I have my own personal little Murphy’s Law that has plagued me for years. It happened again today, but it did not surprise me in the least. I’m used to it. When I go shopping for groceries, there will almost always be someone standing directly in front of the item I want in my cart.
Sometimes the person is standing in such a way that it is impossible to politely reach over and take the item off the shelf. And other times the person is just nearby but as I approach they s-l-i-d-e over so they are perfectly placed to prevent my reach. And then there is the power shopper that comes charging down the aisle with their cart, intimidating me in my approach, only to come to a screeching halt…right in front of the thing that I want.
It’s not just a brief interaction, either! Somehow no matter what sort of hurry they may have been in, the item-blockers turn into statues of indecision when they reach their stopping place. They plant themselves firmly in front of the shelves, using their cart as a buffer, and slowly scan the shelves. All movement comes to a halt, and time seems to stand still.
That brings me to an awkward period of time in which I stand just to the side, pretending to scan the shelves in front of me just as intently, because it seems rude to stare at the blocker-shopper or at the item that I want. Surely they will take what they need and move on, saving us both the embarrassment of jockeying for position! I linger in the noodles, pretend to be absorbed by the many choices of Pop Tarts, and count the different kinds of peanut butter on the shelf, all in an effort to nonchalantly wait out the situation. I know I could just say “excuse me” and reach past anyway, but the look on the faces of the blocker-shoppers is almost always a cross between grim determination and mild annoyance. They do not look approachable or forgiving, as a general rule. Is grocery shopping supposed to be this intense?
The aisle can be completely empty of people, save for the one shopper who is standing right in front of my shelf. Other times it becomes a crazy chain reaction of competition from aisle to aisle, the other shopper reaching my spot JUST ahead of me every time. How does this happen? Can she see my list? What sort of torture is this?
I have abandoned my order of aisles and skipped down my list to go to a less populated part of the store. I have picked something I do not want to buy just to look like I am legitimately staring at a nearby shelf and not just lurking until they move. I have subtly (and then not so subtly) leaned in a little closer while waiting if it goes on too long. I have actually given in and said “excuse me” and reached for my item. (Sometimes it turns into an exchange of “excuse me’s” while we dart around each other like nervous, suspicious fish in a bowl.) But all the while I just want to know— why does this happen to me? Am I the only person who shops with this anxiety? I must certainly look like the most socially awkward shopper in the store…