Wednesday, May 14, 2014

One By One

Each time I go to the grocery store, I agonize over which queue to join.  Selecting the correct line in which to stand in is a challenge.  Somehow it seems I always stand in the wrong one.

I particularly loathe going to the grocery store here in Botswana.  There are many reasons for this.  First of all, it seems like it is perpetual chaos.  There are people everywhere, moving in every which direction.  Many walk right down the middle of an aisle, but no one walks in a straight line.  It’s as if everyone is drunk because they swerve from side to side.  Thus, walking in the middle of the aisle, while moving inconsistently, makes it nearly impossible for an expedient person (i.e. ME) to move around WWC (walking while confused) patrons.

Unfortunately the off kilter walking is only one part of the problem.  You also have to contend with the fact that apparently, no one intends to do anything aside from shop on this given day.  Most customers walk with no sense of urgency.  This translates into most people walking (on their feet) at the same pace with which I can probably walk on my hands.  I have never walked on my hands before, but if I did I’m sure I would move very slowly, making little if any progress.  There is no such thing as, “I’m just going to run in and buy a gallon of milk.  Wait in the car; I’ll be back in 5 minutes.”  Subjecting someone to “waiting in the car” means they will almost certainly die of heat exhaustion as they will no doubt be waiting all afternoon.

So, let’s say you manage to navigate a path through the drunken, slow walkers.  That’s great.  Except the store doesn’t have what you want.  A fun experiment- if you are feeling particularly patient and willing to accept mediocrity- is to ask a store employee for assistance.  I know I’ve discussed customer service before and the fact it is a foreign concept here.  Then there is the language barrier which is always interesting.  But as a general rule, no one appreciates questions because the customer is bothering them.  This means you will get a convoluted, nonsensical response.  Here’s an example: KVP: “Can you please tell me where I can find the milk?”  Store Clerk: “Blue.”  Exactly, nonsensical.

But truly, the worst part is the line.  Here’s how a line works in Botswana: customer gets to front of line having taken nothing out of his trolley (shopping cart).  One by one he takes an item out of the cart and places it in front of the cashier who scans it.  The customer watches the computer screen which keeps a running total of how much is owed.  When the customer reaches the limit of how much money he has in his pocket he abandons the cart IN ITS PLACE!  He doesn’t move it to the side.  He doesn’t apologize to the person behind him for leaving a half empty cart in his way.  He pays and walks away.

This is the result:

That’s right.  Some poor shop clerk is relegated to rounding up all the half empty carts deserted at check out.  My only issue with this practice is that there is no attention paid to perishable items.  There might be milk or butter or a frozen item sitting in a cart all day before someone from the store gets around to putting it back on a shelf.  I guess I should be happy I haven’t gotten food poisoning yet.  Of course, I am also happy that I don’t have to live so frugally that I can’t afford everything I want to purchase.

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