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Are you guilty of these rude behaviors? Why supermarkets bring out the worst in us.

A new poll reveals we’re sampling food, parking like maniacs and throwing basic courtesy out the window.
A supermarket aisle
Having too many options to choose from when shopping can make us feel overwhelmed and frenzied. bugphai / Getty Images/iStockphoto

We all have our shopping horror stories. As someone who strangely enjoys grocery shopping, I spend a lot of time at my local supermarket, and it seems every time I go I witness some pretty bad behavior from fellow shoppers. I’ve seen people grab from the salad bar — with their bare hands — and gobble up food without paying for it as if it were some kind of public sampling tray. I’ve seen people yelling at each other to move in the aisles, or not so subtly sighing and rolling their eyes at the slowpoke in front of them who is ogling the shelves and blocking traffic with their cart.

I count myself among the slovenly offenders. I tend to be that slowpoke in the aisles, taking her sweet time as she reads the ingredients on the back of every salad dressing, her brimming cart drifting off into the way of others.

Survey shows we’re throwing basic courtesy out the window

A new poll by Treadmill Reviews considers some of the most offensive grocery store habits, drawing attention to just how bad it gets. Shoppers are not only taste-testing products (which 80 percent of people deemed inappropriate — and really it should be 100 percent), they’re parking like maniacs (nearly 50 percent of people say they’ve nearly been struck by a car in a supermarket lot), storming express lanes with carts that go way over the 10 item limit and leaving their emptied carts anywhere but back where they belong.

Markets trigger primal needs while also bombarding us with choices

What about the grocery store enables such brazen bad manners and entitled behavior? It may in part boil down to the basic, primal relationship between humans and food.

“If we're looking at this from an evolutionary perspective, we are certainly primed for survival and we are also always trying to meet our basic needs (re: Maslow's hierarchy),” says Katie Krimer, a licensed clinical social worker. “One of those main needs is food. Even though we live in a country where the options are endless, there might be an instinctual sense of urgency to make sure we have ‘enough’ food to survive.”

That primal need gets triggered, which in itself can make us less mindful of our manners, and then you’re adding a hectic environment to the mix. Supermarkets are generally not calm, soothing places and they’re overflowing with products. So you’ve got a primal need activated and way too many options to meet that need.

“Having too many options can make us feel overwhelmed and frenzied,” continues Krimer. “We are bombarded from every angle by product information, which is stimulating to say the least. In fact, there can be a paradoxical effect; when we habituate to too many options and because we can't possibly consume all of them, there is a feeling that we never have enough.”

Financial concerns and time constraints can fuel resentment

Some of us get to the grocery store without the worry of being in a hurry, and/or without having to stick to a budget. But this isn’t the case for most of us who are living paycheck to paycheck and desperately trying to coordinate work/life balance.

Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a licensed clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist, thinks that some of our anger and entitlement in supermarkets may be stemming from a deeper unease, particularly over the rising cost of living.

“As more and more people see the price of groceries increase while their salaries haven't in the last 20 years, they feel uncared for, unsupported, devalued and angry,” says Dr. Hafeez. “Did you know that today you would need $30 to get the same $20 worth of groceries in 2001? This is fine if salaries kept up, [but] they haven't. Put these [stressed] people in the supermarket with their kids running around being noisy as they are trying to wrap their head around $5.49 for eggs, and they can easily be triggered. They may also feel entitled to make a mess and sample food out of spite as in, ‘if they have the nerve to charge $4 for a bottle of iced tea, then I'm not picking up the five bags of pasta that I knocked off the shelf.’”

Try these tips to ease the stress and keep bad behavior in check

Whether you’re the person carelessly leaving the container of milk in the toiletries aisle, or the person getting worked up by the recklessness of others in supermarkets, there are ways to deal and improve.

Krimer has compiled a list of tips to help us be better, more considerate shoppers in the fluorescent chaos of the supermarket.

1. Practice mindfulness before you go to the store

“Build some awareness around how being in a store makes you feel and how it makes you behave. If you experience anticipatory anxiety or stress, or know that while you're there you often struggle with dealing with impatience (whether it's with your children or with other shoppers), this is your opportunity to bring your anxiety and stress levels down before you go."

2. Practice mindfulness when you're there

“If you find yourself getting over-stimulated or agitated, can you pause and take a deep breath?”

3. Remind yourself that this isn’t a high stakes situation

“We revert back to automated behaviors and we're not mindful while we're shopping. We tend to go and pick food off the shelves as if it's our last meal (and important to validate here that some people have been in situations where they actually have had to be afraid of going hungry). Remind yourself that you can come back to the store if you forget something, and nothing will make or break your experience of making a meal.”

4. Do some strategic planning

“Go to the store when there are likely a lot less people there, or go a little out of your way to go to a store that you know isn't as packed or as overwhelming. Have a list with you and commit to not straying from it — then you're less likely to be affected by all the options and taking home a bunch of things that you don't want or need.”

Alas, we can’t control the behavior of others, but we can control how we react to them, by taking a pause, considering that they may be having a bad day, and then letting our judgments go.

We may also want to take some time in developing camaraderie with store employees. Say their names. Make eye contact. Ask how’s it going. Tip the person bagging your groceries if that’s appropriate — or at least say a meaningful thank you. Little acts of connectivity and gratitude can go a long way, and at the very least, they’ll probably help you feel less stressed out.


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