Sunday, 15 May 2016

Do women clog up supermarkets?

It’s a well-known fact, or popularly accepted prejudice – the two notions are synonymous – that women, through their tendency to natter endlessly with each other, are the main reason why shopping clogs up, turning the process into a sluggish, nerve-grinding, exasperating nightmare.

What’s certainly true is that there are two schools of thought towards shopping. One views the experience as essentially pleasurable: the retail therapy school, I suppose. The other sees it as a strict necessity, to be borne because it can’t be avoided, but to be completed in the shortest possible time. Retail utilitarians, you might say.

I may have been too heavily influenced by my own strict and wholehearted adherence to the latter school when I tended to associate it more with men, and the former more with women. So when I turned up at the fish counter in that fine establishment made available to the British supermarket-goer by Mr Sainsbury, I was delighted to see only one person there before me, and he a man.

Surely my wait would not be long, I surmised.

And I couldn’t have been further from the truth.

It seems that the man ahead of me had decided to prepare a paella for his “mate” who was coming to visit him and had expressed a taste for that iconic Spanish dish.

Paella. It may be to your taste or it may not.
Either way, it takes a long time. Sadly, mine too, apparently
“He’s quite a cook himself, and I want to show him that I can make something good to eat too.”

When buying food it strikes me that the best thing is to just buy the stuff and go. If you have to talk about it, surely that should only be to ensure that you’re buying the right thing, if you need any reassurance on the matter. Explaining your motives? Isn’t that more appropriate in the presence of a counsellor than a fishmonger?

To my horror, this particular fishmonger seemed genuinely interested. Well, either that or he was an excellent actor. Could anyone possibly really want to know about some stranger’s first excursion into the hardly inspiring realm of paella preparation?

“Will you be cooking this indoors or outdoors, then?”

It turns out that, much to his regret, it would be indoors. “I was tempted to buy one of those gas-jet outdoor stoves, but can one justify the investment for something you’re only going to use a couple of times a year?”

I couldn’t say. But I was hoping was that he’d spare us the full business case.

“Of course, I did think about using the barbecue but, you know, you’ve got no control of the heat, do you?”

By now he’d decided on some of the ingredients he needed.

“I could do with some scallops.”

The fishmonger pointed at a bowl with a small number still left.

“Will you take all of those?”

“Could you weigh them, please, and tell me how much theyd be? I’m also trying to work to a budget here.”

It turned out that the price was bearable, so he had a second weighing including all the stock available, and decided budget would extend to cover the lot.

“And now some cod, please.”

The whole piece? No, this time we were beyond our budgetary constraints. The fishmonger cut the piece in two. Were we taking the bigger piece or the smaller?

Sadly, at this stage I’m unable to remember which he went for. An anaesthetising numbness had seized my brain and, devoted though I am to faithful recording history, I can no longer provide this vital detail of the unfolding Paella saga.

“Thanks very much,” he said cheerfully, picking up his two packets and getting ready to leave.

“Oh, prawns!” he exclaimed, “do you have any prawns?”

They were in a bowl prominently displayed in the ice-decked case. But the fishmonger, the soul of courtesy towards a client, merely pointed them out without making any remark about his apparent blindness.

“I’ll have half a dozen.”

Now it was the fishmonger who suffered an attack of momentary blindness.

“I’m sorry. I just can’t seem to find the price tag. It’s vanished.”

They were both staring bemusedly into the case, so I couldn’t resist intervening.

“It’s not that price tag there, is it?” I asked, “the one stuck in the ice next to the bowl of prawns? The one marked ‘prawns’?”

It turned out to be the right tag. The fishmonger weighed and priced the half dozen.

“Oh, I don’t know, I’ll take the lot,” said the customer.

Finally, the three packets had been sealed and priced. The customer had carefully looked through the display case and clearly decided there was nothing else he needed. He picked up his bags and started to move away.

“Have you got the San Miguel to go with the paella?” asked the fishmonger.

Oh, Lord. There followed another long and highly-informed conversation on various beers, their respective qualities and their greater suitability, or not, to accompany paella. The worst of it? It was clearly mutually fascinating to both participants.

So gone are my prejudices about women in supermarkets. Next time, I want to be in a queue with women who know what they want to buy and get on with buying it. Served, I hope, by a woman behind the counter who resists any temptation to inquire into their motivations and drinking habits.

The worst of it? I’ve never liked paella. And I’m not fond of San Miguel either.

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