Repost: Guidelines for Efficient and Effective Grocery Shopping

A shopping cart filled with bagged groceries l...
Image via Wikipedia

While transferring groceries from the shopping cart to my car this afternoon, I remembered the following post, which appeared on Whiskertips last year.

Specifically, I remembered sections 10.1 and 10.2, concerning the connection between heat index and the propriety of leaving one’s shopping cart right in the middle of someone else’s potential parking space.

Today’s heat index was ‘way above 85, and it took all the energy I had to be a good citizen and march that cart back to where it belonged.

While marching, I remembered a few other things I’d written. And from the distance of fifteen months, some of them seemed rather opinionated. Sharp. Pointed. Callous. Mean-spirited. Churlish. Malicious. Downright nasty.

Not too nasty, however, to keep me from re-posting here.


While reviewing Pat Hoglund’s Have I Got a Story for You, I was impressed by how similar Ms. Hoglund and I are in our approach to grocery shopping. We both want to get in and out of the store as soon as possible.

For several years, I’ve been compiling a list of guidelines for grocery shopping. I offer them here for your edification.

How to Shop for Groceries

1.0      Produce

1.1      If you have to examine every single green bean before selection, you should not be buying green beans. Wait until a fresh crop comes in. See section 6.1.

1.2      There is no such thing as a perfect apple, orange, tangerine, tomato, lemon, onion, potato…I could go on ad infinitum. Unless it’s markedly discolored or mushy to the touch, take it and move along. See section 6.1.

2.0      Everything else

2.1      It doesn’t matter whether you get the potato chips or the Doritos. If the kids don’t like them, let them eat broccoli. Put something in your basket and move along. See section 6.1.

2.2      Section 2.1 applies to everything else the store sells except cottage cheese.

3.0      Cottage cheese

3.1      When buying cottage cheese in a plastic carton, take off the lid and check the seal underneath before putting the carton into your cart. People will look at you funny but any embarrassment you experience will shrink in reverse proportion to the disgust you’ll feel at home when you remove the lid and curds schloop down the side.

3.2      If you find the seal broken, do not replace the carton in the dairy case for someone else to buy. Other people don’t want it either. Hand it to a store employee and explain.

4.0      Cell phones

4.1      Do not use your cell phone while shopping.

4.2     In an emergency, calling home to ask a grocery-related question is marginally acceptable, but step out of the flow of traffic until the conference has concluded, and do not block shelves. See section 6.1.

4.3      When observing section 4.2, do not look directly at me, because that makes me think you’re talking to me, and I’m tired of feeling foolish for answering the questions you aim at me.

5.0      MP3 players

5.1      If you insist on walking through the store with those little buttons jammed into your ears, at least turn down the volume so other shoppers don’t have to listen to the bop-bop-bop.

5.2      Pay attention to your surroundings. The littlest of blue-haired ladies will exhibit aisle rage when stepped on by a person one-third her age.

6.0      Physical activity

6.1      When a shopper with a determined glint in her eye comes charging down the aisle toward you, do not just stand there mulling over Campbell’s versus Progresso. Get out of the way. Some people get most of their physical activity between the celery and the tortillas, and slowing down to avoid hitting you also slows their heart rate. Other people just want to get home. Furthermore, unless you’re making green bean casserole, buy the Progresso. The tomato basil is good.

7.0      Children

7.1      Corral your children. See section 6.1.

8.0      Socializing

8.1      When you meet the best friend you haven’t seen since last Friday, repair to the coffee shop for a tete-a-tete. See section 6.1.

9.0      Checkout

9.1      At the checkout, do not line up behind a woman* with children. Women with children are too distracted to have their cash, check, or credit card ready when it’s time to pay. It’s also possible they’ve sent one of the children back to the aisles to find something they forgot, in which case they probably chose the least obedient, the most distractible, or the one with the lowest reading level.

*The term woman is intended to be inclusive. Seeing a man in charge of children at the grocery store is so rare, at least in my experience, that I consider woman the more acceptable term.

9.2      At checkout, do not line up behind anyone who smokes.** The smoker will ask for a pack of cigarettes, and the cashier will have to either open the little safe above her head or walk the length of the store to access the vault where tobacco products are stored.

**I have no idea how to identify people who smoke. Just do your best.

9.3      At checkout, do not line up behind anyone holding a cell phone. This rule is self-explanatory.

9.4      At checkout, do line up behind men. Unless they smoke, men pay and leave quickly.

9.5     At checkout, do line up behind older people, even those who look like they will take forever. And be nice. You’ll get there yourself someday.

9.6      Have cash, check, or credit card ready as soon as possible after your order is rung up.

9.7      Smile at the cashier and the sacker. They’ve been on their feet all day waiting for people to get out their cash, checks, and credit cards, and to finish their cell phone conversations.

10.0   Parking lot

10.1   Leave the shopping cart in the cart return.

10.2   If heat index is above 85 degrees, feel free to ignore section 10.1.

10.3   In observing section 10.2, secure cart so it cannot run amok.

10.4   When leaving the parking lot, turn right. Do not attempt to turn left across traffic. Going around the block is faster than waiting for an opportunity to avoid being broadsided.

Although the above list is extensive, it is by no means exhaustive. I will post further suggestions as they occur to me. I would also be happy to hear from any readers who care to add guidelines I’ve not included. Feel free to list them in the comments section following this post.


Day 17: Perpetual writing

I never quite know when I’m not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, “Damnit, Thurber, stop writing.” She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, “Is he sick?” “No,” my wife says, “he’s writing something.” ~ (James Thurber, in an interview with George Plimpton and Max Steele. Paris Review, Fall 1955)

Surrounded by crucifers, I calculated the odds that today’s cauliflower would make it to the dinner table rather than mummify in that mausoleum otherwise known as the vegetable crisper.

Candy to left of me, Cosmo to right, I pondered twenty-seven ways to lose fifty pounds by Thanksgiving and ninety-two prescriptions for gaining it back.

Crossing the parking lot, I put in a grocery store between the hair salon and the antique shop.

Then I hired a manager.

Joelle currently does cuts and perms–she was Margaret, the assistant postmaster, before youthening and changing her name and her career–but she could operate the grocery, which carries better stock than the Abomination out on the highway. And her husband, Scott, could take over when he retires.

I don’t know when Scott will retire. I’m not even sure his name is Scott. He used to be Herb, the postmaster. He took that job just before Margaret turned into Joelle. But he’s awfully straight-laced, and Scott suggests a certain amount of elasticity…

Grocery shopping isn’t the only endeavor that detours into writing. Sometimes I’m in the shower. Sometimes I’m driving to an appointment.

In the middle of a romantic birthday dinner at the Clay Pit, I erupted: “Ooh! I just thought of somebody else I can kill!”

That’s not the way to win friends and influence people, especially if you’re seated in the little room downstairs, where voices ricochet off stone  and land in the neighbors’ chicken korma.

No matter. People look at me funny, and they think I’m scatterbrained, and rude, and some no doubt think I’m criminal.

But there is one advantage to this perpetual writing, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Ever since fifth grade, when I heard a high school prose reading contestant perform “The Night the Bed Fell,” I’ve aspired to write like James Thurber.

And now, if I think about it in just the right way, I can say that I do.