It’s totally, completely not my fault but I’ve just approached a man in a supermarket and asked him to help me find the sour cream, and then it’s turned out he doesn’t work there.
I just couldn’t find the sour cream.
It wasn’t by the milk, and it wasn’t by the yoghurts, and for a moment I decided there must be a special hidden sour cream aisle because deliberately fermented dairy must have become popular thanks to Paul Hollywood using it in a bap or something. And then I looked up and saw a man who I assumed worked there and asked him if he could help me find it.
And then this:
“I don’t actually work here?” the man said, like a question, and frowning, and looking annoyed. Now, that’s fine. I made a mistake.
But here’s the thing: he’d only said, “I don’t actually work here?” after he’d already helped me find the sour cream. Only after we found the sour cream did he decide to get all huffy about it.
Literally everything this man had done – standing in a supermarket, offering customer assistance, locating dairy products and crucially wearing a blue T-shirt – had justifiably convinced me this was an employee there for my using.
If that’s not the case and he doesn’t want people thinking he works somewhere, he shouldn’t wear a blue T-shirt! Any court in the land will tell you that he is an equal partner in this confusion.
“Sorry for bothering you!” I’d replied, starting to back away, trying to make it OK. “You’re really good at finding sour cream, though!”
“Ha,” he fake-laughed, all dead eyes, and suddenly his wife was there holding a fajita kit, wondering why I was talking to him and slowing them down.
“I thought he worked here,” I explained, “because he’s wearing a blue T-shirt.”
Everyone who actually works here wears red.
So now I walk away from her glare, trying to hold my head high, knowing in my heart it is not a crime to ask a stranger to help you find sour cream. But I also feel like this gentleman now has some degree of power over me. I have shown myself to be a careless shopper, incapable of finding basic ingredients or identifying staff. He mutters something to his wife and she cackles and it’s obviously about me. I speed up and turn a corner.
At no point during the remainder of this shopping trip can our paths cross again!
Thing is, why do people have to be so ungracious? All I’d done was ask him if he knew where something was, I decide sadly, as I mooch aimlessly around an aisle
I have no business in, just trying to keep out of trouble. I certainly wasn’t ungracious that time I was walking through a shopping mall and a security guard ran up to me and asked me if I knew anything about fixing computers. It was my own fault for wearing glasses.
But now this couple are mocking me. It could have been our joke together. Now it’s just theirs.
I remember their fajita kit.
“What a lazy couple,” I think.
But I cannot let such sad events ruin my day. What’s next on my shopping list?
“Fun-size Twixes,” I think. Well, I know where they’ll be. They’ll be near the Twixes.
I head to the confectionery aisle, but on my way I see that couple again. They’re buying microwave chips. Oh, I suppose every second counts in their house. Probably they microwave their chips and use fajita kits so they can spend more time solving scientific puzzles in their ceaseless quest to save humanity. That’s why they’re so annoyed when someone stops them and asks them where the sour cream is. They probably don’t even need sour cream in their house. They just buy normal cream, then look at it.
I sneak past and find the chocolate aisle. Where are the fun-size Twixes?
And then I blush as that couple start to walk up the same aisle. I stare hard at the chocolates. I must not look at the couple.
And then I think… hey, we’re human! We’re on this planet for the blink of an eye! Let’s make this OK! And I know exactly how. I will gently mock myself, thus robbing them of the need to do it for me. I will show self-awareness and self-deprecation. Watch this!
“Sorry,” I say, turning and smiling. “Do you know where the fun-size Twixes are?”
There’s a pause. The man looks at me. Any second now he’ll get it and laugh!
But that moment never comes.
“We don’t work here!” says his wife.
“I know!” I laugh, but they don’t, and that’s when she really frowns, because why do I keep asking them where stuff is if I know they don’t work there?
I stand there for a second. I cannot and will not let this affect my shopping experience. The best revenge will be just to carry on.
When I get home, my wife politely asks why I bought a single tub of sour cream and nothing else.
A slice of mediocrity
Gareth Hutchins was in Budapest the other day, where he found himself in the mood for neither a great meal, nor a terrible one. Just something in between. Something fine. He found just the place.
Consider yourself trumped
Here’s a little tip for you. If you’re looking at the state of the world, and you’re nervous about who may or may not end up in charge, don’t start idly looking up what their first names mean.