We don’t want to make you self-conscious or anything. But corner shopkeepers have rather more time to, um, assess their customers than the average supermarket check out. Although of course we all know that supermarkets monitor our every purchasing foible and impulse treat by means both transparent and nefarious.
We don’t (usually) judge you on your dress, or the way you speak, or whether you mind your ‘P’s and ‘Q’s (unless you are very rude). But we do carefully observe what you are buying. Because we are entitled to, if you think about it: the nature of your interface with the shop is entirely built upon what you take from it, and the shopkeeper is very much part of the transaction. Just as you surely judge a shop on its stock, so the shopkeeper is bound to determine certain things about you from the choices you make whilst in store.
There are two little games that one plays with the contents of a shopping basket. One is harmless fun, and involves the mental assemblage of the ingredients therein into some sort of repast. Sometimes it is pretty obvious what the customer’s plans are: preserved lemons + couscous = tagine for dinner; flour + eggs = cake for tea; pasta + olives = Italian tonight. But other combos are more challenging: barberries, + coconut milk, + Marmite, + olives; or soup noodles + rose water + dried parsley. The fun of devising a recipe comprising the entire contents of a shopping basket is not to be underestimated.
The other game is a little more complex, as we are straying into the field of psychometrics. Some shopping baskets paint more about a character or someone’s circumstances than a thousand words on an inane blogsite ever could: the lone pint of milk, together with a solitary bar of chocolate and several items from the reduced-for-quick-sale basket portrays a struggle, whilst the basket full of pickles says either ‘pregnant’ or ‘food fetish’. Incense and noodles? You’re a student. One of every spice we do? You’re a real foodie. And then occasionally a real conundrum is thrown up, perhaps in the form of a basket of resolutely organic ingredients with some Pringles and a Mars Bar on top. Or a selection of entirely ethnic stuff, topped with some Heinz baked beans and brown sauce.
Of course, these little games only serve to make the shopkeeper paranoid when visiting other shops (which they inevitably have to do occasionally). For every unit of alcohol purchased, for example, one feels constrained to compensate with an extra sprig of broccoli; for every bag of out-of-season cherries, one balances things out with a fair trade banana. And for every sachet of cat food (mad cat lady alert) one reaches for some cheese triangles and Red Bull (see? young and funky really). The alternative would be to wear a hat and sunglasses…