Thursday, July 31, 2008

Life in the Aisle

I’ve always found it somewhat interesting to go grocery shopping, and I’ve never thought about why that is until today. There’s a certain representation of society right down the aisles, which intrigues those who like to observe people – those who were, perhaps, sociologists and anthropologists in some other life.

In one sense, there’s a certain shared identity. You look in a person’s grocery cart and you get a glimpse of that person’s life. Microwavables, Twisties, beer. Diapers, toilet rolls, talcum powder. Curtains, pillow covers, mugs. Plus, you’re automatically in a anonymous community once you spend more time in one aisle than the next. Take a moment to look at badminton rackets… or tap fixtures, and you have a connection to the person who is picking out shuttlecocks or a water heater. You don’t have to say hello, you don’t have to sign up for a match, which would be particularly weird with the taps and all, but you know where you are. And if there is ever a need reinforce your identity as a Malaysian, you know that just about everyone in the store is going to stop by the Maggi and Milo sections before the day is over.

You put something in your grocery cart and though you haven’t purchased it yet, you’ve marked it as your own. Someone can’t exactly decide that his watermelon is not as good as the one in your cart and trade, now can he? And yet in that sense you can leave your cart and walk around to get something else, and know that no one is going to do that behind your back – well, not here anyway. Different sort of deal if you have the last Wii in a BestBuy, but then that’s the charm of it – no one is out to sell you something they can’t afford themselves. Shopping complexes on the other hand have assistants who are promoting products they wouldn't get themselves. I'd prefer to trust the fish monger who looks like he may have eaten a fish recently.

Even the way you get around a supermarket says something. There are the meticulous who systematically go aisle by aisle - who also have a scheduled time and day for shopping. Then there are people like me, who jump, skip and hop and don't even pretend they have a plan.

Of course they'll be a return to reality as the various shopping carts race for the finish line, cut queue and with a flick of a card illustrate how capitalism still thrives. But while we're still rolling down the aisles instead of waiting in them, there's a glimpse of the parts of society we might do well to breathe in, and hold for a moment in time.

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