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The Supermarket from Hell

Updated on March 29, 2013
Supermarket, Serbia
Supermarket, Serbia | Source
Bah Humbug Larry
Bah Humbug Larry | Source

Forced to be 'nice'?

There are two supermarkets near where I currently reside. Both have large selections. One of the supermarkets is a part of small, local chain. But most of the time, I shop at the nearer one, which is part of a very large chain, and shall remain nameless. It's only a kilometer away. When I need to buy a few small items, I enjoy walking there, but I don't particularly enjoy being inside.

More than a decade ago, I noticed a friendly older gentleman in the produce section, and he would always say hello. A few years later, all of the employees were trying to get in on the act.

However the overall body language, and the vocal tones were not consistent with the friendly image that they were trying to project. In one instance, a young employee convoyed a 'friendly' message as he approached, and walked past.

Two minutes later, the same employee approached from the opposite direction, and gave the exact same message. It would be slightly less annoying if the employees wore special audio devices on their belts, which would play a pre-recorded 'friendly' message whenever they pushed a button.

My first inclination was to ask if he had been smoking something. Actually, that's not quite true. I didn't think of this response until well after I had left the store. Most of the time, I'm retrospectively witty, and fail to rise to the occasion.

A more reasonable explanation was that the employees were being 'forced' to be 'friendly'; hence the title of this section. Apparently, Upper Management, in its infinite wisdom, decided that they could boost market share, by creating an atmosphere of fake friendliness.

My guess is that the company had emphasized this in their training sessions. Then they hired a few spies to rat out rank-and-file employees at the various supermarkets. If any employee was caught walking past a customer without saying something 'friendly', he or she would receive a demerit. If an individual employee received three strikes, he'd be shipped off to Siberia.

The most annoying question that the supermarket employees ask is, "Can I help you find something?" when it should have been obvious to anyone with even rudimentary social skills that I was not trying to find anything at the moment. For example, I may have been kneeling on one knee, trying to read the list of ingredients on the package of a food item.

I feel that it's polite to look at the person with whom I'm speaking. But when I'm kneeling on one knee, it's a bloody nuisance to turn around, in order to respond to a person who's directly behind me, asking a stooopid insincere question.

Once, a female employee asked me that question in similar circumstance. My response was: Yes, I'm trying to find an employee with good manners. Then she just stood there with her robotic pasted-on smile, giving no indication that she had understood what I was trying to say.

Peanut butter \
Peanut butter \ | Source
World War I era jackboots.
World War I era jackboots. | Source

Short-changing with a smile?

This happens about 25% of the time with 'on-sale' items at that very same supermarket. Apparently, the employees delay taking 'on-sale' signs down after the cash registers are reprogrammed to ring up the regular price. Whadayaknow? A sale that's not a sale!

Are these frequent incidents accidental oversights? I don't think so. Most customers buy many more food items at a time than I do, and they don't have time to scrutinize their receipts. Most of the time, they don't know when they're being overcharged.

Here's another cute trick that involves the manufacturer, as well as the supermarket. A few years ago, I clipped the discount coupon from a package of baking chocolate that I had just finished using. At my next purchase, which included a new package of baking chocolate, I presented the coupon at the check-out counter.

After paying for the groceries, I walked a few steps, and took a close look at the receipt. Instead of receiving a discount on the new package of baking chocolate, I was charged for two packages! What's up with that?

The bar code for the price is on the outside of the package. The bar code for the discount was on the inside of the package, directly under the first bar code. The clerk had scanned the bar code for price on the 'money-saving' coupon!

The overwhelming majority of the 'errors' have been in favor of the supermarket. I'd expect that more of the errors--if they were truly random--would be in my favor.

When I confront the supermarket employees about the overcharging, they do not show any outward signs of embarrassment, or even surprise. To their credit, the clerks do make it right when I point out the facts.

On one such occasion, I pointed out that I'd been over-charged on peanut butter. The clerk ordered me to stay put while she checked to see if the on-sale signs were still up. I've seen employees with better manners at the Department of Motor Vehicles!

Since I don't take orders from supermarket employees, I followed her to the aisle in question, where she verified that I was correct.

On a more recent occasion, I walked to the supermarket on a cool, foggy evening in the late Fall. I was sniffling, because of the humidity. When it was my turn in the check-out line, the cashier extended her arm, and a lozenge of some kind was in the palm of her hand. "Here, eat this!" she barked. Had I just been time-warped from Northern California to New York City?

So much for 'friendly' employees.

Hey Management! I have a few suggestions.

•Stop trying to cheat your customers.

•If you really want your pushy employees to be taken seriously when they attempt to order customers around, you should require that they sport gray uniforms, with the trousers tucked into the tops of their jackboots.

•Better still, stop training your employees to be rude. Instead, encourage them to emulate the polite employees at the other supermarket in my neighborhood.

On second thought, that would be too sensible.


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    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 4 years ago from Northern California

      Hi Will. Nice to hear from you again.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona


      And it's so true!

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 4 years ago from Northern California

      Hi Nell. Great minds think alike!

      I'm slightly surprised that you've had similar experiences. English people have a reputation for more politeness than we in-your-face Americans. Is another urban legend about to bite the dust? Gasp!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Marked this up funny because you reminded me of, well, me! haha! I hate it too! if an assistant says, can I help you? while following me around the shop I just walk out! I am older than them, with an IQ of over 140, I think I can find a pair of socks! lol! but yes the plastered on smile, the pathetic attempts to help people, drives me insane!