I am a school teacher with a love for writing short stories, usually with a humorous twist.
One day, my boss of 15 years asked me to step into his office. Looking very solemn, he informed me that owing to a global slump in the demand for brass monkey ornaments, the company, regrettably, will retrench key staff. He shook my hand warmly, wished me well, and asked that I stop by the office at the end of the month to clear up one or two things.
Thankfully, my executive wife was still gainfully employed, stoically working long hours, often travelling interstate and arriving home at odd hours of the night. It was, therefore, my place to stop feeling emasculated and to undertake the lion’s share of the housekeeping in my new role of house-husband.
Understandably, I made mistakes at first. What is wrong with a red jumper thrown in the same wash as white socks? And why can’t the highest heat setting be used to iron my good wife’s sheer silk shirt? The hotter the iron, the faster the folds will disappear, I theorised.
One important event was the ritual of shopping for groceries. It took me many arduous visits to finally understand what every woman innately knows. I can now reveal the dos and don’ts of cash register protocol so that my kindred house-husbands are spared the painful learning involved.
With a trolley buckling under a week’s supply of food and other goodies destined for the mouths of three hungry teenagers and a deserving spouse expecting a four-course meal minutes after arriving home from work, a speedy exit from the store is vital.
1. Don’t visit the store when you are hungry.
Shopping with tummy rumbles is a precursor of irresponsible shopping. It will lead to behaviour more outlandish than the pregnant wife who sends her poor husband for gherkins and ice-cream at 2 am.
As you walk up and down each aisle, the typical Pavlovian response takes over. With hungry eyes, you grab chocolate, packets of chips and any other potential snacks within reach, somehow deluding yourself that this fare constitutes a well-balanced meal and will nutritiously appease your stomach yearnings.
2. Do go to the check-out where most people are waiting.
Only through empirical evidence and hard-earned experience will you appreciate that naivety in choosing the queue with the fewest number of customers will result in:
- each person ahead of you arguing with the cashier incessantly about an item been incorrectly priced and demanding that it be checked.
- the pretty young cashier apologetically excusing herself and, half-running, will head for the bathroom.
- the cashier’s supply of coinage is run out and she needs to procure replacements by making contact with the office located in the bowels of the store.
By joining the longest queue, you are joining a group of Mensa members. Why? Because only clever people would choose to wait in the longest stream of people, knowing that somehow it will quickly become the shortest.
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3. Don’t stop to talk with anyone.
Stopping in the store to chat with anyone is anathema. A friend of your wife’s calls out your name, you turn your head and at the same time see her pushing her trolley in your direction. There is no escape. Protocol and diplomacy dictate that you at least acknowledge her existence before tactfully trying to retreat at the earliest opportunity.
Her empty shopping cart is a sign of danger. It means that she has just arrived and is not averse to a protracted conversation. In your cart, on the other hand, there is ice-cream, yoghurt and other products that begin to melt at an exponential rate now that they are no longer residing in the freezer.
We stand in the middle of the aisle, and our carts are restricting access. As we exchange pleasantries, I notice patrons squeeze past us with trolleys and glare. Their message is clear.
To brusquely end the conversation, you should resort to one of the following escape clauses.
- “My daughter is waiting in the car. We have a doctor's appointment in 15 minutes.”
- “I have a phone interview for a job in 10 minutes.”
- “My car has broken down in the car park, and the mechanic is waiting for me outside.”
- “Was that a spider I just saw on your shoulder? Maybe you should see the nurse in the store’s First Aid room.”
4. Do learn arithmetic.
Once you accept that market researchers are invincible, you will be better off. They ensure that supermarket shelves are stocked with supposedly “price-saving” items to trap you in your moment of weakness. Do not be seduced by signage beseeching you to buy in bulk. When you see a 750 gram of coffee for $15 and a 100 gram for $2, which one do you choose? You assume that more means “more saving”, so you opt for the 750-gram jar, with Hobson’s choice having the last laugh.
Take advantage of the vagaries of item labelling. Many were the times I stretched long and hard to grab a can of beans from the back of the pile to note if it had a lower price than the remaining cans. When this was the case, store policy required that I paid the lower price. Unfortunately, the accumulated savings went towards meeting the physiotherapist’s consultation costs for treating my sore arms brought about by stretching!
5. Don’t leave home without it.
You’ve spent forty minutes meticulously perusing your shopping list. With a bulging trolley, you head for the checkout, thinking good thoughts about the delicious dinner you will prepare for the family.
The young man at the register expertly scans your items, places them in bags, and reads out the total. “That’s $154.20, please.” He calmly waits as I reach into my back pocket to take out my wallet. All I can feel is the empty lining of the pocket and a flush of apprehension. No wallet means no cash, no credit card, no food. Yes, the store manager generously suggests that they will keep my items until I can pay for them later in the day, but that is no real consolation.
Follow these guidelines and secure for yourself a hassle-free and enjoyable supermarket visit. But then again, you may not.