Shopping at supermarkets in Mauritius is definitely not one of my favourite activities. Nor yours, I suspect?
Having lived in several places where supermarkets were a normal feature of life long before the opening of Continent in Phoenix, I think I can speak on the subject with a certain discernment. And compared to what I have experienced before, shopping at supermarkets in Mauritius is definitely not one of my favourite activities. Nor yours, I suspect?
Unfortunately we cannot get back to our laboutik sinoi of yore where the ‘Captane’ used to know all the members of our family. Shopping for the weekly food basket was a pleasant outing for mum and the children — all doled up in our Sunday best. Arriving at the shop, she would just hand the ‘commi’ (usually the Captane‘s son) her list and he would take care of the rest. At the end, we children were always treated with some free candy and, during the fruiting season, with vavangues, mangoes or caramboles from the back garden. For the New Year the Captane would personally gift mum a hamper of delightful goodies in return for her loyalty to his shop. Old-fashioned, human stuff.
Parking. But back to the impersonal modernity of the supermarket. First there is this difficulty with the parking. It is true that most supermarkets have parking lots large enough to land several A380s on them, but it is the spacing that causes problems. Have you noticed how narrow they are? The man who did the markings must have worked at Legoland in Aarhus. These are so tight that, if you do manage to find a space between two large vehicles, you can’t even park your little Nissan March in it. Sure you might be able to squeeze it in, but then you cannot get out of the car because there is not enough room to open the door.
Trolleys. So you go round and round the car park until you eventually manage to find a suitable spot. Now you are ready to enter the supermarket and do you shopping. Have you noticed how, at that precise moment, the trolley boy always decides to push right into your path a caterpillar made of a hundred trolleys? With little alternative, you wait patiently for the larva-on-wheels to slowly wind its way into the building before proceeding any further. Get an apology from the insolent little tyke? Not, b….y likely! What you get instead is a self-satisfied smirk.
The Stacker. So you steady your nerves and get hold of a trolley. Starting at one end of the shop, you start picking the items that you need from the shelf. Gradually you attain your cruising speed, thinking this is not going to be as arduous or as painful as you had imagined. But big mistake! You suddenly come across an obstacle in the shape of a fat young woman standing on a stool surrounded by an assortment of cardboard boxes full of tinned food. She is the shelf-stacker. This would not normally pose any problem because you could squeeze past her using part the other lane as it were. Except that she is standing right in front of the tins of Italian fish sauce that you need to make your favourite spaghetti pescatore.
“Please miss, err, would mind handing me two of those?” you venture sheepishly. A slow turn, a daddy of a filthy look, a deep sigh, and she hands you the prized pescato sauce. No eye contact, no there you are, forget about any apology. Feeling intimidated by her body language you just take the sauce and scuttle away before getting tins of Pomodori pelati thrown at you!
Of course you will meet several obstacles like this one by the time you have done the round of all the shelves. But short of choice, you persevere and, O Relief, you eventually manage to come to the end. Still there are stuff like blocks of Irish cheddar and roast meat that you need to get from the Deli counter.
The moment the helper sees you approaching, she turns her back on you and starts working on something or other. You wait thinking she will turn any moment to serve (the word makes me laugh) you. In order to attract her attention, you try clearing your throat aloud… really aloud but to no avail. Eventually you venture a timid “excuse me please” which gets an apt response in the form of a sharp “Yes?!” accompanied by a dirty look. Now that you have got her attention, you must be quick to put in your order because she may start on another of her important jobs… and serving the damfool customer is definitely not one of them! Apart from being ignorant, be aware that many of these women are also deaf. So be prepared to repeat your orders several times.
Fruit and Veg. This is definitely the last stretch. You gather your fruits and vegetables and, having opened the bio-degradable plastic bags, (no mean task, this! Also whilst I think about it, is this quick disintegrating plastic any less toxic to the environment than those that take 10-centuries to break down?) you pack them in. Now comes the long wait whilst you queue up to get them weighed — if the lady is not too busy doing something else out of sight, or simply chatting past you to her colleague stacking the F&V shelf. Anyway, not to be different from the rest, the transaction eventually goes through without any eye contact, Bonjour, Merci or Au-revoir.
The Cashier. This really is your last hurdle. You choose the shortest queue but, born as you were under an unlucky star, it turns out to be the slowest moving as well. Still, you are lucky that the cashier is not chatting to her colleague over the heads of the queuing customers. But true to form, there is no response to your Bonjour. If only these young women (no I won’t flatter them with the term “ladies”) deigned to look at the customer now and then.
Impassively, she swipes your stuff past the bleeping scanner, holding the frozen/packed food items between finger and thumb and literally chucking them along as if they were infected with the Ebola virus or worse. Having scanned the last item, she mumbles “Five thousand one hundred and forty Rupees and ninety-seven cents,” looking straight ahead of her as if addressing the Invisible Man. Ninety-seven cents? You wonder whether this a joke because where would she find 3-cents to return to you when the smallest coin in the land is 5-cents.
But this is not the time to mull over such esoteric questions. You swiftly hand her your bank card. “Savings?” she asks automatically, stupidly, forgetting that all modern bank cards require your PIN code. Anyway you pay up and, with a deep sigh of relief, you leg it to the car for the homeward journey. As you drive away you thank Heavens for giving you some luck because none of your articles’ prices was unreadable by the scanner. This would have doubled the time at the Cashier whilst they tried to find someone to check the price of the offending article.
Anyway you eventually get home an absolute nervous wreck. Sinking into the sofa you say “there is a God after all!” as your bewildered looking wife hands you a welcome cup of vanilla tea, except that — you would have noticed — someone seems to have stolen the sweet aroma of the vanilla of late. What next, the squeak from the pig? It would not surprise me: these M(a)RU kleptomaniacs won’t stop at anything!
* Published in print edition on 21 September 2018