One of the petty annoyances I face on a regular basis is at the supermarket. When I lived in America, we could shop at Megamartopolis, which had 100 gleaming aisles, and I’m pretty sure at least one showgirl. Alternatively, we could visit One Stoop, the little kosher grocery store that serviced the local observant community.

One Stoop had about 6 aisles, but I never got to see what was in half of them because they were always blocked by a cart or two. Usually, there would be a customer near the cart, browsing through the tomatoes on the bottom shelf to find the perfect can, i.e., the one the stock boy had been too lazy to re-price since 1947. Frequently, however, there was a customer in the aisle, but not anywhere near the cart. Invariably, this person would look at neither the cart nor at me, and would be muttering the names of products on the shelf, sotto voce, like a talisman, until the right charm was found.

“French’s mustard, French’s Dijon mustard, French’s honey mustard, French’s brown mustard… French’s Honey Dijon!!”

At this point, the shopper would glance up at me slyly, judging my resolve. If I looked ready to wait him out, he would start in on more advanced tactics. I am no match for a man who pulls out his bifocals and proceeds to give a reading of the back of a jar of applesauce like he was doing Shakespeare in the park. And while I was irked, I put down the differences between One Stoop and Megamartopolis to the much smaller size of the former, and not to the clientele.

When I moved to Israel, I eventually found my way to the local Rami Levy. Rami Levy is no Megamartopolis, but the aisles are big enough to fit a cart going in each direction, with ample room for a person to pass in between. And yet, even here, when a cart is in the aisle, that cart is almost invariably in the middle. Is it a lack of depth perception which keeps people from being able to steer the carts to the sides? After coming across one of the offenders, a sweet but martial little old lady, at the dairy counter, apparently able to spot when a slice of cheese was a micron too thick, I discarded that theory. Perhaps it’s a disdain for the establishment, a thumb placed squarely on the nose of society’s expectations of conformity? But in that case, if everyone is doing it, doesn’t that then become the new standard of conventionality?

Israel was where I first began shopping with my husband. In the States, he had been employed by Average Joe’s, one of those trendy markets that the patrons frequently mistook as being concerned about good nutrition or organic foods, but which in reality was merely interested in whatever fad was currently the most popular. One day, the store would sell fair trade coffee beans, and the next they would sell sugar processed from cane handpicked by Guatemalan schoolgirls. I couldn’t shop there because if you stood still too long, the employees would begin to gang up on you and pelt you with samples. Plus, as an expert, my husband didn’t like me tagging along and slowing him down.

“But you didn’t even check how much it costs per ounce!”

“Look, time is money. It takes 90 seconds to figure out the cost per serving. So, I have just saved us enough to make up for any small inefficiencies. Now go to the car and pull up to the front of the store so I can through the groceries out of the window into the trunk. That’s going to shave at least three minutes of our time!”

But all that changed once the shopping needed to be done in Hebrew. I don’t speak Hebrew very well, but by using my limited vocabulary and attention to detail, e.g., looking at the pictures, I am able to get pretty much the desired food, or at least an item in the correct food group. Or, at the very minimum something that is definitely food, anyway. Whereas, my husband was frequently bringing home substances of questionable origin, which I sometimes had to take pictures of and post on Facebook to confirm that they were edible. To save us all from gastroenteritis, possibly from lead poisoning, and on one memorable occasion perhaps even from tetanus, I began to go along. And that is when I found out that my husband was a serial cart offender.

“Why are you leaving the cart in the middle of the aisle?!”
“It’s only a minute! And there’s no one even here!”

I looked up and caught the eye of a woman entering the lane. She was already sizing me up suspiciously.

“Look at all these salad dressings,” my husband began to drone in an all too familiar voice. “French, Italian, Russian, Greek…”

The woman’s eyes narrowed. And just as I had feared, my husband switched into high gear, and took out his glasses.

“Hungarian?! I didn’t even know there was a Hungarian salad dressing! I wonder what the ingredients are. Let’s see here… Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, emulsified paprika, Polysorbate 420…”

The woman gave a sniff and moved on to the next aisle. And that’s when I gave up and decided that cart blocking is probably just genetic.