You want to see humans behaving badly? Go to the supermarket. Thanks to COVID, we’ve taken our avocado molesting, cashew eating trolley rage up a few notches.
Covid has created a new normal of divided beliefs and uncertainty. Tolerance is something we have for gluten, not other people. Where we used to get angry in the confines of our car, now we’re angry in the shops.
In a world that is topsy turvy, the one place we still have some agency is the supermarket. Apart from an hour walking with a friend of your choosing, (or someone hostage to your bubble), it’s our major social outing. We’re out. We’re entitled to it. And we’ve just found a group of people we deem ‘below’ us: the staff. Seeing as the government is telling us what to do, here’s our chance to lord it over someone else.
It’s part of the ‘customer is always right’ approach.
Also known as the ‘customer is occasionally a right twat.’
I have a friend who is a supervisor in a store that belongs to one of the big supermarket chains. She’s had a corporate career and these days enjoys a pretty cruisy role as a store supervisor. Well cruisy pre-pandemic. These days she’s a frontline worker in a war zone. The other day she went home and wept. That’s not something she ever does. It’s a covid cry.
She says ‘people are screaming at me from both sides’.
On entering a supermarket customers are asked to wear a mask, QR in and sanitise their hands. Not everyone does it. You want to see who the Freedom Fighters are? Unless they are medically exempt, they’re the person in the store without a mask. The maskers want the anti-maskers to wear a mask. Therein lies the conundrum. They ain’t gonna. They’re angry, so they have a go at the staff. ‘Are you going to make him wear a mask?’
The staff are not Public Health Police. A 16-year-old kid who works a four hour shift after school isn’t able to make someone wear a mask if they don’t want to wear a mask. That isn’t on the HSC syllabus. They are so shy they can barely say ‘Hello, how are you today?’. By the way, when did you last ask staff in your supermarket how they are today?
So in comes the Supervisor, ‘Could you wear a mask please sir?’
And suddenly, it’s game on. ‘You have no right to ask me.’
There’s an argument about sovereign rights over near the eggplants.
It just feels weird to be talking about sovereignty in a supermarket. I don’t think that’s part of the corporate model. They don’t have sovereign rights, but they do have frequent flyers. Sovereign rights won’t get you a discount at the bottlo.
Every day my friend cops abuse. From people in masks and from people not in masks. So do her staff. It’s an atmosphere of constant aggression, and it’s taking its toll on the people at the till.
She says that engaging in this high conflict situation is above her pay grade. This is a job for the UN’s peacekeepers. Or the Taliban.
Supermarkets have to operate in accordance with public health orders, but they can’t make you do it. Darryl from the deli may be a black belt in slicing ham but he’s no ninja when it comes to crowd control. It is really up to the individual to comply.
Also, the staff do not make the rules. Gladys doesn’t call them up to create her covid strategy. They’re not ‘in on it’. You don’t see any of the fresh food people standing behind Gladys at the 11am press meets. Supermarket staff are also locked down, living under restrictions, and some are trying to finish their HSC. These people work in what has been identified as the most at-risk space for covid transmission, while all their friends are on disaster payments bingeing Netflix, they work a minimum wage dealing with angry people clearly intending to do some dry walling with toilet paper.
And that’s another thing that’s dong their head in; the panic buying. When the rules change suddenly everyone has decided society is crumbling and they better get one last big shop in. Usually on a Sunday, between 4 and 6. Here’s a tip. If you want to engage in what psychologists recognise as classic herd behaviour, do it on a Wednesday. Get your doomsday prepping in early.
Every new health directive is followed by a run on meat, carbs and bog paper. And cleaning products. People worry they’re never going to see a bottle of Harpic again.
So, here’s a few tips to make the lives of the supermarket staff a bit easier: Try and be compliant with health orders. Don’t take your anger out on them if someone else isn’t.
Don’t bitch about how uncomfortable your mask is when you’ve worn it for ten minutes. They wear theirs for the entire shift every day.
And smile. Even though it’s behind the mask, the love can still get through, while hopefully the virus doesn’t. And love’s got an R rate higher than Delta.