Friday, October 21, 2011

Finance Friday - The Grocery Game

Recently someone suggested I read "Bitter is the New Black" by Jen Lancaster. They said she tells a regaling story about why one should not carry their Prada Bag to the unemployment office. Lancaster says this is a bad idea.

Ya think?!?

I can totally relate. Thankfully I've not been in the unemployment line, per se, but I have had my share of very similar experiences.

Take last week at the grocery store, for example.
I ran to the store after work but before picking up the kids from school.
I looked like ... well, me. You know...  my look.
I love to pair jeans, boots, jackets & scarves.
I'm sure I looked respectable.
Maybe even a touch hot ... ok, probably not
but I'm sure I looked typically, middle class & completely employed.

So there I stood at the checkout with my cereal, bread, eggs & milk waiting.
And waiting.
And waiting.

Ugh! I picked the wrong line again!
I always pick the wrong line.

Tapping my toe, checking my watch and trying not to be frustrated at the cashier who was clearly ignoring the man standing at her register. (Side note: if you know me, you know poor customer service is like my ultimate pet peeve. I was really working hard at having a good attitude about this whole situation.)

I'm in a hurry.
She's not doing her job.
The man is just standing there.... why isn't anyone moving!!!!!??????

And yet, I just stood there & looked composed.

Soon enough, here comes a woman cutting in line in front of me to give the man who's been waiting an avocado.

Oh! I get it. They had forgotten something on their list and that's why we were all waiting.
Surely, I think, this line will get moving now.

But no!

She handed him the avacado. He handed it to the cashier, who finally turned back towards her customer and accepted the fruit. She put it on the scale, frowned and said quite exasberately, "Now, you're over!".

The couple just stared at her.

"You're over!" she said. "You don't have enough! You can't buy it!"
None of these words seemed to make any sense to the couple.
It became obvious they were non-english speakers.

The cashier huffed and sighed and rolled her eyes. She said, "You have enough for this!" she held up a banana. "You want this? Huh? Do you just want this? Fine! I'm just going to add this" and she thrust the WIC coupon in their direction and asked them to sign for it.

They gathered their purchase without a sound and holding hands, together the man and woman left the store.
The cashier turned to her coworker and said, "Someone needs to teach these people how to buy food"
Then she turned to me and said, "I mean how can I be expected to do my job, already?"

These people?!?
These people!?!
What people?
People who don't speak English?
People who are on are on food assistance?
What "these people" was she exactly referring to??

I was miffed. She was rude and insensitive.
But I didn't way a word. I choose to bite my tongue. Right or wrong, I kept my mouth shut.

  • But I wanted so badly to ask her why she didn't help them since they were standing right in front of her precisely when they needed assistance. 
  • I wanted to ask what gave her the right to add insult to a human being who was already obviously humiliated.
  • I wanted to demand she rethink her position on what qualifies her to sound superior over another human being.

I wanted to say all that and more. But I didn't.
Instead I watched as she rung up my food, announced the amount due and waited for me to pay.

I took a deep breath.
I lifted my chin and I looked her square in the eyes as I handed her my voucher.

The cashier's eyes met mine and I watched as a tide of realization washed over her.
She just judged the people before me to me
and I just revealed that there wasn't much difference between us.

The silence was deafening.
She nodded ever so slightly as she handed me my receipt and it was clear we both understood what just happened.

You may be surprised to learn the latest statistics from the government indicate that 1 in 7 people are on food assistance. That's over 44 million Americans.
That's a lot of white people
and struggling people
and formerly employed people
and drowning in bills people.
People just like you.
People just like me.

I hope in writing about my experience I can help us all to be more understanding in these difficult times. So many people are hanging on by the skin of their teeth and they're much too embarrassed to let you know.

I don't have a Prada bag but I know what it's like to be judged based on the way you look in contrast to the help you need. There is a passive sort of racism that exists for "those people" who are using assistance to keep their head above water. Please be careful you are not a perpetuator of such attitudes. You might want to be certain no one you ever love will need welfare before you go condemning it.

This is my Finance Friday blog.

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  1. OMG, I love your a mother of 5 grown children I can really appreciate it....and remind me so of my daughter....that's a good thing....

  2. Hi there!
    and THANK YOU!
    I'm glad you like my blog ... it's like oneinamillion ... but it's mine and I love when new people find me! Thanks! And 5 kids? Can you teach me how to survive my Tribe?!?!? I mean I'm doin it today but there's tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that and college and ....


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