Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Great Baguette Disaster of 2009

In 1978 I bought my first edition of the ‘Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms’ by G. A. Wilkes. This wonderful book documents the many colourful expressions which are or were used in Australia. The new edition was released recently and I have received my copy from Amazon.

To broaden your horizons I will occasionally include some uniquely Australian expressions in my blogs. Feel free to use these in appropriate situations and startle your friends with the scope of your vocabulary.

My packing at the Spar checkout has not improved at all in the time we have been here – mainly because of the enormous pressure that one is placed under. The ideal situation is for you to put pack the heavy things at the bottom of your bag with the light and fragile things on top – and airily toss the the last item into the bag just as Helga the Iron Maiden with the steely gaze announces the price.

You can then pay – with the right money – getting rid of some of the kilos of brown coins which infest your pockets - and move on without being buried under the avalanche of stuff from the next person in line. (The cost in itself is usually enough to incite panic as you wonder what you possibly have bought that cost so much and did you accidentally pick up a bar of platinum and drop it in to your trolley).

But this never happens. The king’s ransom is always demanded while I still have a pile of things to dispose of. Then I start scratching around trying to find the small change I need but can’t do it quickly enough – panic - and pay with notes – getting yet another handful of change to add to my mountainous collection - and stuff this in my pockets as someone else’s tins and bottles start cascading onto my remaining groceries.

Other people don’t seem to have the same kinds of problems. The young people are much more agile and do the job with ease. The older women of course just stand there and pack their stuff while we all wait.

I always get something that just doesn’t go in the bag properly – or gets caught in the handles. Just one of these and it’s curtains.

In a ghastly incident in 2009 I got a baguette caught sideways in my shopping bag and just couldn’t get the damn thing out again. The bags are cloth and this one expanded to accommodate the baguette – which then made it impossible to get anything else in there.

I eventually had to break the baguette in half to extricate it and this took me maybe 30 seconds – it seemed like an eternity – and I raised my gaze fearfully to see Helga wanting money, a gigantic pile of my groceries glowering at me - and six customers waiting impatiently behind me.

The worst case scenario is when the little old lady (LOL) pays and then packs the rest of her stuff while you are still behind her - while you are having your items processed by Helga.

In this nightmare scenario Helga starts piling the stuff on top of the plastic shelf in front of the bench. When this is full she the starts putting it where the old lady is – but using your items to push the LOLs stuff further down the bench.

In this scene from hell you are then trying to move stuff off the plastic shelf and at the same time keeping it separate from the LOL - and grabbing back from her your Angus McTavish Pure Butter Shortbread biscuits that she is trying to snaffle.

By the time the LOL moves on you are up to pussy’s bow in groceries - and Helga is demanding money.

At this stage you can either cram everything into your bags as quickly as possible – and untangle the mashed remains when you get home – or throw everything back into your trolley and then retire to the packing bench to start all over again. I have often had to do this – first breathing into a paper bag for a few minutes to settle myself down.

There is very little you can do to slow the process down a bit. Some items don’t get scanned and if you put these at the back of the pile Helga may have to look up the price and this will give you a breather for maybe three seconds – long enough to hurl two items into your bag. You can also mess up the bar codes on some items so that Helga has to input them manually – but she is remarkably quick and efficient and has a vested interest in causing panic.

It is an excruciating and debilitating process and I always end up trudging home with a tangled mess of groceries and my pockets clinking with yet more unwanted change which I then add to the enormous and growing pile in a large dish.

I am checking online. There must surely be remedial grocery packing courses available somewhere.


  1. The packing bench option is the way to go Badger. I'm sure you've gathered that the idea is to get your things scanned, put them back into the trolley, pay and then retire to the packing bench to put the stuff in your bags at your leisure and also to nurse your wounded wallet. I hated this system at first but I've got used to it by now, it does actually reduce the amount of waiting time at the checkout.

    Mind you I have a trolleyful of complaints about Billa myself (I never go to Spar but I'm sure the issues are the same), e.g.

    there is no express checkout so you often find LOLs with one loaf of bread and a pint of milk asking if they can go in front of you with your fully laden trolley. I will do this once but by the second or third time it ceases to be funny.

    there are never enough open tills and so the queue starts to lengthen at the one or two that are open. Sometimes Helga comes and opens another till, serves a few people until the queues go down, goes away and hey presto! the queue starts to mount again

    the shelf stackers always get in your way with their stupid ladders, they seem to have no interest in the fact that they are blocking the aisles. in any normal country shelf stacking takes place outside opening hours.

    And don't get me started on the poor quality fruit and vegetables in the produce section...

  2. I too am used to the system, or perhaps I should say resigned to it... Now I can cope pretty well with Helga hurling items at me. If you have brown coins to get rid of you can offer a selection in an outstretched palm, and let Helga pick out what she needs. Most Helgas are superfast at doing this, and prefer it to watching you slowly pick through your small change.

    And when the queue is unacceptably long, don't be afraid to shout 'zweite Kassa' a few times, the more conspicuous the better. They might look unflappable, but they can be embarrassed into providing a better service so long as you're prepared to make an ass of yourself.

    As for fruit and vegetables - I should know better by now but I got caught out yesterday. I wasn't paying any attention at the time and only realised when I got home that the net of potatoes I bought would have to be thrown away. Shrivelled skins and that squishy feel. Yuk. A particular irony was that when I bought them a Billa worker was checking the sell-by dates in the frozen section. Surreal.

  3. There's something bad about supermarkets. They're like the sea - they can turn on you and crush you in an instant.

    Or maybe I just need to find a Woolies in a better suburb than mine....

  4. Count yourself lucky mate that Helga actually looks at you. In a Pommy supermarket the checkout shiela is likely to be on a mobile to her bloke or exchanging jokes with her mate on the checkout behind her. I bet a whole morning can pass without her realising she had had a single customer. At least in Billa you generally get a "Gruss Gott" to start with.