BOS 09 09 2021 doublesize
In June 2020 when I entered a grocery store, everyone else knew where they were supposed to stand to wait for a check out. I had no clue. For three months, all our groceries were ordered online for pick up or home delivery. This one time, the person who shopped my order had said there were not a substitution for the strawberries I asked for. It was the height of strawberry season. I was sure there were some. Nervous, unsure of the system, I went in for the berries.

I knew about lines on the floor from the pharmacy, but the rest of the systems, from where to pick up a cart to the person who met every shopper to how to check out were new and disconcerting.

There were strawberries. And as usual in a grocery store, I picked up two other items and headed for the express check out. But the front of the store had changed. Looking around I was completely confused. An associate directed me to where the line formed.

Fast forward to May 2021 and a visit to Service Ontario. Here, the screener at the door explained the system carefully and kept giving us good directions. Redoing paperwork, however, meant negotiating the space differently. I found it nerve wracking.

I realized that our careful isolation at home had made me unaccustomed to being inside with other people. I was going to have to learn to wait in line all over again.

I decided that as soon as I was double vaxxed, I would start grocery shopping. The middle of July, I planned a trip to the store. Unlike the first time I slipped in, I knew that I would face a very different store than I was used to. I was prepared to learn the system. I checked the arrows on the floor and went up an aisle I did not need so that I could go down the one I did. I worked my way from the vegetables to the other end of the store and joined the line, carefully staying six feet back from the person in front.

I watched and thought I understood the system. I went to wait at the designated register a good six feet back. But I approached as the person was bagging their purchases, and the cashier frowned and told me to wait. I stepped back, realized that there was a cleaning protocol between customers. When called forward, I placed my bags on the belt, and with another frown, was told to pick them up.  Right. The cashier did not want to touch my bags and thought that I should know that after more than a year of pandemic protocols.

Different stores have different systems. I had to make sure I was patient and alert the first time in each to find the sanitizer for the cart and me, to follow the pattern of the aisles I needed, to figure out where to line up to check out. I had to be aware that everyone else had learned these things months earlier.

I had heard that people don't always follow the lines on the floor. I think most people do, but it sure is awkward trying to keep physical distance when facing someone. They keep looking at the shelves, not seeing the frown behind my mask. And check out protocols have eased as we get toward fall--I've had cashiers help me pack.

Given everything, I plan for shopping. There is no rushing in for a few last-minute things. Not being in a hurry helps me to stay calm and patient. I can be chatty and cheerful with those who work there. I am working out the kinks of anxiety that developed during isolation. I don't want to be afraid of strangers.

There is an odd lack of interaction with other customers. We each focus on the shelves only glancing at the others in the aisle in order to stay out of their way. There is no joking about how nice the tomatoes are or wondering about a bare spot on the shelf.

I've entered the stores again, but it does not feel like getting back to normal. Still, working through the protocols feels like learning to live in this new world.

Cathy Hird lives on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway


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