Christmas is coming and the queues at the supermarket tills are getting longer. I guess most people are like me and, as they approach the departure gates, quickly survey the situation and judge which queue will shorten fastest. Maybe this involves sophisticated unconscious calculation. I don’t know.
I do know – and this is not a prejudice, dear reader, but is based on the experience of shopping on my own in supermarkets ever since they were invented which, I quickly calculate, amounts to many thousands of times – I do know that the majority of my fellow citizens – and despite experience with this situation which I am sure is at least as extensive as mine - faff at supermarket tills. However impatiently they have waited their turn, when it comes to their turn they immediately forget what it is like for the people now standing behind them.
The high point is reached when it is time to pay. The goods have been scanned, deposited in bags and the check out person has summed up the bill. At this point, and only at this point, I estimate (based on extensive sampling) that 75% of people standing in front of me recognise the necessity – sometimes it seems to come as a complete surprise – of selecting a means of payment.
It is a rare individual (me) who has used the time spent queuing to extract cash from their pocket or plastic from their wallet and, if cash, within the guesstimated total of their purchases. (A note to young persons: when you have shopped thousands of times, you can get within 10% of your final bill just by glancing at your trolley).
Everyone else has to find a Wallet ( often at the bottom of a bag), and then find the Right Card buried in what are often truly remarkable hoards of Pointless Plastic – I can speak authoritatively about that since in the past I was guilty myself, carrying around my Video Shop card for several years after I stopped etc.
To return to the main topic. They faff. Despite years’ of experience, they are unprepared for this moment when you are asked to pay.These are not people with obvious disabilities. They often look younger than I do.
Indeed, I know that I don’t look young because even though I have my bag open and am already poised to gather my purchases as they pass across the scanner, I still get asked “Do you need help packing?” which irritates me though not so much because it makes me feel old as because I suspect I am asked because I am Male. I imagine that check out operators are told during their training that Males of a certain generation are, in general, incompetent shoppers unable to maneouvre cornflakes into a plastic bag.
It's like going to buy perfume. A beautiful young assistant will rush to your assistance, as if no Male could possibly know anything about Perfume. They may have girlfriends, wives, daughters or mistresses, but it is simply assumed that they have never looked at the bottles in the bathroom or learnt the difference between Perfume and Eau de Toilette.The assistants are told in their training that men can't tell their Arse from their Armani.
One of my fears about ageing is that there will come a moment when I am no longer efficient at the supermarket till, when I will need help packing, will forget about the need to pay, and will fumble my card or my cash. It is in such small failures that we lose much of what comprises our dignity.