Monday 10 December 2007

Too much help.

I've been shopping in supermarkets for quite a few years now. And I know how I like to pack things; I've got my system. We all have. Some things go on top of other things. Some things go a certain way up. Only a fool would put that in the same bag as these. You know. And, quite often, I'm shopping for more than one household, so want to keep certain items in separate bags because they're not going to the same place as everything else.

So I realised the other day that attempts by supermarket checkout staff to pack my bags for me actually make me angrier than any other single phenomenon in the world. Even government. They used not to do this. I spent thirty happy years growing up in a world where supermarkets chucked the food at you as quickly as possible and you and the whole family had to pack as a perfectly choreographed team in order to get out of the next shopper's way quickly enough. But no, now they go and get all nice and helpful. It's driving me up the bloody wall.

Now, usually, they ask you, "Would you like some help with your packing?" And I can politely say, "No, thank you" and then I get a bit of a look from them and it dawns on me that they thought it was a rhetorical question. I'm not supposed to say no. They think they're being helpful. What kind of ungrateful fool would turn down an offer of help? And then I end up having to pack at insane speeds, because, if just a couple of pots of yoghurt don't get stowed quite fast enough, the checkout person will sigh very slightly — as if to say, "See? I knew you couldn't pack quickly enough without my help." — and start packing for me anyway. Even though I have expressly asked them not to. What is wrong with this world, that that is not considered rude?

Not only is it not considered rude, but what would be considered rude would be for me to ask them to stop it. When someone does you a favour out of the kindness of their hearts, it's not really on to tell them to bog off. For some reason, this same etiquette seems to apply when they're not doing it out of the kindness of their hearts but rather to get you out of their sight as quickly as possible. Livid though I am at their crappy packing (no, it is not organised to put all the liquids in the same bag! It will break, idiot!), I can't bring myself to fight my own annoying Britishness by saying anything. So instead, I Drop A Hint.

When the bag that they have badly packed trundles down the conveyor belt to me, I unpack it and then repack it the way it should be packed. I'm going to have to do this anyway to avoid breakages and squishages and to balance the bags properly if I'm going to be carrying them, so I may as well do it here and now and hope that they notice and stop. I mean, you pack a bag for someone and they immediately unpack it. Just how obtuse would you need to be to ignore a hint like that? Well, exactly as obtuse as a supermarket checker-outer, apparently. From their stunted point of view, I'm now going even more slowly than before, so need even more help, so they do even more packing for me. But I'm not going slowly. I'm actually going faster to try and counteract the fact that they're slowing me down. Plus I'm wasting precious energy on not screaming.

And that's if they ask. Sometimes, they just start packing for me, without so much as a by-your-leave. This is as bad as before, only I don't get to pack even one bag my way. Bastards.

And then there's the charities. It started with the scouts, but now everyone's in on it. Some moppet with a big plastic bucket that I'm supposed to toss coins into because they have chucked all my shopping randomly into plastic bags, as if simply being inside a plastic bag is all I require of my shopping. And they always seem to come in twos, so there's not even enough room for me to stand, let alone to get to my shopping before they do. And then I'm supposed to pay them for having done their little bit to jam a spanner into my day. And some of them aren't even proper charities. At my local Asda, there were some kids collecting so that their drama group could go to the USA. Now we've buggered up your shopping, please pay for our holiday. No.

And then there's the nonsense with the conveyor belt. I put stuff on there in the order in which I want to pack it. Approximately. What could possibly go wrong? But then you get those weird check-out people who seem to be having some sort of private don't-let-the-conveyor-belt-move competition. The conveyor belt is actually there to make their lives easier; it brings items to them so that they can reach eveything easily and don't end up straining themselves reaching for stuff. But these guys seem to want the strain. They reach as far back up the belt as they can, grabbing the dog biscuits while leaving one lone cucumber sitting on the belt's sensors and stopping it from moving. Why? What would be the big problem if the conveyor belt were to move? If I'm lucky enough to have been allowed to do my own packing, this completely screws it up.

So, supermarket people, if you're reading, here are some notes for you. Firstly, if a customer asks you not to pack for them, don't pack for them. (You'd think in this day and age that people would know that no means no.) Secondly, stop pissing around with the conveyor belt. I know I'm not the only person to put stuff on there in a useful and non-random order. Thirdly, if you start packing, unasked, for a customer, and that customer is me, be aware that, while I may look only mildly annoyed, I am in fact pouring all of my energy into not screaming at you. And I can really scream.

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