Generally speaking, I enjoy grocery shopping – the piles of fresh produce, the seasonal displays, the cute helium balloons tied to the check-out lanes.
But if I had to choose whether to go to a busy grocery store on a Sunday afternoon or have a surprise root canal, I’d have to think about it. I’m not sure which one is more uncomfortable. At least you get some numbing medication with the root canal, maybe even some laughing gas.
But no one is laughing when they’re stuck in a shopping cart traffic jam in the cereal aisle. Why is it so maddening on busy weekends? Two words: Spatial awareness.
Experts say spatial awareness is “an organized knowledge of objects including oneself, in a given space.” The problem with a busy store is that it’s often overrun with people who have almost zero spatial awareness.
If you’ve ever attempted to navigate down a crowded aisle only to be blocked by someone standing in the smack dab middle of it (with their cart parked diagonally), you’ve seen this phenomenon in action. The problem is not that the person is standing in the middle of the aisle. The problem is that said person seems to have NO idea there are other people in the store who might also need to walk down that aisle.
Before I go further, I should point out an important distinction when it comes to those who are spatially unaware. There are two groups – the “temporarily clueless” and the “chronic offenders.”
I fully admit to being temporarily clueless in the store at times. Sometimes I get lost in my head as I stare into a sea of 15 different applesauce variations. We’ve all done it.
What I’ve found is that, if you encounter a temporarily clueless person blocking the way, a subtle clearing of the throat is usually all it takes to help them resurface into reality and realize you’re there. If that shopper has manners, he or she will often say “Sorry!” and step aside. Then you reply with a cheerful “No problem!” and continue down the aisle like civilized people whose mamas raised them right.
But sometimes the aisle blocker is so unyielding that you have to go beyond the quiet cough and ramp up to the polite “Excuse me. May I get by?” How the shopper reacts to that question tells you whether or not he or she is a chronic offender. Because the chronic offenders will not be apologetic for standing in everyone’s way. Instead, they will look up at you with disdain and disgust, as if you’re a bothersome fly they’d like to shoo away – as if you have some nerve for attempting to get tomato sauce at the same time they’re getting tomato sauce.
Chronic offenders will purposefully take up space in a way that says “I own this aisle. This is mine. I will stand here as long as I want. Ye shall not pass until I have looked at every package of Rice-a-Roni and checked the incoming text message on my phone.”
That kind of attitude is why I avoid shopping during peak traffic hours. The more people there are in a store, the more likely it is you’ll encounter chronic offenders who will make you want to hurl a ripe avocado at their heads.
In a civilized society, we must remember that we’re all in this grocery store together. We make room for each other. We get things off the top shelf for people who can’t reach. We scoot our carts over so someone else can look at the taco shells, too. We’re spatially aware of others in the bread aisle.
It’s like our great-grandmothers always said: If you can’t shop nicely, stay home and order pizza.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.