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From the Weighted Consumers department:

While not a link or an official bit of consumer news, I thought I’d share with you the absurd scene that played out in front of me this morning at the grocery store.

There I was, waiting in line at the self checkout machines with my vegetable broth and soy sauce in tow. Most times, I prefer an actual person to process my purchases, but I only had a few items and the lines in the two other open checkout lanes were backed up into the aisles. I thought this would get me out of the store and to work on time. Of course, two of the three self-checkout machines in front of me were down for repair, but the capable-looking young woman at the remaining machine was almost finished.

Then she tried purchasing a bunch of bananas.

If you don’t already know how a self-checkout machine works, don’t worry… I’m sure you are smart enough to figure it out should you encounter one. Unfortunately, the woman in front of me was not. It seemed that she had no problem with her packaged items - those with a barcode, - but when it came to produce, she turned into a child. After placing the bananas on the scanner/scale (so far so good), the woman neglected to remove her right hand from her fruit. With her left hand, she manipulated the touch-screen to look up her item (still on the right track). Keeping her right hand on the bananas (this is where her method lays bare its flaw), I heard the woman grunt then exclaim to the employee present, “Why is it charging me so much for my bananas?! Since when do bananas cost ten dollars?!” The elevation in her voice signalled an ignorant distress. I wanted to scream at her “Because your hand weighs ten pounds and you are pressing down on the scale you helpless rube!” which is more or less what the grocery employee tried to tell her. No one was getting through to this woman though. In this era of convenience and automation, something had gone wrong and it couldn’t… no definitely couldn’t be her own impatient fault. Everything always works in the life of this woman. click. click. click. Like clockwork. Unfortunately, someone forgot to teach this woman how to tell time.

So, what did the woman do?

Why, what every impatient over-stressed automatic consumer who is afraid of accepting help from their fellow man would do. She brought her right hand up off of the bananas (good move!) and quickly brought them back down again, striking the fragile produce as if it were an advancing mugger (bad move). Of course, this sent an impact through the yellow meat of the bananas, through the peel on the other side, straight into the fragile scanner glass of the self-checkout machine. With a loud cracking sound and a flash, the screen on the machine went black. The woman looked even more incensed over the entire predicament instead of feeling even an ounce of remorse for breaking what I imagine to be quite an expensive machine.

I suppose, when you are raised with the myth of the customer always being right, this is an easy trap to fall into. My question is how does someone like this end up living in a neighborhood like mine? With bland boxy high rises going up all around my apartment, the rents are not cheap. You would expect that the people who choose to reside in a neighborhood like this would have to be either intelligent or highly resourceful. This woman was neither. This woman was someone who thought that the power of her grocery dollars ensures her an easy and effortless trip to the store with minimal human contact. This woman was someone whose first response to the slightest obstacle was to throw a destructive tantrum like a child, causing my trip to the grocery store to take even longer, though making it much more sociologically interesting.

It amazes me that I will go into Mom & Pop convenience stores and see people conversing with one another. Shopkeepers and customers become acquaintances first and foremost. I have yet to see that anywhere in my neighborhood. All I see are underpaid cashiers who don’t seem to care and grown adults who rely on simple technology they don’t understand and whine like toddlers when the slightest thing goes wrong. I’m not sure the automated impersonal consumer experience is such a good thing for an already alienated urban culture. Maybe this is why I prefer smaller businesses to large chains and superstores. Maybe this is why I will continue to go back to an establishment that remembers my name.

Or maybe writing about my experience observing others at the grocery store is my version of slamming my hand down on some bananas.

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