Friday, December 16, 2011

Mason-Dixon Shopping Redux

Today I's participating in  Blog Deja Vu. (We repost a blog from years ago.) I've decided to repost a blog I wrote it almost three years ago because it's gotten a tons of pageviews over the last couple of years. I hope you enjoy it.

Last night at a New Year’s Party, one of the guests was from Scotland. And since it’s always fun to listen to someone with a cool accent, lots of discussion ensued. At one point, someone marveled to me about how large the United States is and how similar the people of each state are to each other. That got me to thinking. Granted the difference between each state is minimal compared to say the difference between Germany and France, especially in language. (Though I will point out that when I was a child living in a small town in Georgia and then moved to Hawaii where some people spoke pidgin English, I could've been in a foreign country—I couldn’t understand a word some of my classmates said. That’s where I developed a “polite I-have-no-idea-what-you-are-talking-about smile,” which has served me well as a pastor’s wife.) But, back to the issue. In order for someone to say there isn’t too much difference between states, they clearly have not recently moved from New England to the South.

There are so many differences that this might be a recurring blog theme. But the first topic is: Shopping. When we first moved here and walked in to the local grocery store, the cashier called out, “Good Morning!” My son Luke turned to me and said, “Why is that lady talking to us—we don’t know her.” I said, “I think she’s being friendly.” Luke looked suspicious; he didn’t believe me.

But it’s not just the friendliness. Once when I was in the local Connecticut Walmart, I found a coffee maker that had all the important features—it could make coffee and wasn’t too expensive. But, there weren’t any coffee makers in boxes, only the model on the shelf. So, I tracked down a saleswoman and asked her if she could find out if there were any extras “in the back” or if I could buy the floor model. She nodded and made other noises and gestures to indicate she understood my request. Then, we waited. We contemplated the floor. We studied the other coffee makers, toasters, waffle irons, and long metal sticks with whips on the end whose function we didn’t quite fathom. Then, the kids decided that since there was nothing better to do, they’d play tag. Not good. So Cal took them on a tour of the store. By the way, if you don’t already know, kids do not enjoy a tour of Walmart. And still, I waited.

After the tour was finished, I decided to “find” the salesgirl. I was a woman with a mission. I drew up my mental picture and hunted her down. And I found her. Before I came in for the kill, she must have had some primal instinct to turn and she did. She saw me—and took off running. Yes, as my kids can verify, the salesgirl ran away from me. Foolish girl. I’ve been running since I was 14, which is many, many years ago. If I’ve been running through four kids and a fortieth birthday, I can catch anything. When I had her cornered, she shrugged, gesticulated, and made vaguely hostile guttural noises that meant, “This is a bad day for me, go find your own stupid coffee maker.”

Fast forward to the South. I’m at BiLo, the local grocery store that (despite the “lo” in their name) charges way too much but is close to my house so I shop there anyway. I am buying yogurt-vanilla handsoap for the church bathrooms.
The cashier, handling the soap container, says: “Umm, umm, I love the smell of vanilla. Honey, does this soap smell good?”
Me: “Uh, I don’t know.” So, I unscrew the top and take a deep whiff. “Yeah, it does.” I hand the open bottle to the cashier. (Don’t forget there’s a long line of people behind me with whom I am trying very hard not to make eye contact.)
Cashier: “Oh, this does smell good.”
Me: “And it’s on sale.” Oops, I’ve now involved her in conversation—this is going to take a while. The people behind me now hate me.
Cashier: “How much is it?”
Me: “Uh, I don’t know.” She takes the receipt.
Cashier: “That is a good price. I’m gonna have to get me some of that.”
Me: Trying to avoid the gaze of people behind me who surely must be wishing instant death on me for taking so much time, “Yeah, that would be a great idea.”
Cashier: “Y’all have a great day, baby.”
Me: Though I am sure there’s only one of me and that I am not her infant, I say, “Thanks. You too.” At this point, as I gather up my things, I cast a furtive glance over my shoulder at the long line. Each and every person is completely unconcerned by my long conversation with the cashier. They are in contemplation mode, and even one lady may be vaguely irritated that she now can’t finish the People magazine article on Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

On my way to the car, I ponder their patience. If I’d been in line behind a chatty soap buyer I would have been tapping my foot, making guttural noises and thinking, “Buy your soap and get on with it. I have things to do.” And Ariel would have said her standard, “Be patient, Mom. This is the South.”

I guess I’ve got a lot more New England (or maybe it’s the Dutch “use each and every minute effectively”) in me than I thought.

So it's been three years. And do I like shopping in the South? Ninety percent of the time, yes. I love that the pharmacist knows me by name and asks about the kids. I love that he looks over the prescription and says, "Honey, you don't want to be spending $350 on this prescription. You call your doctor back and tell him you want a prescription for medicine A and medicine B--they'll do the same thing and only cost you $18." And he's right. 

And the other 10% of the time when I'm in a big hurry and the person ahead of me in line is recounting her third cousin's surgery for a hangnail...then I take a deep breath and try to avoid muttering imprecations. I tell myself that it's a good time to work on the plot of my next book. And if that doesn't work, I can always try to cultivate an interest in the latest People magazine. Now I finally understand why the magazine are in the checkout line. I thought it was for impulse buys, but they're really for Southerns who are waiting in line. 


  1. What a great choice for the Deja Vu. I'll attest to the fact that you're absolutely right about Southerners, but must also admit, although I wasn't born in the South, I'm that way by nature, and would be chatting with that cashier no matter where I lived.

  2. Hello! I'm a new follower from the DejaVu Blogfest. Nice to meet you!

  3. I live in the South, but not deep south (I think that's another difference!). I go up north to visit family and there's a big difference. You are right, in general the stores I pop into down here are more apt to have employees willing to have friendly chats.

  4. That wait in line thing always gets me annoyed, but now I'll think twice (and think of you!) when it happens. Great Deja Vu pick!

  5. Ugh, I hate the service at Walmart. I've waited 70 minutes at their fabric counter before because they kept saying "Someone is coming to assist you."

    Next time I'll start unrolling the ribbon and fabric while I wait.

  6. Hahahaha I loved this post. Sounds a lot like my experience. Most of the shoppers in South Africa are foot-tappers, but for some reason, most cashiers strike up a conversation with me.

    I think it's nice, since I hate when cashiers glare at me when all I'm doing is pay for groceries. :-)

  7. I can't believe that someone would suggest that in a country that's over 3,000 miles from coast to coast with as diverse a population profile as the US has, everyone would be the same! I've lived in NC for almost 20 years, and I've traveled a little to other states (I'm originally from the UK), and if you don't think people in NY are different from people in NC, or that people in GA are just like the people in CA... you need to get out a bit more!

    Great post!

  8. Awesome! I'd like to borrow your pharmacist!

  9. Oh, I will try to have more patience next time the cashier is chatting with an old friend in the line ahead of me next time!!!! You are right, there is too much rushing in this world. We should take more time to smell the soap ! :)

  10. Kentucky is *Home* to me. Maybe I should have put up that post today for Deja vu!

    You'll know you're in the south, when they make eye contact, wave and nod as you drive by, or offer you the shirt off their back. That's just the way it's done.

    Families and communities are close there. When they say, Hi, it's because they figure they probably know some of your kin.

    Loved your post!

  11. Oh, I really enjoyed this post. It's so true, there are lots of differences in the various parts of the U.S. Your humor is wonderful. Love this blogfest!

  12. This was a great post. It reminded me of similar experiences between Ohio and New Jersey, though we experienced it backwards. We moved from Ohio and thought nothing of smiling at everyone, saying hello, and striking up conversations with cashiers. But boy, did they not like it! Guess we should have headed south instead.

  13. This was a great post. It reminded me of similar experiences between Ohio and New Jersey, though we experienced it backwards. We moved from Ohio and thought nothing of smiling at everyone, saying hello, and striking up conversations with cashiers. But boy, did they not like it! Guess we should have headed south instead.

  14. This was a great post. We had similar experiences between Ohio and New Jersey, though they were the opposite of yours. We moved to NJ from Ohio and though nothing of smiling at everyone, saying hello, and striking up conversations with cashiers. Boy, were we surprised when they not only wouldn't reply back to us, but wouldn't even look at us as we shopped. Guess we should have headed south!

  15. Living in the South sounds kind of nice. It reminds me of Germany a bit where people could sit at a cafe and spend hours just people watching.

  16. It's funny, I think I mostly go to the store just to wait in line. Stereotypically, a mom gets peace in the bathroom, but my kids will sit outside the door to 'bother' me. So, when I have to go to the store, I go alone (no one quite enjoys this 'chore'). When it is check-out time, I will not only look for the longest line, but I will also let those behind me get in front of me...yes, that's what the magazines are for =)

  17. I live in the South and know exactly what you mean! There's one speed - slow. But most people are friendly.

  18. Oh, I love this choice of post. I'd be the one in the queue wishing I had more time to finish my magazine article -- most days, anyway. You've reminded me to cultivate an air of patience every day.

  19. This post made me smile! So interesting for a 'Brit' to know the differences between some States.

    I was born and bred in Wales and North and South Wales are quite different, South Wales is much more open and friendly, while North Wales tends to be, shall we say, more reserved!

  20. great Deja Vu post pick. great sense of humor! I do kegel exercises when I'm in line so its easy for me to tune in AND tune out.