ControverSunday: Society and Grocery shopping suck

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(First of all, I apologize ahead of time for this post. It’s been a bad week)

Once a week I drag my tired post-worked-all-day butt to the big box grocery store to stock up for the week. And every week, as I leave said grocery story, I am in foul mood. Why?

My theory? Because it is one of the few times in our day to day lives where we are confronted and have to interact in a face to face manner with a lot of people we don’t know and have little in common with.

Why is this so frustrating? I think it because society be pretty darn messed up right now. Mainly, 4 key faults I see in today’s North American society.

1) Lack of generalized reciprocity

Putnam, in his book Bowling Alone wrote: “The mindset of generalized reciprocity goes like this: “I’ll do this for you without expecting anything specific back from you, in the confident expectation that someone else will do something else for me down the road…” (p. 155) I think this concept is totally lost in our society. We spend more time thinking about how others are going to screw us down the road, then when others will help us. Sure, there are some times in which we do considerate nice things, like holding a door open for someone. But when I am at the Grocery store I see more of the opposite.

2)Obliviousness

You know when you are at the grocery store and you are going down an aisle and you see someone who has abandoned their cart right in the exact center of the aisle to walk across the aisle to get something and then is deeply pondering their choice? I don’t get this. I don’t understand how we can be so oblivious to the inconvenience we cause others.

3) Narcissism

You know about this one. This is the “I don’t care if I inconvenience you or not, I have places to go and people to see.” This is when you get cut off by someone who seems to generally believe that their wants are more important than your wants.

4) Entitlement

The close cousin to narcissism- this is the “I deserve.” As in, I deserve to get in line before you or I deserve to have you move out of my way.

To be fair

1) I am pretty sure most annoying things that happen at the supermarket are the product of obliviousness, rather then the more malicious others.

2) Maybe I should just get over it, take a deep breath and say such is life. I mean, it is just grocery shopping. It’s not like anyone is doing anything but inconveniencing me a little and maybe I am being just as entitled by feeling that others should be more considerate.

3) I am not perfect. I am sure there are times that I also am oblivious or inconsiderate of others. Times when I am so wrapped up in my own problems that I can’t see the challenges others face. We are all narcissistic at times.

But. I do see it as a part of a larger problem of how we interact with and treat each other in society. Particularly a society where we are more isolated. I truly believe that if we knew, or at least recognized, the people we encounter at the grocery store it wouldn’t be such a frustrating experience. For example, if you noticed Sally from your kids school, you wouldn’t go ahead and cut her off in the grocery store aisle would you? Or suddenly stop your cart mid aisle 2 feet in front of her. No, because you would be aware of her presence and recognize her as a person.

I think a lot of times what make the grocery store so frustrating is that we see each other the same way we conceptualize the large numbers of people in general. Numbers, not people. Obstacles, not individuals. How often do we make eye contact with a stranger in a grocery store?

So why don’t we do something about it?

Here are my suggestions:

1) Get to know your neighbors. Go outside, have a block party, say hello. See someone every day at the bus stop, say hi. The more we interact the more we see people as people, not obstacles or numbers.

2) Join some type of community organization. Broaden your network of people you recognize. Listen to others struggles, help them.

3) Random acts of kindness. Help a stranger. Or just smile and make eye contact. Let’s try and return to that concept of generalized reciprocity. Did anyone else notice that as soon as they appear visibly pregnant people started doing nice things for you? Doors got opened, seats where offered, dropped stuff was picked up. This continued until you had a toddler instead of a baby. And then you are invisible again (or glared at as your toddler makes a scene.) Something about pregnancy/little babies jolts people into being more helpful and considerate. But shouldn’t we be that nice to everyone, not just preggo’s and parents with infants?

4) Think about everyone as people rather then obstacles. Kinda goes with everything above.

My goal the next time I go into the grocery store is to not get frustrated. Rather, instead of assuming that the person who cuts me off or blocks my way is oblivious or narcissistic, I am going to assume they are having a bad day. I am going to see them as a person, who struggles just like I do. And who probably doesn’t like shopping any more then I do. Yes, our society is flawed. But I need to remember that individual people are (for the most part) good. We just all need a little more interaction with each other.

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9 responses to “ControverSunday: Society and Grocery shopping suck

  1. Susan May 30, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    That lady in the grocery store, with the cart in the middle of the aisle, and two annoying kids all over the place, lost in her own thoughts while pondering cereal choices, blocking everything? It was probably me.

    Except when I notice I’m doing it I move to the side, apologize profusely, make a ridiculous joke, blame my kids, and then call loudly ‘have a nice day’ as the person sighs loudly and fumes by.

    My God, I try.

    • amoment2think May 30, 2010 at 3:57 pm

      Exactly the reason I need to be less grumpy at the grocery store and more understanding of others. Because it is very likely the person is just pondering cereal.

  2. Perpetua May 31, 2010 at 6:58 am

    “Think about everyone as people rather then obstacles. Kinda goes with everything above.”

    So true. This is NOT whiny, by the way. You’re spot-on. People are not good to each other, on the whole. I’ve noticed that I’ve become a lot kinder to people since I’ve had a kid because I finally get how much most of the humans around me are struggling to work, raise kids, and have a life. But at the same time, I find myself WAY too annoyed when people aren’t kind back. When I’m struggling with the stroller and no one helps? I want to run over everyone’s feet. 🙂

    • amoment2think June 1, 2010 at 8:22 pm

      Totally- I have always considered myself (well not perfect) pretty considerate and aware of others. But now when I see a Mom or Dad struggling through the grocery store with their kid(s) I am even more considerate. Glad to hear this post didn’t come across quite as bad as it did in my head.

  3. Partial May 31, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    I love that when I was pregnant, everyone was SUPER nice, asking me if I need help, holding doors open, etc. etc. Now that I have a kid and am much more frazzled and physically laden, no one offers.

    Funny that.

    • amoment2think June 1, 2010 at 8:23 pm

      Yes, it is funny isn’t it?! I am all for being very helpful to pregnant women and families with babies, I just don’t think the consideration should stop there.

  4. The Disgruntled Academic June 1, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    This reminds me of what I hate and love most about New York City. It’s full of people who, as a means of survival, are trained to mentally “check out.” Everyone goes through their day getting from A to B and don’t have time to absorb the humanity around them (I think all that humanity is maddening), but then I’ve seen an elderly woman trip and fall in the street, and EVERYONE within a few feet of her stop whatever they were doing to help her.

    And you’re totally right about the grocery store politics. When I lived in Brooklyn, I was a member of the Park Slope Food Co-op. It’s a membership only establishment where all the members have to work. People tend not to block the tiny aisles, members are familiar with each other so there is an air of community, and aside from a bit of an overabundance of smug self-satisfaction, it works.

    • amoment2think June 1, 2010 at 8:25 pm

      I think community is sooo important and really lost in our society, particularly those big cities. I see how people mentally check out in my city of just over a million people. I can’t even fathom how much they must check out in New York. Ack!

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