Wednesday 13 June 2012

Let's Talk About...

... supermarkets. Those modern Leviathans that swallow everything in sight: small, independent retailers, customers, public space and our money. After all, how many of us can resist  the "Buy 2 for the price of 1" offer on Foxtons chocolate bars? Not manym methinks. Hmmm... I'm licking my lips right now.

In the dragon's den
To our ever-increasing godless society, supermarkets represent the ultimate deity. The altar at which we worship once a week. Or as in my case, the cathedral-on-wheels that drops my shopping off on my doorstep every seven days. But like many mortals, occasionally I prefer to submit myself to the more sadistic and intimate humiliation of entering Monstro's lair. Or its mouth, to be more specific. If Captain Ahab had been a real person and if he'd ever been put through the whole "unexpected item in the bagging area" experience, he would have forgotten about his bitten-off leg and gone for the 3x2 tuna packs instead of chasing after a whale.

Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose. Modern temples where a chairman's cunning divine inspiration magics the whole garden section into an oasis-themed party that makes customers forget about their own rain-soaked clothes. Where grown-ups shed their inhibitions momentarily and race their shopping trolleys down the aisles with their children inside releasing their inner Lewis Hamilton (or maybe that's just me). Where, à propos de racing and trolleys, lanes in the annual buidl-up to Christmas resemble the M25 during a bank holiday weekend. Including road rage, or shall we say, trolley rage.

The first time I set foot in a supermarket in Britain, I thought I was back at the airport. Can you imagine? Arriving in London after a 10-hour flight, waiting for seven hours in immigration to be waved through, finally hitting my then girlfriend and now wife's bed late that night, waking up the next morning totally jet-lagged and being driven to a supermarket after breakfast. I remember asking my partner: am I back in Gatwick?

Supermarkets are the places where you will find fruit that is so abnormal, or subnormal, or supernormal (take your pick), that it doesn't go off after seven days. I've been known for letting pears ripen for a whole fortnight and yet, after all that time, I still can't sink my teeth into them, so hard they are.

Like everything in life there are pluses and minuses when it comes to supermarkets and their ubiquity. As an example of the former we have the concentration of many varied products under one roof, which saves time and (sometimes) money, especially to people who lead busy lives. I'm sure that there will be a time when a a person will enter a supermarket as a virgin and will leave it with a spouse, a mortgage and a... job? Nah, not even Tesco can manage that these days. But you get the gist: just like New Yorkers are proud to say that what you can't find in the Big Apple doesn't exist, supermarkets might be able to boast a similar argument.

The big minus is, of course, the side effects of this expansion. One of them usually manifests itself in the wiping out of smaller, independent shops, some of which have been run by members of the same family for decades. In this instance, supermarkets act like arrogant Goliaths, steamrollering over planning regulations and (most of the time) having their way when it comes to pitching up their tent (which you can purchase in the heavily discounted camping gear section) in towns and villages around the country. Against this modern Philistine giant, the valiant, family-friendly local, independent-shop-owner David has practically no chance, no matter how good his sling is. A sling that will very likely end up in the toys aisle, or near the till, alongside the items that are meant to catch your eye as you get ready to pay, thus, making you part with more of your dosh.

Let's talk about supermarkets, monopolistic and monopsonistic beasts that they are. But whilst we debate if their empire signifies progress or backwardness, I hope you don't mind if I finish this tub of Ben & Jerry's Core Dough-ble Whammy. Only half price at Sainsbury's, you know.

© 2012

Next Post: “Dawn (a short story)”, to be published on Sunday 17th June at 10am (GMT)


  1. In a small town we only have one of the beasts. I go to the Co-op mostly... less temptation!

  2. I can't say I enjoy going to supermarkets - and I definitely don't enjoy airports - my pet hate - so, yes, I can see they have enough in common to be mistaken for each other: remoteness inhuman scale... do I need to go on?

  3. I used to feel this way when I lived in the US. For the smallest of requirements, I had queue in the longest of queues.. oh wait! By the time I lined up for checkout, I had more items than I had intended to purchase in my basket. But you know, now I'm in a place that doesn't really have too many supermarkets, and I sometimes miss the one stop shopping, not to mention the deals!

  4. Do we ever have super-super markets here in the states. Miles of aisles.

    In summer there are farmers' markets. Are there any in your neighborhood? The produce is fresh, the fruit ripe.

    Kind regards from Boston

  5. I can just imagine your face arriving from the airport and then trapped in a supermarket that looks like the same thing! It's a sad result of capitalistic societies and I'm not crazy about them. Give me a farmer's market or independent shop any day.

  6. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    I can still remember the first time I set foot in a Sainsbury's (it was Sainsbury's, not Tesco, I still recall it). The vastness of it kept making me wonder if there was a "Gate 8" somewhere and if I would be asked my boarding pass at the exit. :-)

    Greetings from London.



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