Out There: Lost amid the aisles

The equation is really pretty simple: bigger store + the same number of workers = worse service.

Vegetables (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I’ve taken tens of thousands of calls on my mobile phone since the advent of the cell phone revolution in the 1990s. Here’s one I’ve never received: “Honey, I’m in the grocery store. What kind of pasta should I buy?” Nope, that phone call never comes, because when The Wife goes to the store, she knows exactly what she’s doing. She knows what she needs to purchase, what aisle the product is in, and how much she should be paying.
She doesn’t need my advice when selecting grated cheese.
Actually, I stand in awe of my wife’s ability to shop for food quickly and with a single purpose. I’m amazed at how she can get in and out of stores so darn quickly. It’s a much under appreciated skill.
The Wife says she has to run to the neighborhood grocery (makolet) for a few items, and – boom – within 10 minutes she’s back.
“Wow, back already,” I said recently when she returned from a chore we both knew would have taken me 10 times longer.
The key is that when The Wife makes a makolet run, she shops.
When I go, I look; I ponder; I call home and seek advice; I talk to a neighbor; I scan newspaper headlines; I debate with myself whether a small bottle of taco sauce is really worth NIS 17; and I reflect on what it means that one country has such a wide variety of chocolate wafers.
Not The Wife. She knows she’s going to the store to buy some lettuce, milk and mustard, and won’t get distracted, won’t stop and wonder what “Dijon” means, or who first came up with the idea of mixing honey with mustard.
When we go to the mall Friday morning to run pre-Shabbat errands, I trot behind in amazement, feeling like a small boy trying to keep up with his mother.
In my mind I hear her saying, “Junior, c’mon now, keep up.”
The Wife knows what stores to go into, and at what time. She knows which lines to stand in, and which to avoid. She talks to no one. She smiles not. Her whole demeanor changes. She is determined, goal oriented.
When The Wife goes food shopping, there is absolutely no need for her to call anyone.
But when I go into a grocery store I’m on the phone half the time asking her where the tomato paste is, whether we want big olives or small ones, and what kind of dish soap I should buy.
I can make the mortgage payments, I can figure out when I have a computer problem, I can even interview the prime minister, but I can’t buy a loaf of bread without phoning home first.
“Honey, do we want the sliced bread or a regular loaf; the long rolls or the round ones? Or should we just buy baguettes?” I asked the other day, in the third call from the grocery store within five minutes.
“Abba, you’re a grown man. You don’t need to check with Ima to buy a baguette,” my exasperated daughter – cheerily along for the chores – said to me.
Technically, The Lass is right. I’m well aware of that. I know these are the types of unilateral decisions I should be able to make on my own.
But why? Why take the risk? Especially when it’s so cheap and easy – what with the cellphone technology and all – to just call and check. Especially when that call has the potential of saving so much aggravation later, if you come home bearing the wrong items.
THE CELL PHONE has changed so much in our world. It has revolutionized miluim, with reservists now talking more with their wives and kids while in the army than when at home; it has enabled parents to keep hourly tabs on their children; it has made it possible for boyfriends and girlfriends to call each other without having to speak first to the Other’s parents.
And it has also changed grocery store ambience.
Walk into a grocery store and half the men are on the phone. The old time background noise – the ringing and clanking of the cash registers, the arguments between people fighting in line, the public-address system calling Malka to okay a check on aisle two – has been augmented these days by lost-looking males calling home and asking whether to buy 5% or 9% cottage cheese.
And that’s not all that has changed in this country’s shopping culture.
As we have developed, as we have joined the OECD, our small, overcrowded stores – the ones where cranky merchants needed long poles to pull merchandise off top shelves and pass it to the one grumpy check-out person – have given way to stores with abundant shelf space and double the amount of check-out aisles.
But that grumpy check-out person still remains. And therein lies the rub.
Over the years I have found that in this country, the new and improved super store has the same old, unimproved service.
A major franchise opened an enlarged store in my neighborhood recently – a big event, one that made the whole community proud.
The store was roomier, the floor tiles were shinier, and there were double the number of check-out lanes. Only problem was that there was not double the number of check-out-people, or double the number of service people looking for folks to help.
A paradox was created. None of the customers knew where to find their items in the spanking new store, and as a result needed more help than usual. But the store still employed the same number of workers. The equation is pretty simple: bigger store + same number of workers = worse service.
But all is not lost, progress comes, though incrementally. Since the surroundings are nicer, the floor tiles shinier, you’re getting aggravated in roomier, more comfortable environs.
Besides, when worse comes to worst, you can always pull out the cellphone, call the spouse, and ask for advice.