When I was a boy there were no supermarkets just a variety of High Street shops where mothers and housewives did the weekly shop. There were no electronic tills and no laser scanners and this made things a great deal simpler.
Last Sunday I went to the supermarket shortly after opening at ten o’clock to buy a newspaper and a few other bits and pieces (alcohol mostly) and I was surprised to find the store exceptionally busy. I hurtled around the aisles making my selections and made my way to the check outs only to discover a queue at every one and it was just my luck to choose the slow moving one because in front of me was a line of women none of whom were in a particular hurry.
Women are terrible at supermarket checkouts and this reminded me of one of my favourite Bill Bryson observations:
‘Although the store had only just opened there were long queues at the tills. I took a place in line behind eight other shoppers. They were all women and they all did the same mystifying thing: they acted surprised when it came time to pay. This is something that has been puzzling me for years. Women will stand there watching their items being rung up, and then when the till lady says, ‘that’s £4.20, love,’ or whatever, they suddenly look as if they have never done this sort of thing before. They go, ‘Oh!’ and start rooting in a flustered fashion in their handbag for their purse as if no-one had told them that this might happen.’
This queue was especially bad where each in turn waited for the request for payment before going through their shopping bag to get their handbag and then going through their handbag to get their purse and then taking an age agonising over method of payment. That’s after trying to find the Club Card that it hasn’t occurred to them might be a good idea to get ready either and then remembering from the recesses of their memory that they have got some vouchers hidden away somewhere in the back of the purse.
If that isn’t bad enough the ones that really irritate me are those who insist on trying to find exactly the right change, ‘just a minute’ they say ‘I think I might have the right money here’ (something which is highly unlikely!) and then rummage about assembling a handful of loose change from inside the lining of the purse, dropping it on the floor and searching for it, counting it out twice, just to make sure, discarding the odd Franc or Peseta that’s been in there for twenty years or so and then, after predictably failing to put the right amount of cash together, apologising for not having quite enough before going to a separate compartment in the purse to find another note. Why can’t they just pay with a £10 note in the first place? It is so much easier, believe me!
I watched with mounting frustration as all of the other queues seemed to be moving quicker than mine and cursed my poor judgement in selecting this one but then there was only one more shopper in front of me with only a couple of dozen items or so, so I decided against moving across to an alternative line. The goods started going through and the scanner was bleeping away at a reassuringly steady speed but before he had finished she stopped him and said that she wanted to pay for the goods in two separate transactions.
Why do people do that? Ok, she might have been getting some shopping for a neighbour or her mother or something but couldn’t she just work it out when she got home? Anyway, we went through the whole surprise and purse fumbling routine and when she received her change she unbelievably put everything away, the purse in the handbag and the handbag in the shopping bag and I just knew exactly what was going to happen next. The remaining two items were scanned through and the clerk asked for payment. She stared blankly at him for a second or two as if the entire contents of her brain had been wiped clear by standing too close to the laser beam in the price scanner and then went through the entire routine again right down to trying to scrape together the exact amount in change.
The interesting thing is that she will do exactly the same thing the next time she shops because women have a complete mental block about checkouts. Men are much better at this sort of thing because as they shop they mentally tot up the likely total of the goods and then at the checkout have approximately the right amount of money ready to hand over in an instant and this makes the whole process much more efficient. My solution to this supermarket checkout hold up problem is that women should be obliged to take a test in basic common sense before being allowed to use them.
To retain a balanced view, there are lots of things that women are better at than men of course and I would welcome your suggestions…