How is it that the simple task of trying to pay for your grocery shopping can turn into such a soul-destroying, rage-inspiring experience? Somehow, what began as an innocent expedition to purchase a sad ovenless ready meal for one, a block of butter and a lint roller leaves you feeling like you were in fact trapped at the annual kitten-slaughtering convention of misunderstood dictators. How? What on earth have you done to deserve this ordeal?
This is how it happens. Assuming you have made it round the store and still possess all senses and motor functions you came in with, you are now trying to pay and are faced with three options:
OPTION 1: This place.
OPTION 2: This place.
OPTION 3: This place.
And so it begins.
OPTION 1 is the traditional route, and therefore the preserve of the elderly, the infirm, and those possessing small children or animals. There will be wheels. There will be unnecessary levels of noise. There will be teeth where there just shouldn’t be teeth, whether they’re dentures, baby teeth or ferret teeth (I’m from the country, bear with me here).
And then there will be the cashier. Most cashiers are lovely and decent people – but not the one that you are about to encounter. In spite of having worked in the store for a good 10 years, they will have absolutely no idea where the barcode is on your item. They will pick up your sad ready meal for one, examine it from all angles, then proceed to hurl it against the barcode reader like an angry toddler trying to get the round brick into the square shape-sorter hole; you watch in horror as this person desperately mashes your purchase-to-be into a battered pulp that no longer resembles the foodstuff you ever hoped for.
Defeated, you ask them for a bag. They LICK their finger and, with the aid of enough saliva to secure several hundred postage stamps, give you a bag, into which your poor destroyed purchase is deposited. You give them your money and depart an embittered and scarred individual.
OPTION 2 on the other hand is for the “modern” person, arguably your most likely and promising option here as it involves both a reliable machine and the promise of minimal interpersonal interaction. True? NOT TRUE. The trouble with this option begins surreptitiously and early on in the queue. The queue goes on for a long time and as you progress slowly through the ominous carousel of miniature chocolate bars and chewing gum, you develop a self-righteous sense of hatred for everyone else already using the self-checkout. Why are they not more efficient? Why can’t they press the buttons on the screens faster? When YOU reach the self-checkout, you will be a towering example of efficiency. Sadly these dreams are never realised.
Instead, you approach the checkout, you scan your item, place it in the bagging area – BUT WAIT. Somewhere in there, something went terribly wrong. There is now an UNexpected item in the bagging area. You search fruitlessly for this phantom item but to no avail. You lift up the ready meal in the process, the possessive self-checkout assumes theft, you rapidly replace your food but the damage is done.
Alternatively, you are attempting to purchase alcohol, in which case you ought to have skipped straight to OPTION 3; the other available scenario is that something has gone awry whilst paying and now all your coins are spewing back out at you, error messages are flashing on the chip/pin machine or receipt paper is spooling out at you like an angry unloved tapeworm or 1990s cassette tape.
Now you descend into the next circle of hell: you invariably WILL need assistance. You loiter, increasingly embarrassed and frustrated, next to the self-checkout, doing a hopeful meerkat dance, trying to catch the eye of one of the employees; when you finally manage it, molluscs pulling a dog sled could move faster than they do towards your predicament. Now, you could be a balding man of 60 and they would still need your ID. Employee glares, displays chewing gum and tonsils, holds lanyard up to the checkout screen; all is magically sorted and you are now left to gather up your personal inadequacies and general public-humiliation-induced trauma and leave the store as fast as you can.
Looks are deceptive here. Habitually, the queue is short and service seems efficient; smugly, you join the line with your one basket and overtake the elderly, infirm, the infants, and the socially inept. Joining this queue, however, is a cardinal error: this is the Checkout of Broken Dreams. Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
Whichever direction you approach this place from, this is a lose-lose situation. As soon as it becomes apparent that you just want to buy groceries and are not interested in alcohol, cigarettes or lottery tickets, all your vice-stricken and edgy co-queuers turn on you; dark muttering works its way back up the line and you grow hot and bothered. You can’t find your nectar card and nor can you open the plastic bags; ready meals and lint rollers pile up when really there should be a six-pack of Stella and some green rizzlas. You are wasting everyone’s time and should just keel over and die.
Alternatively, if you ARE attempting to purchase alcohol, cigarettes or lottery tickets, you will be ID-ed in the most humiliating way possible, opened up to brutal judgements about your personal lifestyle choices or have bestowed upon you the smug gaze of the cashier who KNOWS that the ticket they just printed for you doesn’t contain ANY winning numbers and that you will continue to languish in student debt gobbling your ready meals and blocks of butter while lint-rollering your soft furnishings in lonely despondency. Whichever direction you turn in, if you queue in this line you are a social failure. It is just The End and you might as well give up now while you’re ahead.
I suppose the motto of this sad tale is to buy food that you know you will really, really enjoy, so that as you run from the store with your nerves in tatters and blood pressure rising, you have positive culinary thoughts to keep you going.
Thanks for reading, more soon! Leave me a comment (at the top, green writing) or drop me a line (contact form below…)