Monday, November 21, 2011

Eating While Shopping -- Is It OK or a Sign of Cultural Apocalypse?

Don't pinch or poke the merchandise.  Someone will serve you soon.

There’s one store in Dijon, France that has as much as banned me.  Ok, I don’t think I’ve been officially banned (although with my weak language skills I never can be too certain).  However, I do know that my face is permanently imprinted on the French Black Avenger’s memory (or Le Avenger Noire?).  Yes, the man fashionably clad all in black caught this very déclassé American doing the unthinkable.  I messed with the merchandise.

The dark-cloaked store manager caught me unscrewing the cap on a bottle of body lotion to see if it really did smell of the wonderful summer aroma of apricots promised on the front.  He wagged his finger in the air, pinning me against the wall with a dark look, and his angry brows drew together in a deep frown.  You would have thought that I had begun to slather my body with the stuff in the middle of the store.  I am forever ashamed to show my face in that store again.

In France you don’t help yourself.  You don’t finger the grapes or open the box to check the color.  There are no self-serve soda dispensers or many U-scan machines.  Clerks will retrieve items off of high shelves, they will follow you through boutiques carrying your choices to the changing room and returning unwanted items to the proper rack with the hangers facing just so.  They will choose the best tomatoes for you at the market.  They will find the perfect fragrance for you at the makeup counter.  But they will not let you run through the place willy-nilly behaving as you please.

I’m thinking about my most shameful experience in that country because I recently read about a woman in Hawaii who was arrested for eating food at the grocery store she hadn’t paid for.  She swore that she intended to pay for the sandwich but then forgot and walked out of the store with her other purchases and the empty sandwich wrapper.  The situation brought attention to a growing trend of people munching their way through the store as they shop.

I can see the sense in eating a single grape to test a bunch before putting it in my cart.  In France the fruit vendors will often offer a sample to entice you to buy.  But now I see mothers filling a bag with fresh cookies from the bakery section and then feeding them to toddlers as they push their carts through the store.  They reach the checkout lane, hand the empty bag to the checker, and say, “I had six of these.”  Yeah, right. 
Waiting patiently for Sunday's loaf of bread

I’ve seen people tearing into packaged lunchmeat, drinking from cartons of milk, eating sushi rolls, ripping open bags of chips or boxes of crackers and start feeding their kids on the spot, claiming they still intend to pay for the opened merchandise.  Every time I witness this I ask myself “When did this start?” and “What made people think it’s acceptable?”  I would have asked myself “What would their mothers say?” if mothers weren’t in on this.  Yes, I myself have torn at boxes of mallomars before I reached the car, but it never occurred to me to touch any of my food before I hit the checkout line.

Why wouldn’t I?  It seems relatively unsanitary.  And if you nibble on a banana, apple, or anything else charged by the pound it’s impossible to get the correct weight, hence you underpay. It also just seems like a tacky thing to do.  And while I don’t have statistics to back it up, I’d bet a lot of that “saved” power bar packaging never sees the light of day at the checkout lane.  And then that “forgotten” item adds to my grocery bill as stores increase prices to balance out what they call “shrinkage” (broken items, shoplifted items, etc.)  How many intentional shoplifters actually make the claim “Oh, I just forgot to pay for it”?  Even as recently as ten years ago I don’t remember seeing so much noshing going on in the aisles of the supermarket.  Has our culture become so self-centered that we walk through life believing “I want to do X so it can’t be bad”?

I could understand if someone were having a diabetic attack and needed something NOW.  That is a true emergency.  However, I don’t remember my mom ever giving us anything in the store, and I’m sure we had our crabby moments.  She either just endured it or shopped faster or left the cart where it was and took us home.  As for the adults, hunger is no excuse.  You won’t die from hunger or thirst in the time it takes to run through the checkout line.

Very little seems taboo anymore.  The whole concept of taboo behavior seems quaint.  Shame seems to hold little weight.  Yet when I’m in France I’m never under the impression that manhandling the merchandise is acceptable.  You wait to be served at the vegetable stand or at the luggage store (where I buy beautiful backpacks each year).

I know that eating while shopping is not the largest problem this country faces.  As our first (and probably last) Super Committee gets ready to produce a Super Fail this week I can’t help, though, but think about our growing habit of consuming before paying.  And if we walk out of the store with something we forgot to pay for, well, instead of returning to rectify the situation we shrug our shoulders and say “No biggy – I’m basically an honest person.  I meant well.  I’ll do better tomorrow.”  I’m OK.  Just take my word on it.

Engaging in the national pasttime -- waiting in line

Please enlighten me here.  What do you think about eating while you shop in a supermarket and why?  Do you think it’s becoming more prevalent?  All opinions in the comments box will be read with the greatest interest.  But maybe what we really need is our own local Black Avenger to set us right.


Scrollwork said...

The only eating we'll do while shopping is noshing on the free samples that Costco always offers. It seems rude to even bring my cup of coffee or smoothie in there, so I leave it in the car.

wonder if it's a generational thing. I'll be sure to ask my three grown daughters, all in their 20s and living on their own, if they ever munch on the merchandise.

A society spoiled by the instant gratification that credit cards introduced will tend to expect instant gratification even when it is not offered.

Astra said...

The practice of eating while shopping is one of the reasons that food prices are escalating (i realize there are many others). Grocers have no choice but to factor this habit into their price-setting policies. I have tasted grapes to make sure they were "right".. at $7/kg I sure don't want to get home and find my kids won't eat them. Otherwise, no, unless a free sample is offered. Shopping with kids? Come prepared. It's a free society but it's not a free-for-all!

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on this one, Julie.

On one of my recent trips to the grocery store I witnessed a family having an entire buffet while they were shopping: Doritos, cookies, juice.

The worst though, is when people stick their hands in the bulk food and pop a few things in their mouth. You don't want to think about where their hands have been!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Scrollwork. Costco is the only acceptable place to nosh, and only the samples, please. I must be blind, though, because I haven't really seen people eating while shopping, except once or twice I've discovered open bags of cookies in the snack aisle. So they ate what they wanted and left the rest for some other nosher to snack on. Shameful, indeed.

Julie Farrar said...

I'm happy to find I'm not alone in thinking this strange. I just don't understand when or why it got started in the first place.

Bella said...

Julie,living in Europe virtually eliminates this horrific practice because it's simply not allowed. I find it appalling that people can't wait to pay for their purchases before helping themselves to food while in the supermarket. Most definitely, I think it's a sign that the apocalypse is near! :)

Anonymous said...

I cannot think of anything that falls into the category of 'Bad Form' than to eat foods you plan to purchase before doing so!

Muriel said...

Hmmm..I don't think that waiting in line is a French pastime (or Dijon is much more civilised than I thought). As for eating while you shop, lots of people do it in supermarkets, but it is not acceptable in smaller shop. That said, I tend not to do it at all.

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