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Everyday Ethics


GroceryCart.jpg

Today in the grocery store checkout line, a regal-looking
elderly woman gave me a hard time. It burned me up so much I walked out of
there fuming and practically muttering to myself, rehashing the incident and
thinking, boy, when I get home, I am SO
gonna blog about this
.

Why? Because I felt unjustly accused, and I was caught
flatfooted without a good comeback line at the moment of confrontation. Here’s
what happened:

I was buying ingredients to make my famous matzoh ball soup, which I always get a yen to cook up when the seasons change and the weather turns crisp….

I’d been doing my best to observe proper New York City grocery store etiquette, which is, though unwritten, quite elaborately byzantine. (With real estate as pricy as it is here, the aisles are perilously narrow, the carts are tiny beyond what shoppers in the rest of America tend to find believable, and anyone who blocks access to the chips or beer for even a nanosecond is liable to be met with a death-ray glare. If you don’t believe me, try shopping at the Trader Joe’s on 14th Street. I dare you.) Observing proper protocol is not just a matter of good manners, it’s a matter of self-preservation in Manhattan. (This may explain why I prefer deliveries from Fresh Direct, but that’s a matter for another blog.)

I was already congratulating myself on a relatively smooth expedition. I’d been so good: I’d only used my cell phone where it would disturb no one–and only briefly, to check with my husband if he needed milk. I’d scrupulously attempted to keep my mini cart out of the way of baby carriages and other shoppers, ostentatiously waving them ahead of me in all instances, and only paused for the most fleeting of moments to swipe items like my much-needed dill from the pile of wilted, overpriced herbs, so as not to disrupt the flow of traffic. When in need of parsnips, I effusively thanked and praised the store manager who gallantly offered to go down to the store basement to check if they had any more. I was exerting every bit of good will I possessed to make my shopping experience as pleasant as possible for myself and all those around me.

All this with a blinding, nauseating migraine.

Then, Judgmental Lady rained on my parade.

I’d made it all the way to the checkout and gotten my items half scanned when the woman behind me (not the mean one) asked if she could lean her heavy water bottles on my cart. I asked her if she wanted to put them on the conveyor–I’d be happy to make room–but she said no, she was fine. So I concluded my business and was signing my receipt when I looked back and saw that another woman had taken her place behind me (apparently the first woman had swapped to another counter to check out). And THIS woman said to me, all snotty-like, “You’re SUPPOSED to push your cart out of the way when you’re finished.” (In NYC you don’t take it with you.)

I stuttered and stammered something like, “I was getting to that, don’t be so quick to judge,” but I really wanted to say, “Hey, lady, what’s the matter with you!!! Give me one gosh-darn-cotton-pickin’ minute, for cryin’ out loud, what the heck’s the matter with you, can’t you see I have a migraine and I’m gonna throw up on you any second and I’m just trying to get out of the store alive so I can cook dinner for my husband and have a nice weekend and why do you have to be so mean you old hag and pick on me!?”

But I didn’t. I went home, fuming impotently, and told my mom about the incident. She said, “You should have told the woman, “Try and make me.

Ha! That’s just one of the comebacks I was able to think of–later.

But really, what I’m trying to get at here is, why do we feel the need to justify ourselves to people when they misjudge us? What’s it to me if some cranky old lady at the store harasses me for two seconds? I ought to know my worth.

It’s all about the perception, I suppose. I didn’t want to be seen as someone who didn’t know how to behave in a grocery store; someone who wasn’t raised right. The interior knowledge ought to be enough, but man… sometimes you just want that Dorothy Parker way with a quip, right? Though, come to think of it, would it be ethical to snipe back at an old woman, just to make a point? What’s the high road to take here?

Sigh. At least I’ll have yummy soup to comfort me.

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