Friday, August 24, 2007

On doing groceries

Many times, life in Lebanon is full of surprises, both negative and positive. Politicians making a fool of themselves on TV, strangers welcoming you for lunch if you only stop to ask for directions in some remote area, really anything can happen. Doing groceries is no exception.

Take yesterday, for example. Here I was shopping for the weekend in the supermarket. There was a woman in front of me at the cashier and my cart was pretty full. A Philippine maid walks up with only one pack of bread and asked politely if she could go first. “Sure”, I nod, “no problem”.

Then, right before it’s the maid’s turn, her boss shows up…with a cart even fuller loaded than mine! She bypasses me and simply puts her cart next to the maid. Now that’s a demonstration of assertiveness you seldom see in Lebanon. Agreed, forming a decent queue is a serious challenge for most, but sending your maid to stand in line with only one bread so the other would give up his spot, is of a different level altogether.

Now what to do? Humbly accept or stand firm? The Dutch are known for their rudeness and besides, this was simply too much, so the choice was easy: I was not giving up my spot! So, politely and softly I said “Sorry, Madam?”, trying to get her attention. Nothing happened, apparently she didn’t hear me.

I tried again, this time raising my voice a bit higher: "Madam, afwan!?". Still no response. This was getting too weird, and time was pressing since it was almost my turn…with the emphasis on ‘my’…no way I was letting her get ahead of me. Things were personal now.

Complicating factor was that she was veiled, so maybe she was not allowing herself to interact with strange men. But surely that would be to my advantage: I tapped her politely on the shoulder, expecting her to react from a man’s touch…still no response whatsoever.

Drastic measures were called for by now and I decided to push her cart forcibly out of the line and maneuver my own cart back into its old spot. Now that got her attention alright! She started talking fast and aggravated in Arabic. Nodding understandingly, I listened to her (not that I speak Arabic) but obviously didn’t move my cart.

When she was finished, I replied by saying something like “ana houn able enti madam”, trying to make her understand that I was here before her. As if she didn’t know! This only resulted in her getting angrier and she even started pushing back her cart. It was amazing to see this docile, timid woman turn into a scolding b*tch who suddenly had no problem whatsoever with connecting to me.

Perhaps it goes to show how much pent-up anger people have here in this country, perhaps she happened to have a bad day or perhaps this was just her baseline behavior. Who knows?

Luckily, one of the guys who wrap up the groceries came to my defense and told her that actually, yes, I was there first and he directed her behind me. Realizing that she has caused quite a scene calmed her down a bit. All the while muttering under her breath, she took her cart to another lane. Problem solved and wearily thinking ‘Well, I got myself something to blog about’ I went home.


Gerard said...

There is a lot to say on the behaviour of this woman. But you cannot state that she is not creative ;) .

Sietske said...

I absolutely LOVE this scene, because I can not just visuale it; I can smell and hear it too. Yep, we've all been there. I tell you, Riemer, there are supermarkets I cannot frequent anymore due to my 'assertive' behavior when I would get stick in similar situations. Great story. More of this, please!

Anonymous said...

That was supposed to be 'visualize', not 'visuale'.

Anonymous said...

Sietske, "assertive behaviour"? OK, next time we park my Saab, you push the lady aside ok? Ysbrand.