yourself on the groceries. As a kid I loved doing that. Obviously a bygone era when people were still trusted to do the right thing.

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  17. In the small village where I lived in my childhood (from when I was five, in 1960) I remember at least two grocery shops (within like two minutes walk apart), one bakery, one butchery (both just across the street from the grocery shops), one watchmaker(!), one kiosk (newspapers, sweets, tobacco etc) - and a local police station. Some of them were probably gone already in the early 1970s... Nowadays (living in a bigger city) I do most of my grocery shopping online with home delivery from a supermarket - and when I visit the same supermarket, I shop by self-scanning, which means I usually neither have to wait in line nor exchange a single word with anyone at all...

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  18. Congratulations on writing the correct "Mr Peers's shop" not once but twice! Perhaps no one else noticed, but I did.

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  19. Ah, another person who doesn't 'get' Aldi. They have small counters after the tills on purpose, so you place the scanned items back into your basket/trolley. They are not for packing your items, Aldi provide an area so you can sort your shopping, so as not to hinder other shoppers whilst they wait for you to pack. Hope this nugget of information helps you in your shopping experience when you are next in Aldi. :)

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  20. We had a local grocery as well when I was a kid -- Wells' Market. Run, naturally, by the Wellses, an older couple. And then the big supermarket came in the Wellses retired and that was that.

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  22. Poor harassed staff in our local Aldi have told me they are ‘measured’ on how many items they throw through the tills, and if they fail to meet the target they can be disciplined. I think it used to be something 1,500 or 2,000 items per hour but DON’T quote me on that.

    So they’re not trying to be rude, poor souls. Although this week I witnessed a lovely thing: I’d seen a lady and her husband around the store as I was shopping, and she clearly had a health issue, maybe MS? She was very slow and her hands were shaking. They were in front of me at the till and the cashier made sure to put items through really slowly so that this customer could pack her own bag, and pay, which she clearly wanted/needed to do. Whilst waiting I had eye contact and a smile with the husband who gently stood back and let his wife do what she needed - he definitely wasn’t ignoring her difficulties. When it was my turn I whispered to the cashier “I saw what you did with that lady, it was really kind and considerate”.

    Anyway, thought I’d say ‘hi’, found you via Graham’s Eagleton blog.

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