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Guerilla Grocery Shopping


Standing in line at the grocery store today I suddenly realized that I’ve finally gotten used to shopping here in Virginia. My pulse was normal, the adrenaline wasn’t surging through my body and I chatted calmly with the woman in line in front of me and the cashier who was checking her purchases.
When I first moved here a quarter of a century ago, I used to write back home about the slow-moving grocery store line, not to mention the fact that in the Shenandoah Valley they would allow you to pay by check and get cash back. This astounded my relatives in Jersey where a trip to the grocery store takes on the aspects of a military offensive.
First off, in New Jersey you don’t go grocery shopping, you go “food shopping.” This is to distinguish it from recreational shopping in a state that is nothing but malls and parking lots. It’s kind of like how Eskimos have a gajillion words for “snow.”
Food shopping begins in the parking lot where, since traffic rules no longer apply, neither do those “understood” rules that make driving a little less stressful. Most people call these driver courtesies. In Jersey they just cause trouble because, while everyone believes the courtesy should be done unto them, only a chump would move on if your blinker indicates the spot is yours. So what – you gonna start something?
This is not to say there aren’t rules about grocery shopping in New Jersey. There are. You just better know them, or else. We’re not talking quiet acceptance of social faux pas or an eye roll. We’re talking screaming demands for justice and threats to your person.
Or there was my mother’s particularly vindictive method of policing the parking lot. If someone took her space, she’d track them down in the store and then, when they weren’t looking, take something out of their cart small enough not to be noticed missing, but important enough that they’d be really put out when they got home and realized it wasn’t among their stuff. Like tampons.
Around here in the valley the grocery store is a sort of meeting place. Everyone catches up with the news and more than a few elderly people come just for the social interaction. You learn to maneuver around them, smiling politely and excusing yourself for living, and accept the fact that there will be no “thank you” because they figure they’re old, you’re young, and it’s the least you can do. In Jersey we call these lonely elderly people “targets,” which is only fair since they’ve probably got the best parking spaces too.
I had to move to Virginia to find out that opening a box in the cookie aisle to taste the cookies is, basically, shoplifting. While I was taught never to open a box myself, there were lean-years lunch hours I’d go into the local ShopRite and hit the cookie aisle. An open box is fair game.
In Jersey the checkout is the final surge of the battle of grocery shopping. You have to make sure you are in the right line. You have to make sure everyone else is in the right line and, if they aren’t, amass a committee to humiliate the violator. And just so you know, two gallons of milk count as two items even though they are two of the same items.
Here in the valley by contrast, one early morning I had a full cart and the store had only the express line open. The cashier waved me on and just as she began to check me through, five people came up with their meager selections.
There was this long silence while we all tried to decide what to do with this uncomfortable situation.
Then two of the customers began bagging while another helped me empty the rest of my cart. Of course this meant I had to give a product review of all my purchases, including the women’s razors I was buying for myself…but, still, it was very nice.
So I really don’t get homesick for New Jersey very often and even less when I think of food shopping. But then I think of that cookie aisle. . .

Share  Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 11:04 AM | Permalink

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