Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Let's not meet at the grocery store

When my son was younger, we ran into his former teacher at the grocery store. She chatted for a few minutes, mostly with him, and then wondered off down the aisle.

"Who WAS that?" my son asked once she'd left.

"That was your teacher from last year!" I exclaimed. It's not like he'd only met the woman once or twice. He'd been in her classroom for hours each day for however long a school year is. 180 days? The point is, she was not a stranger.

To my young son, however, she was also not someone that belonged in the grocery store part of his life. And I get that. Unless you're the nice cashier who works the self-checkout stand, then I'm pretty much okay if we never meet at the grocery store.

There's a former coworker I run into from time to time at the grocery. We weren't super close in the office, but we could chat easily and joke. In the grocery store, our conversation is awkward--pushed through a thick broth of grocery store scents and other people's noise and the knowledge that neither of us had planned to see each other and weren't prepared with appropriate grocery-store conversation starters. The second I indicate that I recognize his presence, I begin planning my retreat. Not because I don't like him, but because he doesn't belong there, in the grocery store piece of my life.

Months after we had several awkward encounters, a friend who still works with him mentioned it. "Oh, C. says he sees you at the grocery store," she said.

"Did he say it's super awkward?" I asked.

She laughed. "He didn't have to, of course I knew it was. But yes, he did. I said you're always like that in those situations, and he said that's why he likes you."

The friend who relayed this is actually worse than I am. She saw a former coworker at the end of the aisle once and fled several sections over and completed her shopping secret-agent style, on the look out for anyone she might know and have to hide from.

I have another friend that I mostly converse with online. He sent me a message recently and followed it up with one that said, "Sorry if that was awkward." It didn't seem awkward to me, I said, but I have a skewed sense of these things.

I said: "Not awkward: Any conversation we could have on Facebook, ever. Awkward: If I saw you in the grocery store."

"That's why I trust you," he responded.

He didn't provide further details, but I'm assuming that he trusts me because I am of the awkward-to-see-you-in-the-grocery-store clan and so is he. Members of the clan recognize each other instinctively. We're the ones that smile awkwardly and nod, or say, "Oh, hi, how are you, nice to see you," in one breath as we pass like ships in the aisles.

Our people don't stop to chat while leaning on baskets. Our people don't strike up lengthy conversations with cashiers or the lady at the deli who slices the meat. Our people are quiet, polite, and efficient. We believe the grocery store is for purchasing food. We will conduct our activities and leave the place to others who are in want of dinner.

Are you of our clan?

Know that we recognize you, and we appreciate the quick smile and the duck of your head as you move on to bury yourself in a fake quandary over frozen peas so we can avoid speaking.


  1. Replies
    1. Oh, yes. I am very aware of that. Neither is Chris.

  2. I am of your clan. If I want to chat I'll meet you for coffee or invite you over for a wine and perhaps a whine.....

    Alas I am also a teacher and there have been many occasions when a student in my class has exclaimed in surprise that they had witnessed me out and about at the shops on the weekend. It's as if I'm a resource like text books and at the end of each day I'm placed back in the cupboard until I'm needed again.

    Kids are weird like that

    1. Welcome to the clan!

      Yes, some kids freak a little when school staff is found outside of their "natural habitat." Though, once they reach junior high and above, that seems to go away.

    2. Also, I love your Peter Pan statue travel story! :)

  3. I have Ninja'd (totally a word) my way through a grocery store in order to avoid someone and the wonderfully awkward conversation that would have followed.