Friday, February 09, 2007

an incident that happened at the supermarket yesterday; or: how i made my millions

WARNING: this is a lot of reading for possibly very little reward. But I spent way too long writing it to not post it.

So, before heading home last night I popped into Souths, the supermarket near work. It was close to closing time so I RUSHED, all business-like, to and fro through the aisles and grabbed what I needed – chiefly lemons, for a grain mustard, honey, olive oil and lemon juice salad dressing, if you must know. But I also got razor blades (to SHAVE MY MANLY STUBBLE), milk, juice (varieties thereof), yoghurt, pumpkin, a capsicum (red), toothpaste and dental floss. This will be covered in the exam.

On getting to the cashiers, I discovered something I should’ve predicted: long queues of people with overflowing shopping trolleys (which, given the propensity for sachet marketing in the Philippines, means Avogadro’s number of items per trolley). There were but 3 lanes (out of about 15) open. The 10-items-or-less-fewer lane was staffed but the checkout chick (they’re ALL chicks in the Philippines – I’ve never once seen a bloke on checkout) had her little ‘closed’ sign up anyway. An Inadequate number of open checkouts is infuriating any time, but particularly so here, where supermarkets – businesses in general – employ what people back home would consider a ridiculously and unnecessarily large staff. The low cost of labor is obviously a major reason – but why managers choose to have 10 shelf-stacker boys to every customer and the reverse ratio for checkout chicks is a mystery to me.

Being an overbearing westerner, I thought I’d make a probably-futile but polite point. I asked the girl in the 10-items-or-less-fewer lane if she could ask her manager to open another lane. She apologised and informed me that there were only three lanes open. I declined to say that, yes, that was the point. But I did ask where her manager was, and went and (politely) asked if she could open another lane. When she saw I only had a basket, she said I could go through the 10-items-or-less-fewer lane. This was a surprising victory (myriad rules and laws are flagrantly ignored here; taking more than 10 items through the 10-items-or-less-fewer lane is not one of them).

I happily slipped back to the 10-items-or-less-fewer lane and the checkout chick started ringing up my stuff.

When she was almost finished, a man came up with a meager two items. The girl informed him I was the last customer and he needed to join the back of the big, ugly queues. Being an INCREDIBLY MAGNANIMOUS person (and thinking it was idiotic to make the poor bloke line up for 20 minutes for two items with a combined cost of about a dollar), I said he could put them through with my stuff and just pay me. His English wasn’t great and he didn’t really understand, so I told the girl to put them through. She asked if I was sure and I said yes (I didn’t see much potential for any great loss on my part).

So she rung them up and the guy, still not quite getting it, thrust his 50 pesos (around US$1) at her. She took it and gave it to me. He looked a bit worried about this but didn’t say anything. I checked the price of the guy’s stuff (actually closer to 60 pesos) to make sure I didn’t owe him any change. Checkout girl then had to go and swipe my card at the machine half-way down the other end of the supermarket.

While she was gone, I handed the guy his things, expecting a thanks (nothing else – just a quick ta mate, goodonya) and, possibly, an offer to pay the extra few pesos to me (which I intended to refuse) before he departed. But he just stood there looking away from me. After 30 seconds or so I asked if everything was OK. He didn’t respond, so I asked again and he muttered “OK.” I was sort of pissed off by now – I didn’t want a medal, but I just saved the guy 20 minutes in a queue and gave him a discount; a thanks wasn’t too much to hope for.

I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt for the time-being, thinking maybe he needed the receipt and was just a bit shy with a big funny-lookin’ foreigner who didn’t speak his language.

Checkout girl finally arrived back. I signed the credit card slip and she gave me the receipt. Then, at last, my man spoke – asking (in Tagalog, but even I could understand it) how much his stuff cost. I told him, 60 pesos. He suddenly smiled and looked a bit awkward and started digging around in his pocket for change. I told him it was OK and he eventually muttered something that I think was a genuine (if shy) thankyou. Then he left.

He was right to be suspicious though: I’ve made my millions by skimming a few pesos off unsuspecting supermarket shoppers in the Philippines.


Blogger Lone Gopher said...

Story aside, SW - The secret is to go out by the liquor. There's never anyone there. If it's not manned you wink at the girl by the stationary. Problem solved.

Seriously, you Robinson-people really don't know your way around.

And good luck with the mustard-dressing.


3:07 pm  

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