Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Don't Talk to Strangers!

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," taking you back to your earliest childhood when your mama taught you never EVER to talk to strangers!

This is sound advice for tots. I do not dispute it. For tots.

However, where I grew up, you talk to strangers once you've become an adult. Waiting in line at the grocery store? You talk to the person in front of you. Doctor's office running a little slow? You complain to the other folks sneezing over the magazines. Heck, you could practically make a new bosom buddy at the bus stop in bad weather, if the transit was running behind.

I took this habit of talking to strangers with me to Detroit, where it met with success far and wide.

Here in New Jersey, the only place you can talk to strangers is in the thrift store. Everyone is nice there. Even the people who can't speak English smile at you. What a welcome relief from the rest of this sorry state!

This afternoon I was out doing errands, and the closest grocery store was the huge, expensive, yuppie paradise known as Wegman's. If there's no Wegman's where you live, count on it. There will be one soon.

Wegman's is an enormous store, but when you push past the aisles of greeting cards, "organic" food (don't believe it), expensive tableware and kitchen goods that no one can afford, bins of old-timey candy, flower shop, and sample tasting tables, you don't find many more groceries than you do in any other store.

Thus I found myself in the grocery section looking for an elusive item: Shake and Bake.

If I hadn't pegged myself as a hillbilly before, you surely know it now. Shake and Bake has been a staple in the kitchens of three generations of Johnsons. But I actually wasn't looking for Shake and Bake. My local Acme stocks a chicken coating from the deep South somewhere that is dee-licious. I figured if I could locate the Shake and Bake in the Mammoth Cave that is Wegman's, I'd also find the deep South coating mix.

I couldn't find the Shake and Bake.

I asked a guy stocking the shelves with McCormick spices. He said he didn't work there and had no idea where it could be.

So I picked a likely aisle, and in that aisle was another customer with a cart half-filled with groceries. She was younger than me, and the little "New Jersey Yuppie" warning bell did go off, but I figured, what the heck. She's clearly been up and down these aisles, she might have seen the Shake and Bake.

In my nicest, down-home way, I said, "Excuse me, have you seen the Shake and Bake?"

She looked at me as if I had said, "Excuse me, can I rip your lungs out, kick them across the floor, and leave them for the rats to devour?"

Then she replied, "No. And I haven't been looking for it either." On she walked, gently stroking her traumatized organic whole grain bagel chips.

Jeez. What did I say? She couldn't have thought I mistook her for an employee. She had a cart, and she wasn't wearing a chirpy Wegman's polo shirt.

Call it my Appalachian upbringing if you like, but I don't have a problem with strangers asking me for directions, or for assistance, or whether or not a jacket makes them look fat (thrift store). I even give change to panhandlers! What harm is done? Maybe I can't pay someone's bill for that pesky emergency room visit, but I can at least have a little courtesy.

There are certain stereotypes that cling to places. New Jersey is known for having belligerent, unfriendly residents. Just today I'm not going to disabuse anyone of that notion. If you're in a store, looking for Shake and Bake, find the guy with the chirpy polo shirt. Whatever you do, don't talk to a stranger. Pretend you're three years old again and act accordingly.


THE Michael said...

That's why we are famous for our "Southern hospitality"; if someone responded to us like that, we'd have pulled out our gun and shot her. One last asshole polluting the spice ailse.

Mama Kelly of 2 Witches Blog said...

How rude. I'm always asked where things are when I'm out shopping and I've never found it at all offensive.

I think I know where the shake and bake was ... up little miss NJ Yuppie's ****

Souris Optique said...

What a bee-otch. sheesh.

If you don't talk to strangers as an adult, how will you make any friends?
I'm still trying to train myself out of a lot of perfectly sensible childhood conditioning - nearly 30 years in! *smacks forehead*

But I married an *incredibly* extroverted guy, and he talks to *everybody,* thus relieving me of the stress of having to make first contact much of the time. ;)

Debra She Who Seeks said...

What goes around comes around, so little Miss Yuppie Bitch will get hers in due course, I'm sure.


that's why i love small towns in texas...we hold the door open for you, let that person in front of you go first if they only have 2 itmes and you have a full basket. everyone knows me from family dollar..well, hell everyone knows me..and i was in the grocery store and some one came up to me and asked where the canned milk was..i took them right too it..they figure if i knew where things were at family dollar i'd know where they would be at food mart..we wave to each other driving on the road..even if we dont know who the person is..men will tip their hat at you..and the four way stop signs is hysterical..no one wants to be the rude one and go first..i want to have some one draw a cartoon of 4 cars at a 4way and have the cars all have cobwebs and skeletons in the cars...

Gruvkitty said...

I was born and raised in TN. I learned manners. Some people think manners are "shallow" or "insincere", but I'd rather a stranger put on a smile and say "good morning!" - even if it's "insincere"- than let the door hit me in the face while they practice their "real" rudeness. Since then I've lived in St Louis (still pretty courteous), Chicago (lots of Appalachians), Philly (horribly mean), Austin (gloriously hospitable), and finally Los Angeles.

LA is a nightmare of stuck up, pretentious, morons who are in love with themselves, together with a healthy dose of various immigrants who's cultural customs vary but are still perplexing to me. I try to roll with it, but as my extroverted, also born-in-the-south, jewish, southwestern-raised husband always says, "You can take the girl out of the South, but you can't take the South out of the girl..."

Maebius said...

Sheesh indeed.
I'm in upstate NY so we get saddled with some of the same stereotypes as "New Yorkers" even though the Big Apple is a totally different universe from my rural town.
In the big city stores, yeah, asking a stranger about something is tantamount to being a terrorist sometimes.
I fear for societies future here in the northeast US.

Em said...

I think it has a lot to do with the store and the neighborhood you shop in. My Mom has this amazing mutant power where people talk to her. I've inherited it, and we're both natives of Jersey. And Mom shops at the Pathmark in Lawnside twice or so a month, the folks there seem pretty friendly.

Anne Johnson said...

Whoa! I live right near Lawnside! Thanks for the tip... And I'll bet they've got Southern chicken coating too.

Nettle said...

There are two grocery stores in my West Philly neighborhood - one is shiny and neat and made to appeal to the suburban kids who come to school at Penn and are terrified of anything too "urban"; and another that is run-down and not very clean but stocks an amazing variety of ethnic foods and mostly serves the very mixed neighborhood that exists side-by-side with Penn. I avoid the shiny place like the plague; it's horrible and crowded and nobody makes eye contact. I go to the other one when I need a supermarket. It always has fun music on the loudspeaker, people talk to each other over the produce, little old ladies give random and unsolicited cooking advice, and if you asked where the shake-and-bake was you'd have about five people leading you there and offering to exchange shake-and-bake recipes. In several languages.

There are many, many things I don't love about this city. But there are a few things that I do, and that's one of them.

Lyn said...

Here in the UK Society would stop if we didn't talk to strangers. It goes hand in hand with our love of queuing. It's protocol when standing in line to talk to your fellow queuers and complain about the weather. Come on over - I think we do shake and bake too!

kimc said...

Here in Northern California, I talk to strangers in stores often. Often they talk back to me or at least smile.
Remind me to stay out of New Jersey. (the only part of New Jersey I've been in is Chatham, and they were middling friendly if I remember right. It was a long time ago.)

Lynda said...

Oh Gawd! I've laughed so hard I have tears!

mrsb said...

I was going to post all about how I'm quite happy to talk to people in stores of all kinds, and then it hit me - even after living in NJ almost 11 years, I'm still a Texas girl at heart.

I surprised you didn't take her bagel chips and shove 'em where the sun don't shine.