Friday, March 06, 2015

Checkout-line encounter 3: smoke signals

This is the latest in my "Checkout-Line Encounters" series:  you can read the others here and here.

Last night I went grocery shopping at No Frills.  A man and woman about my age entered the store just after I did; I noticed that she seemed particularly smiley and enthusiastic, but I didn't pay them much more attention as I went ahead of them up and down the aisles.

When I finished my shopping and went to pay, they were at the next checkout.  I noticed that the woman did the bagging (with great efficiency) while the man paid.  That's the opposite of how Richard and I usually do it on the rare occasions that we shop together:  he'll load the bags and bins while I do the transaction.  In fact, in most cases when I see a couple shopping, I've observed that the man starts the packing process while the woman pays.  It's just one of those gender-role things that we're probably barely conscious of and that just happens without anyone saying, "This is how we should do it."

But then, having paid for the groceries, the man said, "I'll just go for a smoke while you load up, OK, honey?"  And before she could reply, he walked out of the store.

When I got home it was dark, and Richard and Jonathan were playing in the driveway.  I got out of the car and Richard said, "I'll carry the stuff inside; you go on in."

I said, "Rich, you are a prince compared to the guy I just saw at No Frills."


Up until the guy made the "smoke" comment, I'd observed the situation as if it were a bit of a gender-role reversal.  I'd even imagined reasons for his not doing the grocery-bagging: he's the only one with a credit card so he has to do that part; he's got a disability or injury and can't do any lifting; they're not actually a "couple" at all, they're co-workers picking up stuff for a work event.  It was as if there had to be some good reason for a man to let his female partner do the physical work.  I know, I know:  it sounds sexist and dated, but I confess that's what I thought.

But when he left the store to indulge in a smoke while she finished packing, it suddenly wasn't a gender issue at all.  If the opposite had happened -- if the woman had said to the man, "I'll just go for a smoke while you load up, OK, honey?" -- it wouldn't have made any difference.  I'd have thought she was selfish, inconsiderate, and immature.

I don't know what kind of relationship they have, but it didn't look like a nice one.  And that's not because he was a man letting a woman bag groceries; if a couple treat each other right, it doesn't really matter who does which task.

It's because he was a man acting like a jerk. 

8 comments:

  1. Funny how different families have different roles. If we are grocery shopping together, I usually start packing while my husband pays. I rarely pay when we're together, and that would probably only be when I have gift cards to use up or something like that. But my husband always carries the heaviest bags, whoever has packed them. Neither of us would leave all the work for the other one like that.

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    1. I'm really glad you said that, Tuija, because it underscores that my first way of viewing the situation was totally myopic: they weren't doing it like WE would do it, so I made assumptions. But he left all the work for her to do, like you say. And he did it so offhandedly that I can only conclude he was quite accustomed to treating her that way.

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  2. Wow, things are really different here! There's only one grocery store where the clerks/other paid staffer DON'T bag the groceries for the customer. (That's Aldi's, which we've only recently gotten in our area.) So I never have to worry about getting stuff bagged and paying.

    But the incident you described reminded me of a grocery store checkout experience my daughters and I witnessed. The couple in front of us, a middle-aged man and woman, were waiting for the clerk to process all their coupons. As they waited, the man turned to the woman and whacked her lightly on the head with the checkbook and joked, "Ding-dong! Anybody home?" He did that multiple times. She never protested, other than to grimace, even though she clearly didn't like it.

    I was disgusted. My two young daughters (around 7 and 3, I think) were watching with interest. We only had a few items, and I gathered them up and marched them to another line. I didn't want them to see a man treating a woman so disrespectfully. (I would've felt the same about a woman acting like that toward a man.) Once we were in the car, I told them why I had left that line, how this kind of "joke" wasn't funny, and how we should treat each other with courtesy and respect.

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    1. That's the kind of story for which the term "OMG" was intended, Laura. UNBELIEVABLE. It was a great teachable moment for your kids, though -- and yes, it has absolutely nothing to do with the sex of the people involved.

      At most of the larger grocery stores here the cashier does bag the groceries for the customer; No Frills is true to its name by not providing that service. We bring our own bags and bins (although you CAN buy bags there for 5 cents each) and do our own packing.

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  3. I bag while my wife pays, but that's because I used to have a job at a grocery store and my wife handles the finances a lot better than I do. We each play to our strengths.

    You could say that man you saw go for a smoke left his wife holding the bag.

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    1. Exactly. And maybe he thought his strength was smoking and her strength was bagging. What a compliment, eh?

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  4. Well, all I can say is that I'm glad I'm not married to that man! Like you, I might first give the benefit of the doubt and assume he has a back problem. But go smoke a cigarette while she loads the car??? Sheesh!

    Last year after landing at Kennedy airport, we saw an African man stand there while his wife and the shuttle driver loaded about 15 HEAVY suitcases onto a bus. I couldn't believe the graciousness of the shuttle bus driver (who I'm sure received no tip.) I wanted to think that the man had a back problem, but it kind of looked like he thought the menial labor was below him....Wasn't sure which country he was from, and I fought the temptation to ask

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    1. Possible cultural differences throw a whole other light on the issue, don't they -- I can't always be sure of what I'm seeing, or why. One day when Allison was quite young she and I went to an ice-cream shop. It was a blistering hot day. A large family of another ethnic group (2 middle-aged women, 1 elderly woman, a middle-aged man, and a teenage boy) had taken all of the chairs except one and crowded them around their table. I let Allison sit in the one remaining chair, and I stood up while we ate our ice cream. None of them offered me one of the chairs (at least they might have suggested that the boy offer his). Then when the man and boy got up and sauntered over to the counter to get more food, I went over and took one of their chairs to our table and sat on it. Do I regret that? What do you think? :-)

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