Why the Grocery Store is the Fifth Level of Hell

You know, the level reserved for the wrathful. Acquiring food is a necessary part of being an adult, but when the grocery store is involved, the process of it is enough to want to turn to a life of fast food forever. Here’s why:

  • The aisles are barely wide enough for two carts to pass each other, often leading to an awkward dance of back up, pivot slightly, push forward, hit something, back up again, lather, rinse, repeat. I realize that narrower aisles mean more real estate for consumer goods, but the aisle situation is just annoying.
  • People who leave their shopping carts randomly strewn about the parking lot. The corral is RIGHT THERE, and I bet if it were your car getting battered by a runaway cart, you’d be pretty pissed. Lazy douchebags.
  • Those goddamned kiddie shopping carts that are shaped like cars and are twice as wide as regular shopping carts. There’s no possible way to share an aisle with one of those things without being assaulted by it in some way.
  • People who use shopping carts as weapons are fucking assholes. A polite “Excuse me” works just as well as ramming your cart into the back of someone’s legs.
  • OH MY GOD IF YOU CAN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO USE THE SELF-CHECKOUT, PLEASE GO TO A LANE WITH AN ACTUAL HUMAN CASHIER. The process of ringing up a basket of ten items or fewer should not take more than three minutes or so. If you can’t quite grasp what to do when the robot voice tells you to “move your red onion to the belt,” then please just realize that the self-checkout is not meant for you.
  • People who let their kids run wild. I hate it everywhere, but twice as much in the grocery store. Leash the kid to the cart if you have to. Hell, use one of those monstrous abomination kiddie carts. Just keep them out of my way and not throwing shit from the shelves onto the floor.
  • This may only apply to those of us who live in college towns: the gaggles of carbon-copy bobbleheads, decked out in their finest pajama pants and flip-flops, walking three wide, blocking the entire aisle, comparing the calorie counts on Diet Mega Pepsi Maxxx Zero and Coke Cancer.  Their carts always contain: a case of bottled water, lots of diet soda, and six thousand kinds of yogurt.
  • Just once, I would like to walk out of the grocery store without being pestered to donate to this or that, sign some petition, or buy some overpriced useless crap to send the local school club to whatever place they’re going this year. (And, frankly, parents? Pay for that stuff yourself. I kick in for the schools through my taxes and through things like, but you’re on your own for extracurriculars, especially if you live in the ‘burbs.) The donation thing bothers me the most because I do donate to things. I have a budget for it and everything. I don’t do it with coins, though, and I don’t do it outside of the grocery store. Don’t try to make me feel like a bad person for walking by you. I generally only have my driver’s license and debit card on me to begin with, and you don’t have any clue what I gave to the animal shelter this month, so back off, please.
  • The combination of fluorescent lights, perplexing Muzak choices, too many people who are always too loud and too close, the inability to find the one item you were looking for without backtracking halfway through the store, and the constant assault on every sense in every way imaginable is just a panic attack waiting to happen.
  • Grocery delivery services just aren’t for me. The selection of items never quite includes what I’m looking for, I like to pick out my own produce, and I generally “meal plan” around whatever ingredient looks interesting as I’m wandering the aisles. I’m sure, given time, grocery delivery will be perfected, and I’ll use the hell out of it then, but until that day, I need to actually get my ass to the store itself.


I’m one of those people who is thrilled about the gradual shift to an all-automated grocery shopping experience. Yes, as someone who has worked extensively in retail, I do worry for the jobs being replaced by deli kiosks, self-checkouts, and those magical scan-as-you-shop guns, but frankly, grocery stores even before these things were invented were always wildly understaffed, so I think that they aren’t so much replacing jobs as supplementing them. I love placing my deli order by touch screen, then coming back for it later. I love scanning each item before it goes in the cart so I can see a running tally of how much I’ve spent. I love breezing through the self-checkout with a swipe of the debit card and being on my merry way. It’s all so civilized. You know, except for the other people.

(A slightly more profane version of this post appeared at Nice Girls Don’t Swear)

21 replies on “Why the Grocery Store is the Fifth Level of Hell”

Grocery shopping is always an exhausting experience. I second the vote for shopping after 9pm (or really, 8pm here) OR before 10am– earlier in the morning isn’t bad either. The store I always love going to is Trader Joe’s- they have the most helpful staff around. They’ll fetch anything, pass out treats while  waiting to check out , and happily bag up and take out my order to my car.

I’ve been known to open boxes of whatever to help keep the kids close to the cart- trust me, not a single person with a kid in the grocery store really wanted to bring said kid. EVER. Life happens that way, though….

I agree with everything you said; grocery stores are the among the worst places to encounter obnoxious human behaviour. I always wonder who thought it would be a good idea to give a small child with a distracted parent a metal, calf-height, thing with wheels and set them loose in a public place with lots of people and things to knock over. Also, I was raised to let people go ahead of me if I have a cart that’s full of items and the person behind me only has a few; this never happens anymore, it seems.

I find grocery shopping extremely relaxing (usually) but I don’t have to contend with the majority of your list … so that probably accounts for the difference.

Narrow aisles — That would be irritating. I would go out of my way to shop elsewhere if I could.

I haven’t noticed shopping cart abandonment in quite a while, actually. Several stores I went to started having locked carts that you “paid” a quarter to release, but it would spit it out again once you returned it. Maybe those trained people in my area?

People use shopping carts as weapons? They are seriously that rude? I have NEVER experienced that and would find it infuriating! Same is true for children running around like maniacs.

The only time people are out gathering donations seems to be around Remembrance Day … and I’m totally cool with that.

I love grocery store music! It’s usually greatest hits of the 80s and I sing along while shopping (I hear other people doing the same and it makes me happy).

Now I wish I was at the grocery store!  :)

I didn’t mean to attack the writer; I just find the implied endorsement (by Persephone) of looking into young girls’ shopping carts and making assumptions about their lives and right to be in a grocery store based on what they eat to be counterproductive to the message of this website.  Just because they’re skinny (“bobbleheads”) doesn’t mean they deserve that judgment.

I didn’t read “bobbleheads” as a comment on their weight at all, but rather a reference to the toy bobbleheads that wobble their heads around a lot; see the movie Clueless for an example of people talking and using body language like this.

Also, it wasn’t their “right” to be in a grocery store she called into question so much as the habit of standing multiple-people wide across a grocery store aisle that is already difficult to maneuver due to its small size. This is an example of obnoxious and inconsiderate behavior, not a judgment on body type or individual rights. The author may be implying a connection between the type of vapidity that the diet industry promotes (exemplified by the all-diet-friendly cart contents and calorie-counting behaviors) and the inconsiderate behavior of blocking the aisle – perhaps an implication about self-absorption? that is how I read it; but I think the author’s point, rather than one of exclusion, is one of inclusion: everyone has a right to use the grocery store, and the inconsiderate behaviors of others that make it difficult for some to use the grocery store are what are under fire here.

“Bobblehead” is a common insult for a girl who’s so thin that her head looks disproportionately large.  It’s an idiom at this point (Urban Dictionary entries, in the titles of gossip articles describing thin actresses, the pro-ana community).  That the author mentioned counting calories, diet soda, and yogurt makes me think that she’s using it in the widely-known way I’m describing.  The connection you’re making would be fair enough if the author weren’t already using a well-known word to insult dieters in the same passage in which she listed other lady-dieting tropes.  Plus specifying college-aged girls?  She’s talking about girls with eating disorders.

While it’s admirable that you feel so strongly about the subject that you feel you can speak definitively to my intentions, you’re incorrect, and I’ll thank you not to presume to tell other people what I was talking about. A cursory glance at Urban Dictionary (which is hardly a reliable source for anything, since it defines “Cabbage Patch Kid,” another type of doll/toy, as “a porn star with the hottest rack imaginable”) has several entries referring to fellatio and that’s about it. I don’t read gossip magazines, so if “bobblehead” is used to refer to thin actresses, I haven’t seen it, I’m not active in or particularly familiar with the pro-ana community, and eating disorders are hardly limited to college-aged women, so you’re assuming an awful lot of intention on my part that isn’t there.

Lesson learned. Next time I mean “inconsiderate, vacuous, interchangeable dumbasses filling their shopping carts with stereotypical TV commercial ladydiets, proving that they’re susceptible to lowest common denominator advertising, and getting in everyone’s way and generally being annoying while doing so,” I won’t try to shorthand it. I’m happy to reconsider word choice if it offends someone in a way I haven’t considered; I think all writers need to be open to taking those things into account, but I’m more likely to take it to heart if someone isn’t unnecessarily antagonistic and doesn’t assume bad faith from the beginning. Thanks for reading.

I grew up with Kroger/Dillons stores in Kansas and Ohio.  Consequently, moving over to Cambridge, England was a bit of a revelation.  In town itself, I have access to a Sainsbury’s and one or two Co-Ops.  They don’t use carts, but baskets.  And you pretty much only shop for a couple days because it’s all you can carry at one time.  Does this help with crowding in aisles? Nope.  It’s always fairly busy and it’s practically an Olympic sport dodging the other people and their baskets trying to get around.  But they have a lot of automated scanner sections as well as a good number of human operated ones.  The Co Op that’s pretty much across the street from where I live, is TINY and rather cramped but you can get around with a few polite “excuse mes” and “pardon mes” and be in and out in 15 minutes or less.  I know there are bigger stores like Tesco or Asda further out of the city centre but you probably would want to take a bus or a car there.

You know what I do like about grocery stores? FREE SAMPLES ON SATURDAYS!

And the nice stores that have fancy cheeses and olives and shit like that.


When I was in college, my roommate and I only grocery shopped at like 9 p.m. Always on Tuesday. Why? Because there was an hour lag between Glee and Teen Mom; what else were we going to do? There was never anyone there, the shelves were being restocked so whenever we needed something there would be a shelver right there to get it for us… it’s the best time to go grocery shopping, hands down. The best? The only thing open is the self scanners. AWESOME.

Now that I have a more normal life (still in college, but in grad school), I’m discovering why people hate grocery shopping. THERE ARE PEOPLE. EVERYWHERE. IN YOUR WAY. DOING RIDICULOUS THINGS. BEING LOUD. OBNOXIOUS. DUMB.

I can’t handle it. I’m much too misanthropic.

None of the goddamn stores in Ottawa have self-checkouts yet and this bothers me so much. To add to your awesome list:

-Those people who go to the express checkout line with more than the stated number of items. Why. Why are you doing this to the world?

-People who use pennies for anything over 10 cents. No one wants to watch you, then the cashier, count out an endless amount of pennies. Jeebus.



“Peo­ple who use shop­ping carts as weapons are fuck­ing ass­holes. A polite “Excuse me” works just as well as ram­ming your cart into the back of someone’s legs.”

YES! This occurs with alarming frequency. I seriously do not understand how people think this is acceptable. USE YOUR WORDS!

I just got back from grocery shopping where I gave some serious side eye to no fewer than a dozen people (including the cashier, who dumped my potatoes unceremoniously all over the place, nearly forgot half my groceries and almost squished my pie), and Pile of Monkeys, I <3 you so much for this.  The buggy thing especially drives me up the wall and back several times over.

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