Delay and inconvenience
The other day I decided to buy fruit and vegetables, not at the supermarket, but at the local independent greengrocer and fishmonger that has stood on Beeston High St for over a century. It is a friendly and excellent local institution (pretty advanced in non-use of plastic bags, incidentally) and I should go there more often.
It took me a little while to get in the door, because not only are there stalls outside, but on this particular day there were several parents with buggies, including one particularly wide one whose driver didn’t seem to realise how much she was blocking the entrance. The situation was described good-humouredly and accurately as a “traffic jam” by waiting shoppers. No one got cross, but this reminded me of a post I had planned a while back.
When I shop, alas more often, in a supermarket, I can usually get in quickly, and sail up and down the aisles without much disruption, other than conversation with friends I may happen to meet.
With my little basket or rather bigger trolley, I then roll towards a checkout, usually preferring the ones manned by humans, rather than the machines which will humiliate me for putting an unexpected item in the bagging area.
Sometimes there are people in front of me, and I have to wait for my turn to be served. This is an opportunity to make conversation with others in the line, or analyse the contents of their trolleys, or just sail away on the waves of aimless thought. But one doesn’t want to sail too long, because time is precious, and is there any more annoying way of spending time than standing in a queue?
But wait, it gets worse. The check-out assistants may need to change shift. The previous customer may be a slow payer or packer. One of their items may have lost its barcode. Or I may just have chosen a busy time, and find four or five people in front of me. Thursday afternoon is not the best time for Sainsbury’s, but I keep forgetting.
I get delayed, and my time is precious. I get cross.
Of course, instead of quietly fuming, I could use the opportunity to practise and develop the virtue of patience, one of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. If I had a very Biblical mindset, I might even be grateful for the training in holiness that this kind of minor annoyance provides.
The supermarket probably doesn’t expect me to, and so it searches for ways to cut the queues. It may send out a tannoy appeal: “All trained checkout operatives report to the cash desk”. It may employ someone to scurry about, directing customers to the quieter checkouts. According to a Tesco advert a while back, some shops have an actual policy of opening a new till if there’s too long a queue (how does this work? Do they have the staff, or don’t they?)
These policies are wise, because if Tesco (or Aldi or Waitrose or Iceland) gets a name for shorter queues than Sainsbury’s (or Morrison’s or the Co-op or Lidl), customers, other things being equal, are likely to go there. Customers do not give brownie points to shops that train them in patience.
These days, an irritation or a delay or a traffic jam is something to be solved, preferably by someone else. It is not a means of mortifying the flesh, and disciplining the soul, as our ancestors might perhaps have thought.
(When I went on holiday to Japan recently, it was very tempting to think that about 48 hours at each end of the trip were wasted, being largely taken up in travel. Bus, hired car, train, plane, security, airport stuff including a five-hour delay…
What a waste of time.
Yes, I am so spoilt that I think travelling from Nottingham across the world in two days is tedious. Two hundred years ago, how far could I have travelled in one day? A bit further than Derby?)
As a consumer, I want other people to give me everything I want, instantly. The desire is natural. But is it healthy? Shouldn’t we all start to get used to waiting longer, having less choice (especially of seasonal products), regarding long-distance travel as a rare luxury that takes time as well as money?
But it’s still to the supermarket’s advantage to pander to our impatience, rather than encourage us to be patient.
And there’s another side of the coin, which is that improving people’s lives is a good thing, and in the case of medicine, a life-saving thing. But that’s enough for one post.
Love from the PPI Blogger
PS Due to holidays, the blog will take a break for two weeks.