M.M’s Guide to the Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper.

If you are a longterm follower of this blog, you will know that MM is as enthusiastic about shopping as Lindsay Lohan would be about running a tea shop. In order of preference, I would rather rip my toe nails out with a pair of pliers, spend an evening babysitting for Godzilla’s offspring or clean the family car with my tooth brush than set foot in a shopping centre at the height of the summer sales. Why? Because I’m allergic to the LSSS: the Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper. She brings me out in spots.

wow-thing

MM emerging from the underground car park and seeing the sales crowd. Note full head and eye protection for a day at the sales (Photo credit: x-ray delta one).

But last weekend, Little My had other plans. She was adamant about her perfect birthday agenda: a day spending her birthday money at the summer sales. With Mummy. So there I was, standing on an escalator that smoothly and irreverently spat me into the throbbing, frantic world of shopaholics. A beaming and febrile twelve year old clutched at me with one hand whilst the other quivered with anticipation over her pocket, ready to unsheathe her wallet and shoot ready cash at the first sight of a bargain.

Her chosen hunting ground was the place I call “the empty parrot cage” – a shopping centre called the “Polygone”. It was the third day of the summer sales, though, and the parrot cage was anything but empty. The air was rife with raw instinct – I swore I could smell it. The serial shopper season was in full swing, and they were hunting in packs, cackling loudly. They swooped past us, multicolored plastic bags dangling from the grasps of their French-manicured claws. Some were perched in lines on benches, pecking at bags of crisps and sipping Diet Coke as they gloated over their pickings (imagine the vultures in the Jungle Book, but more sinister).

Vulture / Buitre

An ageing Solitary Serial Shopper, all made up and ready to nab that size ten from her unsuspecting victim. (Photo credit: . SantiMB .)

How to recognize the LSSS.

The lesser spotted serial shopper looks fragile and dainty, but believe me, kiddo: those dainty little summer dresses hide ruthless machines that have trained to perfection for the Great Battle of the Credit Card. Move over, Lara Croft: these commercial commandos have prepared their offensive with military precision, and taken photos of their goals during strategically planned early morning reconnaissance flights. In the same way that the US Army polish up their weapons, the Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper has sharpened her nails with her titanium emery board in preparation for the big day. I suspect that they go to special commercial commando camps, where they hang bat-like from the rafters dressed in pink lycra and do sit-ups in time to “the Eye of the Tiger“, sweat dripping off their elbows as a hairy-chested hybrid of Mr T and Madonna barks instructions at them and points at the photos of dresses blu-tacked to the ceiling.

Modus operandi.

You don’t hear her sneaking up from behind the lingerie display until it’s too late. Her strategy is simple: as your fingers lovingly caress the article you are planning on buying, she will slide between you and it, staring at you with wide, mascara-ed eyes as she breathes “excusez-moi…” in your face. You step backwards, realizing that you have the choice between that or getting a stiletto heel-shaped hole in your big toe. She disappears in a puff of Dior, your vestimentary dream jammed firmly under her armpit. You live and learn. Another well-known strategy to is save valuable time by trying on clothing in the queue for the till and leaving a trail of unwanted items along the way, à la Hansel and Gretel. Any neighbouring woman who blinks in surprise at getting a face full of Serial Shopper’s g-string as she tries on a pair of mini-shorts is rebuked with a hostile glare that could reduce the average human being to a pile of poop, whilst a shy but sexy smirk is reserved for male onlookers.

English: Boxes of Nooma puddings being unloaded.

A Happily Married Serial Shopper supervising her cargo of sales bargains. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Subspecies.

Solitary predators hunt alone – these are the most dangerous variety. The misleadingly feminine and delicately perfumed exterior of the Solitary Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper hides the terrifying predator that lies within. These experienced birds have an eagle eye for a bargain, and will not hesitate to elbow less streetwise shoppers in the ribs, stick the corners of their handbags in children’s faces and reduce any inappropriately sandal-clad toes to smithereens in their quest to make it to the last size ten dress before anyone else.

Happily Married comes with her personal bodyguard/bag carrier/fund provider – a commercially depressed, metrosexual other half whose haggard expression induces pity in the most hard-hearted of people. She parks him on a chair outside the cubicle, where he avoids eye contact with the other women. When the LSSS finally extracts herself from the pile of clothing she has shoe-horned into the cubicle with her and twirls in front of the mirror, he fields the question “What do you think?” with caution: he knows that his opinion does not actually have any weight in her decision making, and any suggestion that the shirt is too short or the cleavage too deep will be greeted with flared nostrils and a glare. He is there simply to guard her trophies and go to find a different size or colour if needed.

The queue for the changing rooms is generally three miles long, and usually includes gaggles of Trainee Serial Shoppers. These are the young beginners who no doubt still use their Dolce & Gabbana belt buckles to differentiate between their “droite” and their “gauche”. They remain in a gaggle around the curtain, chewing gum and typing messages to each other on their phones (it’s not cool to talk to each other directly at that age) as they await the appearance of The Friend wearing the bargain of the century. According to the latter’s status in the group, comments will then vary from “Waaaah, so sexxxxxxy!” to “Uh. Yeah. I think it makes your bum look big. Nah, I mean, bigger.

DolceAndGabbana belt fake

Wear a Dolce and Gabbana belt, and instantly have the means to tell your left hand from your right (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“And what about the shopper with a girlfriend?” you ask. Well, I’m going to make myself unpopular here, but if she absolutely has to break the solitary rule of serial shopping, the LSSS never goes to the sales with a friend who wears the same size as her. She firmly believes that if she is the Queen Mary, her long-suffering pal is her tug. Only a friend who wears at least two sizes bigger are accepted to carry her bags and approve of her choices. However, said friend should have skin as thick as whale blubber and not expect the same favours in return.

I’ll leave you with this advert from the German internet clothing company Jungstil. It sums up my fears about the Lesser Spotted Sales Shopper perfectly. Be good at the sales. And if you can’t be good, be careful. Very careful. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to hang off the rafters.

PS. My apologies for the resounding silence since my last post. Life has been throwing all kinds of challenges MM’s way of late, meaning that she lost much of her blogging muchness. My mum always told me that if you have nothing nice to say, it’s best to keep your trap shut – hence the period of silence on this blog. 

 

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Loo Roll Logic, or How to Have Fun at the Supermarket.

I am a serial “people spotter”, and supermarkets are a permanent source of amusement for me. Earth Daddy (the free-trade father), Zero Percent (the manically depressed low fat/sugar/carb freak), YFSM (Young Free & Single Male) and the rest of the Saturday Shopper crew have me rolling in the supermarket aisles every time.

This week, I decided to embrace the zen attitude of the weekday lunchtime shop, and met a completely different shopping population. The store was quiet and strangely devoid of the usual screaming toddlers teetering over the brink of the trolley with torrents of snot and half-chewed cookie drooling down their chins.

1953--shop as a family--by Bill Fleming

Earth Daddy, Wonder Woman and their irreproachable offspring shopping at Intermarché, where Earth Daddy finally found the rat poison he needed to deal with the neighbour’s cat. (Photo credit: x-ray delta one)

I coasted through the aisles with my squeaky trolley and played “Shopper’s I spy”. Retired lady with headscarf sifting through the cut-price bargains on the bottom shelf of the deli section? Check. Night-shift workers with bags under their eyes hunting down their brunch? Check. Spotty teens playing truant from the local school? Check. Zero Percent reading the small print on the diet yoghurt pot? Check.

I ambled over to the fruit and veg section in hope of a blog-worthy sight, and was rewarded by the sight of a well-dressed gent who was picking cucumbers off the display one after the other. He prodded them and eyed them suspiciously before waving one of them at his wife, who acquiesced with a brief nod of the head and went back to rummaging feverishly through the bags of salad.

It was at that moment that I was distracted by a supermarket sound I love more than any other – the sound of someone singing along to the tannoy system. From behind the lettuce display, a deep voice with a strong French accent was purring:

“And eef you ‘ave a minoot whay don’t wee goh…?

Tolk abowt eet, zomwear onli wee noh?

Ziiiiis cood be zee end of everysii-ing

Zo whay don’t wee goh

Zomwear onli wee noh?”

Peering through the foliage, I spotted the vegetable virtuoso. The bearded young man was serenading the bunches of radishes as he inspected them one by one, happily oblivious to the fact that the entire store could hear him. His version of Coldplay made the song, as well as grocery shopping, a damn sight sexier. He bounded away with his radishes and dropped them into his basket before pointing in the air and informing his girlfriend: “Let’s go. I hate love songs in supermarkets.” His secret would be safe with me – once I’d put it on my blog.

Woman wearing gas mask in chamber

Gladys realized that her lotus flower-scented loo roll was no match for the collateral damage caused by Roger’s Vindaloo take-away. (Photo credit: State Library of Victoria Collections)

I mooched off to the toilet paper aisle for the weekly truckload of toilet paper and raised a perplexed eyebrow at the range of vile colours on offer. I just don’t get the point of the insipid pastel shades of pink, apricot, blue and green, which remind me of hand-knitted cardigans at the local old people’s home. There is nothing delicate or elegant about the role of the roll. And as for perfumed loo roll… Depending on who has just vacated the premises, you would have to insert an entire roll up each nostril to even notice the fragrance.

Just as I was leaving with my monster pack of bog standard white, my jaw unhinged at the sight of transparent twin packs of individually wrapped toilet rolls. In MM’s humble abode, a twin pack of bog roll would have the life expectancy of a Mars bar tossed on to the raft of the Medusa. Squinting closer, I discovered that these porcelain potty pin-ups weren’t just soft, strong and very long: you could roll this stuff out at Cannes to replace the red carpet. More importantly, these ultra-cushioned stars of the sanitaires beat the crap out of their pale pink neighbours with the raciest colours I have ever seen for the wee pee pew, including apple green, velvet-black and… dark brown.

Who on earth buys brown toilet paper? My curiosity was piqued. I parked up, grabbed a box of washing powder and pretended to read the back of it as people came and went, impatient to see who the mystery buyer could be. If my loo-roll logic was correct, it would be a high-earning, middle-aged bachelor who lives in a minimalist designer flat and reads philosophy on his spotlessly clean toilet, before carefully tearing a single sheet of paper from the Stark bog roll holder gleaming on the wall.

After ten minutes, I gave up waiting for confirmation. In my haste, I had overlooked the fact that someone who pays nearly two euros per individually wrapped chocolate-brown loo roll 1) wouldn’t be shopping until much later that evening, and 2) probably doesn’t buy loo roll very often, because he spends all his time working to pay for the bloody stuff. Never mind. Better luck next week.

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MM’s Supermarket Showdown.

I wouldn’t like to be a supermarket cashier. It must be a boring job, day after day. But today, any compassion I had for cashiers disappeared in a puff of half-price supermarket smoke.

Bigfoot, Little My and I were at the “grown-up” supermarket, the one where you bump into people like Earth Daddy and the Dinkies (more about them here). We were on a mission for Perrier and shampoo. As carrying packs of water does nasty things to your fingers, I took a shopping trolley and wheeled it around the store.

We got our handful of items collected off the shelves in no time at all, and got to the tills to discover queues that were depressingly reminiscent of Heathrow’s immigration control. Then I saw it: the oasis of sanity, the spanking-new “scan your own” section. It was gleaming invitingly at the end of the store, its four pristine tills waiting patiently for customers to cheer up their lonely existence. We scooted over to it and started scanning our items with an enthusiastic Little My as chef d’orchestre. Each time she flashed the bar code in front of the optic sensor, she was rewarded with a loud and satisfying “bleep”. I felt warm inside to see how happy she was, and was wondering how we adults lose sight of these small thrills in life when my maternal nirvana was interrupted by a loud scream of horror.

An indignant voice shouted out, “Ah, NON, Madame!!!!!” I lifted my head from the depths of the shopping trolley to find out which poor Madame had committed a sin worthy of such vehement hostility. Had someone tried to leave the supermarket with a saucisson stuffed up each sleeve and a honeydew melon craftily hidden in each cup of a FF cup bra? Was Super Cashier about to save us from a terrorist who was on the point of stealing the day’s haul of money-off tokens?

Calamity Jane (album)

Remove the smile and imagine purple overalls, and you have the ardent defender of scan-your-own territory. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t have time to see much, as my field of vision was immediately blocked by a faceful of purple overalls with an official badge pinned over a heavy boob. A pair of hands firmly grabbed my pack of Perrier and launched it unceremoniously back into my trolley. “Madame” was none other than little old me, who had apparently just committed the most heinous sin of the shopper’s universe. Meet MM the criminal, aka Materfamilias la Maudite.

A pair of hostile blue eyes drilled into mine from below disapproving eyebrows. The hands settled at hip level, Calamity Jane-style. Her fingers were twitching, no doubt ready to whip a hand-held scanner from the depths of each pocket and code-bar me into submission if I moved a muscle. “NO TROLLEYS IN THIS AREA, Madame!” the purple lone-ranger yelled at me. “Take your shopping elsewhere! Honestly, some people….”

My children looked on anxiously as my infamous “ancient camel dung” expression slowly appeared on my face. The kids know that this bodes no good for the recipient of my wrath. I levelled with the prison-warder-come-cashier. “Oh, yeah? Says you and whose army?”

“Says Le Règlement, Madame. No trolleys here. It says so here”. She bristled with self-importance and pointed triumphantly at a drooping sheet of paper that was forlornly taped to a sweets display above our heads. Its corners were at half mast, clearly in mourning for the cardboard support that didn’t make it on the long journey from the administration office.

I smiled at her and informed her that the “notice” in question must have been taped there by the Green Giant – she could probably understand that even for a tall person such as MM, it was too high to see, let alone read. I savoured the sight of my vertically challenged aggressor looking up at the sign before she spat “No trolleys!” at me for the second time.

Bigfoot was remarkably elegant, telling Madame that we only had 14 items, and that the recently discovered notice gave an upper limit of 15. Madame said yes, but in a basket, not in a trolley.

English: Carrinho de supermercado adaptado par...

Shopping trolley complete with get-away vehicle for supermarket sinners (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By this point, the mustard was really getting up my nose. Excuse the pun, but I was inches from going off my trolley. Forget Attila the Hun, this was Attila no Fun. She pulled her special badge out of her pocket, waved it ostentatiously across the screen as if it was a VIP pass to the backstage door at Cannes film festival, and stabbed evilly at “cancel” with a nail-bitten index finger.

“I thought this system had been put here to make shopping easier for customers, and for yourselves. Why do you have this rule, anyway?” I enquired. MM lethal humour was bristling on the end of my tongue, ready to be deployed.

She flared her nostrils like a silverback on crack, and bellowed: “Because it’s the rule! We don’t ask why! We obey the rules! That is all! No trolleys, Madame!” She had obviously  been promoted from the status of cashier to the vertiginous heights of Queen of the Scan-your-own Kingdom, yet didn’t feel any need to understand the rules that she enforced with so much breast-beating. She accepted the rules passively without questioning. She had been given power, and she was wielding it as coldly and methodically as Genghis Khan.

I took a deep breath. This conversation was going nowhere, fast. It was time to wrap up and go before the ice cream melted.  “Here’s a little advice for you, sweetheart: if you want to enforce a rule, it’s good to at least know why it exists. It’s healthy to question things – give it a try. Oh, and I’m sure that the little old lady who has to take a shopping trolley for three packs of water will be delighted when she keels over in a queue because you’re too small-minded to bend the rules you can’t explain. Have a good day”.

As a responsible, caring citizen, I felt it necessary to warn the (pleasant) cashier who took care of our shopping afterwards that there was a Rottweiler on the loose without a muzzle and wearing a shop uniform at the scan-your-own section. You can never be too careful: dogs aren’t allowed in supermarkets. It’s no doubt written somewhere in Le Règlement….

Shopping Sociology with Earth Daddy and the Dinkies.

It is common procedure to open the fridge within my house within two days of raiding the the supermarket and discover that it is barer than John Malkovich’s scalp. Feed a teenager the entire contents of the cupboard, and within two hours he will be rubbing round your legs like a famished tomcat, wailing that he is starving. Buy him a packet of cereal and it disappears within two days. Teenagers appear to believe in the Kellogg’s equivalent of the magic porridge pot: why is the box incapable of renewing its own contents?

That’s how I found myself wheeling my trolley around Intermarché for the umpteenth time yesterday. As usual, I had the one with the squeaky wheel. As usual, I had forgotten my list on the kitchen table. And as usual, all my favourite categories of shopper were there.

Giant Shopping Basket Feb 2006

An ideal shopping trolley for MM’s family (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Show me the contents of your trolley, and I’ll tell you who you are. Here are a few of the species I met:

Earth Daddy. Earth Daddy is married to my nemesis, Wonder Woman, who is a regular victim of my ire and bad faith on this blog. As she spends her free time at Primary school meetings in the evening, making smarmy little asides to ensure everyone knows that she is on first name terms with the teacher, Earth Daddy does the shopping with his children. He trips enthusiastically down the aisles in his designer cotton clothes, filling his trolley with whole grains, granary bread, Ryvita and Scandinavian yoghurt that has never seen a pesticide, but has made a generous contribution to the hole in the ozone layer after travelling to the South of France by plane and truck. An appropriately sleeping baby is bandaged tastefully to his chest with so much naturally dyed swathing that he looks disturbingly like a child-friendly remake of “The Mummy”.

Baby’s big sister generally has a very tasteful name like Clementine or Prune. (Classy kids in France are apparently named after fruit. Maybe Gwyneth Paltrow is actually French; she called her kid Apple.) Clementine/Prune/Banana’s education doesn’t stop when they shop, as Earth Daddy believes in taking every opportunity to brainwash his child inform Clementine about the best possible choices in life. So he stopped at the chocolate shelf as Clementine enthusiastically pointed to a well-known brand of Swiss chocolate that we all know is made with milk from purple cows then wrapped in the aluminium foil by underpaid but happy marmots.

Milka in der Breiten Straße Potsdam

The purple cow meets a chocoholic fan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She enquired whether they could buy it, and Earth Daddy laughed indulgently. Scratching his designer stubble, he said that she could of course have some chocolate, but he was going to show her something better. I was curious, and tailgated my politically correct suspect and his cargo of organic bran like an off-beat Sherlock Holmes. Earth Daddy homed in on his destination, and beamed as he explained the concept of fair trade to his bemused offspring. I’m not sure she bought the idea, but he bought the chocolate anyway.

The stressed mother and her assortment of screaming kids are reassuringly normal.  They remind me of that family planning advert with the kid having a tantrum (check it out at the end of the post). Whilst a toddler with streams of yellow snot running down its face eats his way through a packet of biscuits in the seat of the trolley, a sibling imprisoned between the packets of pasta and disposable nappies tramples on the fresh fruit with one foot and hangs the rest of her body over the side, screaming “Muuum, want that, want thaaaat!” Stressed mother is haggard, determined and inches from sticking a price label on each kid’s forehead and leaving them on the discount shelf. 

Zero percent is generally female, appears depressed and is on a permanent guilt trip. Her relationship with food is borderline obsessive; she suspiciously reads every last letter of the packaging. She hunts down zero percent yoghurt, zero percent coke and beef that was no doubt gleaned from liposuctioned cattle on a health farm. Her trolley is so light you are surprised it doesn’t float up in the air before she gets to the till and disappear with her hanging on to it like Mary Poppins on helium.

Hot-air-balloon

Zero Percent on her way home with her stash of light food produce (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The alcoholic OAP wanders slowly to the wine shelf in espadrilles, sagging trousers, baggy jumper and a felt cap covered with dog hair. His trolley contains two five-litre plastic containers of red wine, two packs of goats cheese and two baguettes. He beams congenially at everyone when he forgets his credit card number twice in a row, then waves goodbye before using the trolley as an impromptu Zimmer frame. He probably won’t see another human being until he does the same shop in a week’s time.

The DINKIES (Dual Income, No KIddieS) are the ones who need a stepladder to access the expensive rare breed of imported Italian pasta on the top shelf whilst you are mining  for the last packet of supermarket brand macaroni in the murky depths of the bottom shelf. Miss DINKIE wrinkles her nose on seeing any of the above supermarket population categories, and goes into anaphylactic shock on contact with children. She can be observed at the toiletries dept, suspiciously sniffing at shampoo bottles whilst her bored boyfriend looks on.

The YFSM: Young, Free & Single MaleEasily identified by the contents of his basket: pizzas, chocolate, pasta sauce, pies, frozen chips and a pack of beer. Heart-wrenching examples are the cute ones who have packets of Petit Prince biscuits and M&M’s to eat in front of the TV. I generally avoid queuing beside a YFSM, as I get inexplicable pangs of jealousy at the idea of being able to not only have the remote for myself, but eat as much rubbish as I like without being told off.

There are more categories to be covered, such as the retired lovebirds, but this post is getting way too long. So I’ll pass the talking stick on to you: who are your favourite shoppers? Here is that advert I promised you, complete with an epic Earth Daddy fail.