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A guidebook is required to navigate this new world of grocery stores

It's a whole new world in the grocery game, but as our columnist suggests, keep your head down, your eyes open, and beware the hot deli lady
grocery shopping cart food

It used to be I could roam aimlessly and mindlessly around the grocery store.

Remember those days when you could go meandering around the store willy-nilly searching for bargains or bright shiny things that caught your attention?

Now, I need a guidebook.

So many rules, so little time.

Every single day I feel like I am learning new ways to operate in this world.

If it isn’t technology (Facetiming and Zoom) or new procedures (online ordering with curbside pickup) then it is all the new guidelines at the local stores.

Admittedly, grocery shopping has always given me angst.

It started when I was a lot more shy than I am now. I just hated the thought of people checking out my food choices in my buggy. I assumed they were being judgmental about my meat selection (that lady didn’t pick out a very good slab!) or thinking, 'She should put back the cookies and replace it with some celery'.

Anyway, all my previous insecurities have come racing back as we learn what the new grocery shopping etiquette is.

There are security guards at the entrances and exits to allow limited numbers of shoppers in and check your receipts on the way out.

I feel the same way I do when approaching an American border crossing.

My throat goes dry. I start to act all shady, even though I am not smuggling anything.

“Stop here until the vehicle in front of you has passed inspection. Have documentation ready. Present mask and gloves. Let me see the whites of your eyes. Name, rank and serial number. Move ahead slowly.”

OK, it's not quite like that, but I feel the same intimidation.

Once inside, I try to read all the new signs and get a feel for what I am supposed to do when it comes to physical distancing.

There are a lot of arrows. Arrows that point you in one direction, so you don’t meet up with another shopper in the same aisle. 

I realize now I was previously an up-and-down-every-aisle shopper. I always checked every one, even if I didn’t need what was in that section. True shoppers will understand!

The other day, I was petrified I would be called out for going the wrong way. I was attempting to follow the arrows when they trailed off.

I panicked.

“Where’d the arrows go?!”   

I stopped dead before reversing and doing a complete walkaround and backtrack so I was still going the right way. This is the grocery-store equivalent of roundabouts and you know how I feel about those!

I have been speaking with a lot of friends who admit to being chastised by cashiers.

One conversation went like this:

“I got scolded by the hot deli lady for not standing behind the red line.”

“Wait, was the deli lady hot or was she in the hot deli?”

“No, the hot deli lady was not hot. She was actually cranky.”

“So, let me get this straight. The non-hot hot deli lady yelled at you for not standing behind the line? How could she even see your feet over the meat?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t even see a line there.”

“Well, I guess we have to always look down.”

The struggle is real, people!

For goodness sake, do not put your items on the conveyor belt before the customer ahead is completely done. I am used to unloading quickly for efficiency, but now we are required to space out our products, too. I got reprimanded for that, too. (I get it — they are disinfecting between orders.)

Please understand, I have no issues with the procedures at all. The grocery store workers are doing an amazing job. I am sincerely grateful. Everybody can have a bad day. I think they are stressed out and learning, too. They are probably dealing with ever-changing guidelines, too.

I really like the power of the plexiglass. I think those should stay even after the COVID-19 shutdown is lifted.

I did laugh the other day, though, when I had unloaded my food and was waiting to pay through the money hole in the glass. I stepped to the right to start loading my goods.

“Please stay behind the glass,” exclaimed the clerk.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Of course.” And I shuffled the two steps back.

But seconds later, I was back the two steps again to pack my goods. I’m not quite sure how I spared her any germs in that little dance.

Still, happy to do it.

I was recently at Giant Tiger where the manager was directing us to the next open cashier and said these words:

“Please step up to the giant green paw print and wait.”

I giggled. He did not.

I guess there is not much laughter in the grocery business these days.

It is just a lot to remember for all of us.

Pretty soon, I’m sure customers and staff will all get accustomed to the different ways to do business.

For now, let’s all be patient and kind. 

Pay attention to signs and arrows.

Don't shriek and jump back in horror if someone passes by.

Keep your mind in the game, your eyes on the prize, and tread lightly around the hot deli lady.


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About the Author: Wendy King

Wendy King writes about all kinds of things from nutrition to the job search from cats to clowns — anything and everything — from the ridiculous to the sublime. Watch for Wendy's column weekly.
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