Countdown Supermarkets

Supermarket sociology 101

Think about the people who you admire the most.

Take your time.

They kind of suck, don’t they?

We all do. That’s what defines humanity as one big family that really, really sucks.

I’m not saying everybody sucks all the time. Far from it. But if we didn’t suck for a significant, notable portion of our waking days, would people ever have needed heroes, saints, or my blog?

This isn’t something that I just came up with. It’s from the hours and hours over the course of my life that I’ve wasted in supermarkets.

Supermarkets must circulate an airborne compound that reduces people to they way we were when we realized we had moved from the world of the simians to a new, elevated form of asshole.


It’s not that people’s intelligence quotient, per se, drops precipitously when entering a supermarket. (Assuming they survive the passage through the automatic doors). Supermarkets want you to spend, so they will leave people with an adequate supply of brain cells to remember their PINs with. Any more stupid-compound in the air, and the supermarket would have to initiate a “special needs” aisle just to keep the lines moving.

Which is, of course, an abortive concept, when considering that a “special needs” aisle would be completely lost on the shoppers that needed that aisle the most. Pretty soon, supermarkets would have to assign staff to round them up every so often just to get them to the special needs aisle in the first place. Sort of like what they do already with the carts in the parking lot, only with a moron attached.

No supermarket is going to do that. Are you kidding me? It’s bad enough they had to surrender the choicest parking spots to the preggos and toddler-laden. Supermarkets know full well that they would turn over a lot more cash per hour if the spots closest to the doors were reserved for the right demographic. These are the people guaranteed to spend the least amount of time shopping, making room for others of their kind on a regular basis.

This segment includes men shopping by themselves, OTC drug abusers, and shoplifters. I’m getting screwed out of a good parking space in three different ways.


You might think of a supermarket as the most reliable place to find life’s essentials. Why, you could be blindfolded, and still find the pork rinds, cheese-spread, word-search puzzle-books, and canned spaghetti, without knocking that many things or people over. Believe me.

These days I’m treating trips to the supermarket as sociological field research. As I’ve explained to the managers at Countdown over and over, I’m only trying to learn about the human condition when I follow people through the aisles, taking notes, and occasionally crashing my cart into theirs and blaming them for the collision. This isn’t some crazy stunt. It’s academic rigor.

Ultimately, the supermarket is where people go to suck the most. And wherever these assholes go, that’s where you’ll find the sociologists.

In this scientific-y light, looking upon supermarkets as dispassionately as I now do, you will come to understand that all supermarket shoppers, regardless of their class, ethnicity or gender, are assholes.


This is not completely their fault. A supermarket is never designed as a communal space, but as a conveyor of individual selection. So if someone is blocking the aisle because they can’t decide between Schwepps Ginger Ale and Home Brand, you would be technically correct to identify your subject as an asshole. But you have to be true to the context. It is probably the first time in hours, if not days, that this person has not been in a seated position at home, in a car, or in a cubicle. Try to remember that the next time you start hitting one of these assholes upside the head with a box of Cheerios. I can’t stress this enough. If someone had only warned me about interacting with assholes out in the field, I’d be published in a journal by now.


Don’t think that I’m excusing this behavior at all. Not everything comes down to nurture.

I’m having trouble categorizing my latest subject. It was 3:30 on a weekday afternoon. I had just pulled into the children’s parking lot to replenish my supply of word-search puzzles, before getting in the queue for the self-check out slots. There were three or four people in front of me, and it took longer than necessary to wait for a station to open, thanks to my subject. It seems that the woman decided that this was another great opportunity to teach her five-year old daughter about how the world works, and have fun doing it.

I give it up to the girl. It only took her 18 tries before she got the litre of skim milk scanned. She had a little trouble with the bananas, but after about an hour, it all worked out. As in so many cases like this, it wasn’t the child that was at fault, but the mother, who qualified under academically sound guidelines, as 100 percent asshole.

I really don’t think you can attribute this case to a differential between personal and public social spaces. After all, I’m sure this wasn’t the first time she took her child to the supermarket. Had she been paying attention all those other times, she might have noticed the line forming thanks to her sprog’s adventures in point-of-sales technology.

This is the pathology of a particularly acute asshole, one who imagines that everyone else in the world is going to love participating in her child’s personal development. Oh, fucking joy. Don’t these people understand that some people have places to go, like one of the stalls in the men’s room at the office, which is the only place where I can really get some word search puzzles done.


Of course, without more data, it’s impossible to know why this mother behaves as she does. One theory is that she has had so many children in quick succession that some of the blood that other people normally have flowing to their brain just said “fuck it, we’re just going to end up coming down here again”, which is not an efficient distribution of oxygen to anyone’s system.

But, as I say, one can never know. But one can make an educated guess.