Expat View: Supermarket Etiquette

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No matter where you are in the world, going to the supermarket is a mundane and uneventful chore we must all do. In theory, it seems simple and relatively painless; enter the shop, pick what you need, pay for it and leave. However, a trip to the supermarket comes with its fair share frustrations.

In fairness, there will always be the usual annoyances. Why do some supermarket employees have continual bad attitudes? Why do parents allow their children to push the shopping trolley… inevitably into everyone and everything? Why don’t supermarkets fix those irritating trollies with wonky wheels? Why is it that some checkouts are always closed during busy periods? Questions that will never be answered; I guess some things will never change.

Here are my top 5 queries of supermarket etiquette in Botswana. (I should point out the following comments and observations include everyone in Botswana including expats, residents, visitors, etc. and not just Batswana.)


#5 Why are items left at the checkout?

Coming from the UK, I’m accustomed to supermarket checkouts having a 1-2 metre long conveyer belt for people to place their groceries on. They’re like little running machines that move your groceries towards the checkout cashier. Supermarkets in Botswana don’t have these conveyer belts, there’s usually a space roughly the size of two shoeboxes for you to place your groceries. So when people decide to remove an item or two, they leave them in this tiny space.

There are times when one of these rejected items has been mixed in with my groceries, I don’t realise until I get home and unpack my shopping. Why do supermarkets leave unwanted items to pile up at the checkout? They really should be removed immediately, especially if it’s a perishable item.


#4 Why do people jump the queue at the food counter?

Nobody likes queuing and I see some people stroll in and brazenly join the queue at the front. Nine times out of ten it always riles everybody waiting in the queue. Yet the culprits always act innocent, holding up their hands and saying “I didn’t realise there was a queue”. Really??

I’ve also noticed older people do it too. I know there’s a system in Botswana where elderly people are placed at the front of a queue in places such as clinics, hospitals and pharmacies, which is completely understandable. Personally, I believe there is a difference between someone who is elderly and frail and someone who is older than me, but is able-bodied and mobile. So is it mandatory for ALL older people to receive this courtesy in ALL queues?

To be fair some of the episodes have been amusing. I’ve had an occasion when an older gentleman jumped the queue because he thought my wife and I were “messing around” – I’m not really sure what he meant. An older lady once said she didn’t realise I was in the queue, yet she’d just spent the past 5 minutes stood behind me.


#3 Aisle blockers???

Fair enough, fellow shoppers will always abandon their trollies in the middle of the aisle, but why do supermarket employees do it when they replenish shelves? They’re completely oblivious to the fact they’ve placed obstacles in everyone’s way. There’s also the “never-off-their-phone shoppers” and is it just me or do mobile phones have mind control influences on supermarkets? Most people who block your path or bump into you will acknowledge it and apologise, but not the guys on their phones. There’s also those social butterflies that bump into a friend and block the aisle whilst they stop to have a chat. Why can’t people just move to the side?

Finally, we have supermarket cleaners wafting their “caution wet floor” signs. Why do they choose to mop the floors during peak times when the store is full of customers? Unless someone drops something that creates a mess, surely it makes more sense to mop the floors before the store opens and again before the store closes? No sooner have they mopped do hundreds of shoppers walk over the clean surface and the inconvenience repeats itself.


#2 Why do people refuse to pack their own groceries?

I’ve never seen people refuse to pack their own groceries until I came to Botswana, but I see it almost every time I go to the supermarket. In some instances these guys will hold up the queue with their refusal to pack their own shopping, demanding the checkout cashier does it for them. Some people walk away without saying thank you! I don’t know what else to say other than it’s bizarre; I don’t understand it?


#1 Why do people leave their trollies at the checkout?

I’m sorry but this is so inconsiderate and people unashamedly do it right in front of you. You’re waiting in line and the person in front of you will unload their groceries and abandon their trolley in front of yours. I initially thought these were isolated incidents, but it happens quite frequently. Why do people do this?

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I think Botswana’s supermarkets should adopt the pay as you go trolley system. This is where trollies are all locked together and to release a trolley, shoppers have to insert a coin into the locking mechanism. You get your coin back when you return the trolley to its rightful place and push the locking mechanism back into place, which in turn pushes the coin out.

I bet no one would leave their trolley if they stood to lose money every time they did it.

7 months ago