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Supermarket Etiquette

Do you ever find the way that people behave in Supermarkets is completely baffling? My easy guide below will help you navigate this alien environment….


When going to the supermarket, the first duty is usually to park the car. Even at this early stage there is etiquette to be observed. As soon as you drive into the car park your priorities must be as follows:

i. To find the most advantageous parking space.

ii. To throw all the other drivers off the scent by using misleading signals (indicate right then turn left) or no signals at all. Sudden swerves, erratic acceleration and braking should all be part of your repertoire here.

iii. To ensure that any pedestrians in the car park realise that this is not a pedestrian zone. Drive aggressively at them, and swerve to avoid their trolleys at the last minute. If you should hit a trolley during this exercise then wind down your window and give the hapless pedestrian the benefit of your views on their trolley control.

iv. If someone is waiting near a space with their indicator flashing, you may assume that they are pointing out the imminent vacancy to you and you should park in the space as soon as it becomes free. After all, they would never have indicated so obviously had they wanted to park there themselves.

v. Ensure that your car is positioned in such a way that it is impossible for you to drive directly into the space. This will allow you to demonstrate your car control by revving the engine and lurching backwards and forwards while sawing at the steering wheel in a random manner

vi. The next step (if the car park has one) is to obtain a pay-and-display ticket. Observe those around you, and wait until you spot someone walking towards the machine. Time your approach so that you arrive just before them, and quickly insert the first coin. Remember, the machine is ‘yours’ from the moment that you insert the first coin until you remove the ticket. Savour the experience, by rummaging in all your pockets looking for more coins, then dropping them on the ground and picking them all up again. Any delaying tactic is acceptable – for example, you could try repeatedly inserting an obviously foreign coin. If you do this effectively enough the person waiting may take pity on you and give you the requisite change. You will have done them a great service, as they will be able to bask in the warm glow of their generosity for the rest of that day.

The trolley

Supermarket trolleys defy all laws of physics and gravity by managing to take their own course no matter how much energy is expended in trying to make them obey your will. The wise supermarket shopper knows this and will therefore respect their trolley by obeying the following rules:

i. As soon as you get to the doorway of the supermarket, the trolley must be rested. You can spot hordes of wise and sanguine shoppers completely blocking supermarket doorways while they observe this simple ritual, and you will show that you are a shopper of experience and wisdom by joining them.

ii. Trolleys also require regular rests within the supermarket itself. The following should give you some guidelines on where best to rest your trolley:

  • Trolleys like to rest with other trolleys. If you should happen upon a resting trolley in any aisle, this is a good place for yours to rest. Simply pull it up alongside and walk away. If it happens to block the aisle don’t concern yourself – you are performing a valuable ritual and other shoppers will be happy to wait.
  • Trolleys love to rest around people. If you should happen to meet a friend or acquaintance, the best approach is to place your trolleys nose to nose across the aisle, and enjoy a good chinwag while they rest.
  • Trolleys like to rest in confined spaces. This can be an aisle that is partially blocked, or any area where large numbers of people congregate, such as the delicatessen counter.

iii. Trolleys hate carrying small children as much as small children hate riding in trolleys. The best approach is therefore to encourage any small children you have with you to join in pushing the trolley. The resulting erratic progress may seem destructive and dangerous to the untrained eye, but the reality is that you are performing a valuable service to the trolley and exercising your children at the same time.

iv. Trolleys also require one final rest before leaving the supermarket to take on the mayhem of the car park. Thankfully many supermarkets are aware of this and have thoughtfully placed kiosks near the exit. You will find that these sell a variety of items such as newspapers and confectionery which you can amuse yourself with while the trolley rests in the doorway.

v. However well rested your trolley is, it will completely change character once you are back in the car park and it is fully loaded. The most docile trolley will become completely unmanageable in the car park, and the wise shopper gets around this by not attempting to manage the trolley at all. A gentle tug in the direction of your car from time to time is the most that can be achieved at this point. Allow the trolley to bounce off parked cars and roam freely around the traffic lanes. If you happen to come into contact with a moving vehicle, the best approach is to smile benignly at the driver while gently attempting to coax your trolley away.

How to behave in the different sections of the supermarket

Most of the sections of the supermarket are fairly straightforward, offering little opportunity to demonstrate your firm grasp of the correct etiquette. However, there are a few sections where specialist knowledge is required, and these are detailed below.

The Fresh Produce section

This is usually the first section of the supermarket that you will encounter, and the most confusing to the untrained eye. However, if you obey the rules that follow, you will have no trouble at all.

  • The freshest produce is always at the bottom or the back of the shelf. Supermarkets stack their shelves deliberately so that the produce they need to get rid of quickly is within easy reach. Novices are unaware of this, and blindly pick the produce that is easiest to reach. The seasoned professional will not only avoid this trap by digging to the bottom of any pile to reach the freshest produce, but announce his/her professionalism by scattering the remaining items around the section.
  • You should never buy any loose produce until you have squeezed every example of its type that the supermarket has to offer. Soft fruits such as avocados are a particular example of this. The seasoned professional is able, with one squeeze, not only to ascertain whether the avocado is ripe, but also to render it so bruised that a following novice will mistake it for a ripe one and buy it.
  • The best way to test the ripeness of small fruits such as grapes is to drop them on the floor and run over them with your trolley. The experienced shopper can determine the ripeness of a grape by the amount of resistance it gives to the trolley before it bursts, and the amount of juice that comes out afterwards. Again, novices are unaware of this practice, and may even cause themselves injury by slipping on the crushed grapes under their feet.
  • Careful observation is also required when selecting apples. Seasoned shoppers will check apples by either dropping them or pressing their fingernails into them. Both actions bruise the apples and render them inedible. Yet again the novice shopper rescues the supermarket by failing to observe the tell tale flat spots and breaks in the skin.

The fresh meat, fresh fish and delicatessen counters

These counters can be treated together as the principles involved at each are broadly similar.

Seasoned shoppers know that these manned counters are one of the very few areas where supermarkets attempt to offer good, old-fashioned service, and they are ready to exploit this opportunity to the limit. The following rules should help you to blend in:

  • Position yourself as far away from the first item that you wish to buy as possible. This means that, when your turn comes, you can prolong the experience by walking all the way to the other end of the counter with the assistant to supervise the selection.
  • For the same reason, try to order items in such a sequence that the assistant has to walk backwards and forwards between each one. Not only does this approach allow you to enjoy the service for longer, but it also provides a great opportunity for you to check whether anyone you know is also at the counter. Should you notice an acquaintance, you should feel free to make the assistant wait while you catch up with the news – it’s all part of the service and they enjoy the break.
  • Never respond instantly when your number is called if the supermarket operates such a system. Seasoned shoppers demonstrate their savvy by responding just as the assistant is about to call the next number. It has been known for people to wait until the assistant has called the number and is starting to take the next order before springing into action and calling “Hang on, you haven’t done Number 74! Can I have half a pound of Gruyère please?” This is extremely risky – if you leave it too late you’ll have no option but to take another number – but it will mark you out as being among the shopping elite if you can pull it off.
  • Remember that, despite the supermarkets protestations to the contrary in their publicity, these counters are not always staffed by qualified butchers, fishmongers and grocers. The people behind them often have no idea about the products they’re selling and the experienced shopper will use this fact to his or her advantage by asking outlandish questions and ordering unheard of quantities. Consider the following two exchanges and see if you can spot the novice.

“Can I have two hundred and fifty grams of black olives please?”

“Those olives there, the black ones. Are they Italian or Greek? It’s important you see as I have a rare condition, which is aggravated by the Greek ones but helped by the Italian ones. It’s extraordinary really, my doctor was completely flummoxed but I found this fantastic Chinese herbalist who identified the problem straight away – apparently it’s all to do with the soil they’re grown in…….. Italian? Splendid. Can I have 43 please, and can you cut them in quarters?

The experienced shopper is, of course, the second one. Remember that this is just an example. You could try asking if a product is organic or has added water or sugar. Don’t ask if a product contains nuts, however, as supermarkets are obliged to label such products clearly, so only a novice would ask that question.

The Checkout

The checkout is the other main part of the supermarket where, for as long as you choose, you have the undivided attention of one of the assistants. Using the following techniques can again happily prolong this experience:

  • Always make sure that you have at least one item in your trolley where the barcode is damaged beyond recognition. If you don’t have one then drop one of your jars. Either of these tactics will cause tremendous delays while the checkout assistant tries to get another item brought.
  • If you have been unable to find an item, now is the time to ask where it is. Again the checkout assistant will be happy to get a colleague to fetch it for you.
  • If you want to mark yourself out as a member of the elite you need to be familiar with all the offers the supermarket is running – such as buy one get one free. The moment such an offer ends is the time to present the relevant items at the checkout. You can then spark a heated debate about whether the offer is still current, which will end with you rejecting the goods if you don’t get the offer price.
  • The final hurdle is to deal with the barrage of questions that checkout assistants have to ask you. The examples below should give you the idea:

“Would you like cash back?”
This question is actually an invitation to discuss your spending plans for the next week with the cashier, so don’t be fooled into giving a yes/no answer.

“Did you bring any of your own bags?”
This is your opportunity to find out about all the recycling schemes the supermarket is offering, and to express your views about green issues in general.

“Have you got a reward card?”
You have, of course, but the checkout assistant is going to have to work much harder than that to get you to present it. Play dumb for as long as you dare.

Once you have concluded this final transaction, and made your leisurely way back to your car (observing the trolley resting rules), you will feel the warm glow of a job well done. Congratulations, you are now a supermarket shopper of distinction. As you grow in confidence and expand on these techniques you will be able to measure your success by the red faces and murderous mutterings of others. Of course you will recognise this as nothing more than jealousy on the part of novices, and smile benignly as you pass………

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