Going to the supermarket is at the best of times, not the best of times. They are noisy, there’s lots of people and way too much visual stimulation. It’s hard to know which is the correct aisle to find what I need and end up walking around as though in a labyrinth. I invariably forget to buy something because I’m hopeless at writing a list.
During these days of a global pandemic; with social distancing and panic buying, supermarkets are a bloody nightmare. Never has such a mundane task turned out to be so stressful. I am constantly aware of how close I am to people or they to me. I feel pressured to get in and out as fast as possible, which adds to the stress.
Lots of posts on community Facebook pages scold people for being out shopping at all or seemingly taking their time while doing so. This is decidedly unhelpful, as not only are you worried about the person you passed in the aisle being Typhoid Mary, you are also hyper vigilant about who’s watching as look for something I need.
I’ve never wanted to cry in the supermarket before and now it seems to be a regular occurrence. One day, I teared up because I wanted garbage bags but could only find sandwich bags. Being forced to stand on a spot to maintain social distancing and seeing supermarket workers, in masks and gloves is confronting. On another occasion I walked straight back out again because it was just a bit too much.
Like most people, at times I haven’t been able to find what I need – though this has largely been inconvenient rather than urgent. It has led to a few hilarious things like a friend and I sending each other photos of successful toilet paper gathering missions. And my parents sending my sister a care pack filled with Weetbix because she couldn’t get any where she lives.
There’s some weird things too – I’m still not clear why I have to pack my own shopping bags when the person on the checkout has already touched everything. And have you ever tried picking up more than two pieces of fruit using the inside of a plastic bag – that’s a level of dexterity I’m yet to master.
I realise of course, there is a massive level of privilege in being able to go to a supermarket to buy what I need. And while much of this surreal, inconvenient and stressful, I’m not struggling to buy essential things because I still have a job in middle of the pandemic.
There are bigger questions here too, which I’m not able to fully articulate yet, about the essentials of normal life and freedom. But those thoughts will have to wait until I can go to the supermarket without planning it like a covert mission. Although, even when that happens, will just popping to the shops for a few essentials ever be the same again? Maybe not and maybe that will be a good thing.