As I wait, tolerantly, in a queue at my local independent grocery store, I observe.
It is the holiday season. The town and its surrounding district’s population have become distended with countless visitors. The supermarket appears to be hosting the majority of them at this very point in time.
Lesson 1 – Respect your elders - Some customers are clearly agitated. A barefooted young woman, items piled high in her arms, audibly utters an expletive as she drops a package. Not her fault, she quips to her mate, it was the ‘old bag’ who brushed passed her. The more mature woman, sporting a fresh blue rinse, apologised as her face became flushed with embarrassment at the words she was forced to hear.
Lesson 2 – Parenting is difficult. Using a sweet-free isle is not so. A mother asks her child to put the sweets back on the ledge for the fifth time and then gives in as he rips open the packet and inhales some of its contents. He flashes a cheeky grin.
Lesson 3 – It costs nothing to be polite- The checkout operators seem to be unflappable as they greet their next customer with ‘good morning, happy new year’ and robotically push through the items piled their lanes.
Lesson 4 – Checking your list, whatever it contains, is vital - A gentleman nervously checks his list. He looks up and smiles at me. He says he will be in trouble if he doesn’t return home from his gathering expedition with exactly what is on his short but prescriptive list. I acknowledge his pain.
Lesson 5 – Clean up after yourself -A floor boy rushes past with a bucket to clean up a spill. Some detergent has leaked from its vessel; the customer feigns ignorance at the stream leaking from her basket.
Lesson 6 – Say sorry! - I am hit from behind by the wheel of a wayward trolley. It’s ‘driver’ doesn’t apologise but rather pushes past as if engaging with me would cause her inconvenience. I rub my heel and move a step closer to the conveyor. I shake my head.
Lesson 7 – Be aware of your surroundings - I am not intentionally listening to the conversations being had by the consumers around me but some are hard to ignore. I continue to observe.
Lesson 8 – Tourist towns, rely on tourism income. If you are a local, embrace it or stock up before the holiday season hits. A local exclaims that she only wanted two items and she is running late, ‘damn tourists’. Perhaps she doesn’t appreciate the value our guests add to our local economy.
Lesson 9 – Looks can be deceiving - A smartly dressed woman double checks the nutrition panel on a packet and makes a decision to leave the item on a random shelf next to her because it was not what she wanted. Perhaps she doesn’t appreciate that someone has to put that back in its right place. (Oh and it does pay to read labels).
Lesson 10 – Over indulge and you will suffer & it pays to be sun smart. Two young men, maybe in their mid-20’s, complain about the huge amount of alcohol they consumed the night before. They are both clutching packets of pain relief medication, bottles of water and sunscreen. Their sun burns from the previous day were significant. They were heading to the bottle shop to restock their alcohol supplies on the way back to their accommodation.
Lesson 11 – If you browse it you should probably buy it. Two teenage girls flick through a magazine and giggle at its contents. They put it back, dog-eared, and look around for the responsible adult they came shopping with. They were going to get gelato before they headed to the beach.
Lesson 12 – Addictions may cause hardship A checkout operator calls out for some tobacco products as her customer, a man who looked much older than he likely was, made a decision to swap his packet of loin chops and a dozen caged (not free-range) eggs for cigarettes.
Lesson 13 – No matter how insignificant they may seem, your choices can make a difference, be it good or adverse.
The conversation which pricked my interest the most was between the middle aged couple in isle 3. They lamented at the price of the items in their trolley.
They complained about the increases in the prices of the staple items in their trolley. They talked about making do with the generic brands, after all, they 'couldn’t really tell the difference.’ They were proud of some of their product choices, as they carefully placed local produce onto the checkout conveyor. They didn’t mind paying a bit extra for their vegetables because they were grown ‘locally.’
They talked about current affairs and briefly politics. They shook their heads as they looked at the headlines screaming at them from the state, local and national papers perched upon their bags.
There were concerned about things they didn’t believe they could influence. They talked about being on a payment plan to pay off their energy bill. They jointly made a decision that this week, because of the cost of fuel for their car; they couldn’t visit their grandkids. Lastly the medicine they needed wasn’t on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme so perhaps they could do without it. They paid for their purchase and headed out to the car park.
I was in the queue for no more than about 5 minutes, it may have felt longer but it was barely 5 minutes. As I placed my items on the conveyor dextrous hands scanned them and placed them into my bags. The transaction was polite and swift.
If you are open and receptive to your environment, you will acquire a fresh perspective.
Being ‘present’ in your surroundings can be confronting but also hugely rewarding.
Your eyes may be open but can you see?
Your hearing may be sound but are you listening?
What will you observe?