Get a handle on supermarket trolley etiquette

Do you know where that supermarket trolley handle has been? Katie Kenny does. She's been watching.

It is routine, in our flat, to go supermarket shopping together every week.

It is a ridiculous habit; such a waste of time.

However, we find it essential to group-shop lest a designated, unaccompanied shopper gives in to a moment of frivolity and makes a regrettable purchase. Like orange juice.

Yes, the boy was allowed to shop alone last week and he came back with all the essentials plus Keri orange juice.

Obviously it was gone within days and we are $5.80 poorer for it*.

The positive side of group-shopping is that I can always escape the task of trolley-pushing.

It is said (by my fifth-form science teacher) that the handle of a shopping trolley contains more germs than the average public rest-troom toilet seat.

This fact gave my Nana such a fright that now she brings two cotton handkerchiefs (one to place under each palm) whenever she enters a supermarket.

But just think all those hands, all those potential stories! Oh, if only supermarket trolleys could speak! Most weeks, I find shopping for the flat very boring because I don't care if we get blue- or green-top milk or poppy-seed or plain burger buns.

But I do like watching the people ...

The other day, an elderly lady - elderly enough, perhaps, to be my nana's nana - shuffled over and wrapped her gnarly knuckles around a germy trolley.

She heaved it out of the belly of another trolley and proceeded to shop.

Half an hour later she emerged from the exit; the neck of a wine bottle protruded from her single bag.

I subconsciously raised my eyebrows and watched her stop, lift the bag, and give the trolley a violent (well, violent for a 102-year-old) shove in the vague direction of the others.

The staff member on trolley-duty gave the lady an exasperated look but, probably giving her the benefit of her age, didn't say a word and dutifully put the trolley back in line.

Next to use this trolley was a smartly dressed corporate suit, who immediately adopted a more casual trolley-pushing style.

With his elbows bent he rested his forearms on the handle, his hands nonchalantly dangling, holding nothing.

This inspired me to spend some time analysing pushing techniques.

The double-handed grip was usually performed by the elderly and little children.

The bent-elbow approach appeared rather popular with everyone else.

I reasoned that the attractiveness of this position could perhaps be attributed to Michael Bublé's promotion of it through his Haven't Met You Yet music video ...

Oh, the influential powers of the music industry! Another technique was the tendency to shop with just one hand on the trolley - ever-ready to seize an item off the shelf and place it in the trolley in one fluid movement with the other.

If there was more than one person shopping, a designated trolley-pusher would self-elect and the other person would be in charge of collecting the items. The pusher often assumed a role similar to that of the notorious back-seat driver: "Oh, Honey, we don't need those, do we?"; "They don't look quite ripe, do they?"; "Best put two packets of those in, Dear."

Needless to say, the trolley-pusher was usually female.

Our own poor male flatmate shopper was at the mercy of three female pushers, plus me (who acts like a pusher, anyway).

Eventually, the Old Lady's/Mr Suit's trolley was again selected from the line.

Woken from its dormancy by the touch of a good-looking young man with a cherubic halo of blond curls, I must admit I was momentarily jealous of a supermarket trolley.

After brief hesitation, however, the young man left the trolley and grabbed a basket.

I felt the trolley's pain of rejection but simultaneously ended my fantasy concerning the blond boy, for everyone knows what is said about basket-shoppers: Lack of Commitment.

*To make up for OJ blunder, the boy suggested that we do not purchase plastic bags with our shopping.

This saved us $1 and I am fairly sure the unloading of groceries, one by one, took longer than the shopping itself.

Note well, excessive frugality can be just as regretted as frivolity.

Moderation is the key.

 - Katie Kenny studies English at the University of Otago.

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