Chris Sutcliff

Artist Man I am
6th May 2009

Why your Greengrocer is better than your Supermarket.

I quit smoking at New Year. So I started going to the Greengrocer’s round the corner from work during my morning break instead of having a fag in the car park. I figured now that I’d remembered my body is a temple it was worth having at least two of my recommended five-a-day fruit and veg, where previously I was on none-a-day. This is because I’m scared to death of dying and quitting cigarettes and eating five-a-day makes you live forever. It’s Science.

The Greengrocer’s smells funny and still sells little cartons of assorted flowers which old ladies buy in the same quantities as kids buy sweets. The guy who runs it is either pretty old but looking good for his age or quite young but has had the hardest life in the top ten tales of Greengrocer woe. It’s impossible to determine. Either way he is always in an infectiously jolly mood and his cheeks are always ruddy so I’m guessing he has a distillery out back to turn unsold potatoes into get-you-through-your-day juice. On the wall at the back of the till are two posters, one with a gorilla’s face on and one with a polar bear’s face on. The caption on each poster reads ‘Try telling HER that fruit and veg aren’t cool’. Each animal is surrounded by photos of carrots and broccoli and bananas and oranges, all of which have faded to a soft blue so that you actually have to work out what some of them are from their shape. They had the same posters in my Primary School dining hall, making them way over twenty years old. They’re probably keeping the wall up.

The guy tells me where every item is from as I buy it. My orange is from South Africa, my banana is from British Columbia and my apple is French (he checks I’m not prejudiced before he accepts my money for the French apple). My eight pence change, he tells me, is from the London Mint. It’s brilliant. It’s like around the world in eighty seconds. We do this routine every day. He has different banter for everyone he serves. He’s probably known them as customers for years. Somehow it feels like I’m in the club.

Sometimes for lunch I have to go to the Supermarket and what a different beast that is. Apart from the obvious horror of shopping in a characterless warehouse it is the employees that mark the separation of these two different stores. Before I generalise wildly I must tell you that I worked at a Supermarket for four and a half years and escaped with a certificate in fire prevention and minor brain trauma. Supermarket staff can have an eerily empty preoccupation about them. They tend to be either bored and embittered because they’ve worked there too long or vacant and uninterested because they’re students and one day they’ll be doing anything that isn’t this. They hope. On some occasions, (and this MUST have happened to you) I’ve gone through the checkouts when the operatives are gossiping to each other and have only been addressed when it came to the cash, on at least one occasion I paid and left without a single word being said to me. I didn’t care and neither did they. This from an Industry that actively monitors and grades the Customer Service it expects from its staff.

The explanation for all this is simple. The Supermarket sells everything and never shuts. Even if the staff all lined up and slapped you about the face every time you tried to leave with your trolley, there’d still be something there that you’d need. Sooner or later we’ll all go back. The Greengrocer doesn’t have that luxury, he does however have the luxury of meeting every single one of his customers and therefore to personalise the service to all. He wants you to go back and he’d notice if you didn’t.

That isn’t my point though. If you put the Supermarket Employee in the Greengrocers they would soon act as the old man does – they haven’t been lobotomised or anything – they’re PEOPLE. I think that something about the size of an organisation can be dizzying to us as a race; it promotes a weird false sense of separation that is helplessly alienating to all involved. When it gets too big, it affects your perception of your individual worth and you lose your inspiration to contribute. Like your town. Like your country. It’s enough to make you start smoking.

Why is your Greengrocer better than your Supermarket? Because he’s in a position whereby as long as he remembers to give a shit then it benefits everyone he meets.

by Chris
Posted in Words

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