Saturday, January 07, 2012

Men and Shopping

Right, brace yourself for a rant.

Yesterday morning (and afternoon), Lady Chocolat and I set up our wedding list. This involved trailing around a store looking at many many items, selecting some, and scanning them with a handheld device. It was not fun.

Now, LC and I have a standing joke about shopping not being allowed to last more than "one hour and seven minutes". That is actually a reference to a study that was done that showed that men get progressively more uncomfortable doing shopping, with the average tolerance being about 1:07. I'm not sure what the methodology here was, but there's certainly some truth in their findings (if not the number itself); certainly, as we moved into the third hour of looking at stuff, I was getting rather tetchy.

Now, here's the thing: I do not inherently dislike shopping. Further, I understand that it's often necessary, and also that sometimes a shopping task may well take a fairly long time. That's all fair enough. But, at the same time, I do not find shopping pleasurable. At best, it is a necessary task, much like doing the laundry, or washing the car.

It's also worth considering that, like most people who work, I have limited free time, and that time is valuable. And, of course, not all free time is equally valuable - longer blocks are worth more than a snatched minute. And the most valuable time of all is Saturday morning and afternoon. This is where I have both the combination of the most free time and the most energy to do something with it.

This should, perhaps go some way to explaining why giving up that time for a necessary task, rather than something more enjoyable, meets with a certain resistance. And when we cross over from 'spending' time doing that task to 'wasting' time doing that task, the frustration readily builds.

(Where the 'tolerance' thing from the study done comes in is that there is no outlet for that frustration. You just have to endure. But swallowing that frustration, and continuing to do so, gets really quite difficult.)

The problem is not actually one of going around picking things. It's not even particularly an issue of having to assess lots of options before making a decision (at least in my case). That's fair enough - it's important to get the right things.

The problem, by and large, is other people, which is generally compounded by the stores themselves. Basically, the whole thing seems deliberately designed to eat your life, all in the name of selling you things that you only sort-of want.

The problem with other people is not that they're individually being unreasonable. People walk at different rates. Mothers, by and large, have to take time looking after their children. The guy at the checkout is not unreasonable to want to pay by cash, nor to count out the exact change. None of this is unreasonable, or a valid cause for complaint, or a big issue.

The problem is the cumulative effect of all these reasonable delays is utterly unreasonable. When you get stuck behind a mother with pushchair for the five hundredth time, she is no more unreasonable than the first one... but you still want to scream. It's a tiny little frustration, but it's on top of a million other tiny little frustrations, with absolutely no let-out.

And then there are the stores. These have been very carefully designed to have some quick paths through the store, to take you quickly to the department you want, plus an awful lot of slow paths to force you to take your time in that department. That's actually quite a fascinating subject - and some bright spark was paid an obscene amount of money to very carefully research and design it.

Except that in reality, once you reach Saturday afternoon, the 'quick' paths are clogged with huge numbers of people all fighting through the rush. They come to a virtual standstill. And so, you're forced to take the marginally quicker 'slow' paths, dodge around the stands at great speed (and risk to life and limb), all to save half a second from your day but, much more importantly, to save another tiny fraction of your soul from dying. Because if this goes on much longer, you are going to snap.

Then there's the question of staffing levels in the stores. Especially in these times of austerity, stores want to employ the minimum number of people, and that means that they will always have as few assistants on hand as they can get away with, as few people on the tills, and as many away doing other, more productive things. By and large, they manage to do this pretty efficiently. And they're actually quite flexible, so they draft in more people as they need them.

But it does mean that queues are a fact of life in stores, more now than before, and that means waiting, when you're already frazzled. But, worse, it means that sometimes things go wrong. And so, you get the guy a the top of the queue who absolutely must be trading in old games for credit, complete with forms to fill out and a call to the manager. That's fine, since they'll just put another guy on. Oh, wait, the woman who was second is making a complaint, and also needs to speak to the manager. Yay! And so the queue stands still for several minutes, while the blood pressure rises, the frustration grows... and you're stuck.

The "one hour and seven minutes" thing is a joke. But the principle behind it is not a joke. There really is a limit to how long I can stand being stuck shopping. And the more people there are around, and the hotter it gets, the shorter that limit becomes.

There's a lot here that sounds like hyperbole: "eat your life", "want to scream", etc. It is not hyperbole; it really was that bad. I was in considerable discomfort, and by the end I couldn't give the job the attention it required, because I really was fighting back the urge to explode in rage. And once it was finally over, and we got home, we both collapsed in a heap and did nothing meaningful for the rest of the day. That job basically destroyed our entire Saturday, which is a really bitter pill to swallow.

So, I'm sorry I was tetchy. Honestly, I am. And I'm glad that the task is basically done. But it was still a fightful ordeal.


Kezzie said...

I do understand. I get soooo annoyed having to dodge around ditherers. Also because I am quite softly spoken and saying, "Excuse me," usually means I am totally ignored and have to try and scrunch through the gaps, usually knocking off clothes in the process. And I also ABHOR pushchairs! Really really really do. I understand their necessity but that does not diminish the inferno of frustration in my mind that flares up upon being stuck behind one! I much prefer to shop on my own, because you can actually take the quick detours on your own and not waste time. And yet when I do go shopping, I think to myself- why did I just waste so many hours of my life doing that? Why wasn't I out in the countryside doing something lovely!
Have you set a book target yet? I just did my final list from last year and I'm still deciding whether to give myself a specific target!

Steph/ven said...

I'm not setting a book target this year. In fact, I'm not actually setting any goals at all this year. The priority for the next three months is the wedding, and the priority after that is making sure the marriage works, so I don't want to be distracting myself with other goals.

I'll almost certainly get back to them next year.