Monthly Archives: April 2007

As time goes by

She places four yoghurts on the counter and other miscellania. Handing over two of the yoghurts, she holds up the other two and asks me which one she should buy.

Surprisingly, I give the decision actual consideration. Strawberry or a mixed fruit selection. I hesitate, and in that time she makes up her own mind. Mixed fruit it is. I finally tell her as I’m scanning the tub that I prefer strawberry, but it’s up to her.

It’s not the first time I’ve served this woman. On previous occasions she has always done something wacky and is constantly fidgety. I notice, a few checkouts away, a fellow operator watching me. She pulls a face and twirls a finger near her head, indicating that she knows my customer and thinks she’s missing a few screws. Maybe more than a few, since she’s making the effort to communicate her views with me.

I try not to let what I’ve witnessed register on my face and continue to smile at the customer pleasantly.

‘What time is it?’ she asks abruptly.

I check my monitor. ‘It’s 10:15a.m.’

She looks away, her eyes darting in every direction. She rummages around in her bag but emerges empty-handed. I scan more of her items.

A moment later – ‘What’s the time now?’

Another glance at the computer screen. ‘The time is now 10:16a.m.’ Another pleasant smile.

She pays for her purchases and tells me various things about her day, the items she’s buying, and other bits and pieces that I’ve now forgotten. I nod and smile and offer appropriate responses and wait for her to gather her bags and leave. She finally does, without making eye contact or giving any parting remark.

I turn to the next customer and give them a friendly smile. Just another day on the job.


Some like it not

Insider told me that 60 percent of Easter eggs sold at supermarkets fly out the door the day before Good Friday (Thursday, that is). And while many get into the spirit of Easter – that is, buying oodles of chocolate eggs and bunnies and bilbies and not-so football shaped chocolate footballs – I came across one grandmother’s favourite child who was positively hostile to the idea of being bought chocolate.

Mother and son combos are rare features at a supermarket. Grandmother and grandchild pairs are even less common – particularly in the case of grown up grandchildren with their parent’s parent. But it was this exact combination who happened to have an argument at my checkout, an argument I deemed worthy of note.

A few days ago, a pleasant (if a little hard of hearing) elderly woman was doing her grocery shopping with her grandson, a tall twenty-something with scruffy brown hair and the impatient frown of a four-year old. The grandson waited at the end of the checkout and duly collected the grocery bags and transferred them to their trolley.

After a long period of silence, the elderly woman turned to her grandson and asked cheerfully if he would like some eggs for Easter. The man responded icily that he would not like any Easter eggs and said that every time she bought them for him they ended up getting thrown out.

‘Why do they get thrown out?’ said the grandmother, who seemed genuinely confused and hurt.

Her grandson tossed her an angry glare. ‘Because I don’t like to eat them. I don’t eat chocolate and they just go to waste. So don’t get me any, okay?’

The elderly woman blinked and fell quiet again. Her son resumed the transferal of bags to their trolley.

Another quiet moment passed. Finally, hoping that I didn’t sound rude, I piped up, ‘You can buy me chocolate if you’d like.’

The elderly woman didn’t seem to hear me. Her face unchanged, she glanced down at a grocery bag as I placed it on the platform in front of her. Her grandson, however, caught my words. And, contrary to what I expected, he was amused by what I’d said.

He grinned for the first time, looking much more amiable than he had previously, and jostled his grandmother.

‘Did you hear her?’ he asked.

His grandmother turned to him, puzzled. ‘What was that?’

‘She said that you can buy chocolates for her if you like.’

The elderly woman looked at me and said warmly, in that doting grandmotherly sort of way, ‘The next time I return, I’ll buy you some chocolates.’

‘Why thank you,’ I replied, laughing lightly, relieved that my joke had been well-received.

Even more unexpectedly, the grandson started to explain to me why he didn’t want any Easter eggs. He patted his belly and said that he had eaten too much chocolate in recent times and didn’t need help in getting any fatter. I can’t remember what my response was, but internally I was comforted by the fact that he wasn’t a heartless creature who was unneccessarily rude to his grandmother. There was a reason behind his rejection of his grandmother’s kind offer, and while it may not completely excuse the tone he used with her, he was humanised somewhat in sharing his motivations with me.

In terms of this whole Easter egg receiving/giving business, I am reminded of something a young actress said in a publication I read a while ago. She said, of designer goods companies giving her free stuff, that before she hit the big time she could have really used the products but had a hell of a time acquiring it. Now that she has money, she’s innundated by designer freebies.

The Easter egg-adverse grandson has a grandmother who is all too willing to buy him chocolate. My darling boyfriend, who yesterday admitted his indifference to Easter eggs, is probably accepting little bundles of chocolate from his family as I type. Yet little ol’ me who has been eyeing Easter displays with glazed eyes is something close to Easter-egg starved. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this world is filled with many inequalities.

I may not receive any eggs this season, but I will be taking advantage of the price reductions on Easter goods on Tuesday, when major supermarkets will be open again. It is rumoured that Easter chocolate will be 50% off. I’m salivating already.


On another note, I met Dixie Marshall yesterday.

You had me at hello

As you would expect, simple questions yield simple, if not recycled, answers. But ask the same question often enough and you are bound to find departures from this norm.

This question is, of course, the greeting ‘How are you?’

A month into my checkout job, I realised that some people don’t expect a reply when they ask ‘How are you?’ The statement is turned not so much into a rhetorical one, but into something that just rolls off their tongue after having received the correct cue. I learned this after repeated incidents in which I gave the standard ‘Not bad, how are you?’ and either A) Didn’t receive a reply or B) Got a startled look because they hadn’t anticipated a response.

That aside, I generally don’t like to ask how people are unless they look willing to respond, and even then I hesitate to do so because in 90% of cases a ‘Hi, how are you’ is followed by an ‘I’m well, and you?’ followed by a ‘Good, thank you’, and all this gets to be a bit of a bore.

Lately, though, more people have been giving original, revealing responses. A few days ago I served a group of people who I thought might be Swedish (they were Norweign). One member of the group seemed open to conversation so I asked how they were.

A pause. ‘Hmm, I don’t know,’ he replied.

‘Well, at least you’re honest,’ I said, smiling.

A thoughtful chin rub: ‘I will have to give the question some thought.’
It was either the case that they hadn’t thought more on the question during the transaction or that the answer was so staggeringly complex that their brain was still working on it, but by the time they left the man hadn’t decided how he was feeling that day.

Today I received a much more detailed and unexpected reply. In between customers, I had seen a short, scrawny fellow with sores on his face walk into the store. Later, I found him in the queue for my checkout, purchasing only two items. He asked how I was, and I told him that I was alright and returned the question. Out came the answer:

‘You see, I went to this party on the weekend and I ended up crashing [read: falling asleep] there. I slept on a couple of pillows that I thought looked okay but when I woke up my face was covered in pimples,’ he said, gesturing to his face.

The pimples that he mentioned weren’t so much pimples now but open wounds. Spots of dark dried blood wallpapered his cheeks and chin, and you could tell that they weren’t going to go away in a hurry.

I gave him a sympathetic look. ‘Geez, what was on those pillows?’

‘I’m not sure… I mean, I checked them and they looked clean, but it turned out that they hadn’t been washed for like, a couple of months. I also had this white thing on my forehead when I woke up…’

I fished for another sympathetic response. I failed to conjure up a more compassionate one and finally murmured, ‘That’s too bad…’

Mentally, I was still wondering why he was telling me all this. It was interesting to know and nice to be engaged in a conversation, but it didn’t really bother me whether his spots had arisen from natural causes or through misadventure. As though he had read my mind, he continued:

‘But yeah, I thought I would explain to you why my face looks like this because I’m embarrassed to be seen by someone as gorgeous as you looking like this.’

Averting my eyes in a kind of automated modesty, I thanked him. I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m no contender for Miss Australia. That I get these sorts of remarks from time to time arises more from my attentiveness to customers and friendliness, I think, than any objective appearance of abject beauty. Put simply: my perky checkout smile and attitude appeals to some people I happen to serve.

We moved on from talking about his face and what he thinks of mine to other, fairly standard, topics.

When the spotted-faced boy had left, I began to apologise to the next customer, an elderly woman with faded, untamed hair and full cheeks, but she didn’t seem to mind the delay in serving her. Instead, she delighted in the previous goings-on.

‘That boy turned back to look at you a couple of times to see if you were looking at him,’ she tittered, with all the enthusiasm and manner of a schoolgirl gossiping with friends.

My mouth twisted into a wry smile. ‘Is that so?’ I said, feeling no desire to quash her excitement.

‘Yes. He seemed like he was propositioning you before.’

I laughed. ‘Well, that’s nice, but I already have a boyfriend.’

‘Ah yes, but you can’t blame the boy for trying.’

I added, thinking of this blog, ‘I don’t think I’ll tell Boyfriend about this incident. He wouldn’t be pleased to hear of it.’

The woman was confused. ‘Why not? Listen, I’ll tell you something about men,’ she said, leaning in conspiratorially.

I nodded and gave the impression of attentiveness, while at the same time scanning and bagging her items.

‘With men,’ she continued, ‘They’re always thrilled when someone else shows a desire for what they have. It makes them proud to be the one who has it.’

I “Mmm”ed in agreement, though I wasn’t entirely sure that her theory applied to Boyfriend (or to me, for that matter), and told her that I might tell Boyfriend after all.
I may not need to tell Boyfriend because he’ll probably read about it here. In which case, if he’s gotten up to these lines he’ll be reading about me saying that he’s reading this. As for the standard checkout greeting script, I haven’t received an ‘I feel like crap’ in reply to a ‘How are you?’ yet, but I am holding out for that day.