I carried a towering pile of items to the till and placed them on the belt.
“Hi!” said the cashier.
The friendly chirpiness in her voice was probably due to the fact that it was almost closing time, but that’s just a guess. I smiled and returned the greeting, and then focused all of my limited attention on placing the heavy items at the front of the pile so I could bag them the proper way.
Little known fact, but that’s actually what adulting is all about; trying not to smoosh the brie beneath tins of tomatoes. True fact.
The cashier made a comment about the weather, and my friend smiled and agreed while I expertly separated the items in order of weight. I dropped the cartons of milk into the bottom of the bag, followed by the tins of tomatoes and the packet of pasta. I eyed the brie and broccoli as the cashier scanned it through. I was determined to absolutely nail this bagging business.
As an unrelated aside – it’s amazing the things you can trick your mind into thinking are little victories when the going gets tough.
Five minutes later, everything was carefully bagged and paid for. The cashier handed me the receipt. She smiled warmly and said, “Have a good evening now!” to which I naturally replied…
Not an ‘oh hello, didn’t see you there’ type of hello.
Not a nice, friendly, ‘Hello!!’
Just a flat, short, “Hello” in the same tone you would use if you were to automatically mutter, “Thanks” to a cashier who had just handed you a receipt.
…Which is what I was aiming for when my mind panicked and “Hello” popped out instead.
Cue an awkward pause as the cashier narrowed her eyes at me, probably trying to determine if I had some form of short-term amnesia. I grabbed the bag, turned on my heel and walked right out of the shop while screaming internally.
All this to say that today is my one year blogiversary. I know this because WordPress sent me a little notification to remind me. Thanks WordPress! One year on and I am still having awkward interactions with strangers. One year on and I am still embarrassing myself so you don’t have to. One year on and I am still waiting on that damn manual.
But in the meantime, I’ve got you guys to keep me company.
To fully set the scene, I must first explain certain truths about myself, like the fact that grocery stores relax me. I know, but they do. They are my zen garden. They are my mountaintop sanctuary. I can’t explain it, but walking up and down aisles of consumer goods just speaks to my soul. I don’t necessarily have to buy anything, it’s just the actual act of browsing that makes me feel a deep and abiding sense of calm. Roaming Target at 11pm with no shopping list in mind is my idea of bliss.
Also, I love automatic sliding doors and those little metal barriers that spring open as you approach; I always put my hand out, wave it to the side, and pretend I’m a Jedi.
Try it! I promise it will brighten your day considerably.
Anyway. I’m in the grocery store and I’m strolling aimlessly up and down the aisles. I have my earphones in because I’ve been listening to a podcast*, and I am idly contemplating a packet of crisps when a large guy comes over and starts talking to me. At first I don’t hear him, so he gets right in my face. I pull out an earbud and he says:
“Hi, how are you?”
What an opener. Ladies and gentlemen, witness this masterclass in charm.
“Good, thanks,” I reply politely with a smile, and then put the earbud back in my ear and step past him. He follows me and gets in my face again. I stop and pulled the earbud back out, feeling a tingle of irritation.
“Are you looking for something or just browsing? You look like you’re just window shopping. Are you window shopping?”
“Yeah, pretty much.” I put the earbud in my ear and step around him again.
Now, I know I haven’t stuck my hand out and primly stated, “KINDLY LEAVE ME ALONE, GOOD SIR. YOU ARE INTERFERING WITH MY SUPERMARKET MEDITATION” but to be honest, I don’t feel like I should have to resort to that in order to be left alone. If I were to pull the other earbud from my ear and smile gormlessly into his face, twirling a lock of hair around my finger, then he would have reason to persist. That’s not what’s happening though. None of my body language is inviting even the slightest prolonging of the moment. I am actively trying to escape the situation. I don’t think my feelings on this can possibly be misconstrued.
Instead of taking the hint, he turns and falls into step with me. I can hear him talking still but at this point I’ve tuned him out and am actually annoyed because 1.) I’ve given absolutely no indication of being interested, 2.) he’s ruining my mountaintop sanctuary experience and 3.) he’s really large and persistent, which makes me feel threatened. I hate feeling threatened; whether the threat is real or not. I feel vulnerable, and I hate feeling vulnerable, so then I feel annoyed that someone has put me in the position of feeling vulnerable, which just makes me feel angry….
It’s a complex tangle of emotions.
I take a breath and imagine for a moment that I am a porcupine. I imagine that I am covered in spikes and every quill on my body is ready to impale him if he gets too close. Then I exhale deeply and ruefully accept that sadly, I am not a porcupine, and even more sadly, I have no quills. Instead I am a small, soft, squidgy human, and I cut my fingernails quite short, so I don’t even have acrylic-talon weapons of death** at my disposal. I decide my best plan of action is to pretend I can’t hear him over the sound of my non-existent music, and just leave the shop. Which I do.
It’s a shitty feeling. If you’ve never felt so intimidated you’ve needed to leave a public space, you might not understand this. All I can say is that it feels really rubbish to change your plans because someone makes you so uncomfortable you don’t feel you can stay. It feels like weakness, and I guess it is weakness, but I’m polite and I’m also half the size of this man who thinks he can wear me down with inane conversation, so I retreat like the coward that I am. I walk down the street and turn the corner. I walk down another street, go into a shopping centre, take the escalators up to the first floor, and wander into another shop.
And this [unutterable word]…. he follows me.
I realise I might be particularly sensitive thanks to past experience, but this guy appears in front of me like a recurring hallucination from a bad trip and says, “Hey beautiful, we meet again!” as if it’s just a total coincidence and well fancy meeting you again so soon and he is looming over me grinning and I want to punch him in the face with my tiny fist because seriously, screw this guy and his dogged determination to ruin my day.
I don’t, obviously. Partly because that would be an overreaction, partly because I’m polite, and partly because I’m afraid that he would punch me right back with his fist the size of my face and I’d end up embedded in the tiled floor.
I know there are people thinking, ‘He probably just wanted to talk to you,’ and I agree. You are right. That is probably what he wanted to do. Maybe he thought I was shy, and I just needed the right amount of persistent conversation in order to bloom like a delicate flower. Maybe he thought he was being brave, walking up to me in the supermarket and striking up a conversation out of the blue. That is pretty ballsy, after all, and I don’t really have a problem with that. Take your chances chatting up the girl buying groceries. Go hard! Maybe she’s only strolling the shop floor because she’s waiting for a guy to sweep her off her feet next to the cereal. Maybe your eyes will meet over that box of Rice Krispies and love will blossom on aisle five. Who knows? Life is short, take a risk.
However, I do have a problem with the fact that once it’s clear I’m not interested in a conversation, he doesn’t just… let it go. He sidesteps my sidestep. He actively ignores any and all signs of discomfort on my part because his desire to talk to me is apparently more important than my desire to walk around without feeling hunted.
That’s how I feel in that moment. I feel like a wide-eyed, frightened rabbit. I let my eyes glaze and slide right over him, and then I turn and walk in the other direction as if I haven’t seen or heard him. I wonder whether he will keep following me around the shop. I wonder if he will follow me home. I keep moving through the aisles without actually looking at anything on the shelves, keeping an eye on him out of my peripheral vision. Then the heavens open up outside and it starts bucketing down.
I take my chance and, while other people huddle inside the door fiddling with hoods and umbrellas, I walk straight out into the downpour and keep putting one foot in front of the other until I reach my apartment complex. As the gate swings shut behind me, I feel like I’ve reached the safety zone in a kiddie game of tag.
Once I get inside my apartment, I am so angry I am shaking. I am angry with him, because he ruined my day and made me feel small and weak. I am angry with myself for being small and weak. I am angry because after listening to two episodes of a podcast about boundaries and anger, I totally and completely failed to express myself in terms of either one of them. I was too afraid of the consequences to use my words. I was too afraid of what his reaction would be if I rejected him. His total dismissal of my obvious discomfort made me far too uneasy to challenge him in any direct way, because if he can ignore my disinterest so fully, why wouldn’t he ignore my rejection?
Instead, I’d run back to my burrow like the frightened rabbit I am. All keyed up, I ranted about it on Snapchat. Now I’ve ranted about it here. Maybe next time I’ll get loud and brave the consequences. Maybe I’ll take up Krav Maga in the meantime. Or maybe…
Maybe there won’t be a next time.
That would be nice.
*It’s a comedy podcast called The Guilty Feminist and you can find episodes of it here.
**I always wondered why people get such awkward looking nails and how they’re able to do anything with such long claws but now I’m thinking that actually they seem like a sensible choice in terms of self-defence and maybe I should invest in my own set of tiny daggers attached to my fingertips.
I rolled out of bed. I had breakfast and got dressed. I worked diligently for a few hours and then decided to go to the shop and buy some shampoo.
Yesterday, I woke up in a good mood.
Now, a quick note about this. I have long hair. It’s not Rapunzel-length – I don’t have to worry about yanking on it when I sit down – but it’s long. I also don’t use any hair products because I’m weird about texture and I really like my hair to be soft. I have yet to try a mousse or hairspray or serum that doesn’t make my hair feel either crunchy or sticky or oily, so I just go without. This means that the heavy burden of making sure my hair looks, feels and smells awesome rests squarely on the shoulders of my shampoo and conditioner dream team.
Yes, I realise as I’m typing this out that I sound a little manic about my hair. I’m not. I barely even brush it. I’m just trying to explain why I have such strong feelings about shampoo.
I’m not quite sure I’ve succeeded.
About two months ago I trotted into Boots* to buy some shampoo and found myself in the no-sulphates section. I am not entirely sure what sulphates are or what they do, and I don’t care enough to google the answer, but apparently they’re Not Good, because there were a whole bunch of no-sulphate shampoos. I picked one at random and took it home.
And then I fell in love.
I fell in love with a shampoo.
It’s perfect. It smells a bit like men’s shower gel, but I like that. It made my hair feel clean and soft and lovely. I was disproportionately excited about it; honestly, much more excited than anybody should ever be about shampoo. I mean, it’s shampoo. Not exactly life-altering.
Still, the next time I was in Boots (which was about a week ago) I decided to buy some more. I walked down the shampoo aisle. I walked up the shampoo aisle. I walked back down the shampoo aisle. There was no sign of it.
I shrugged and went to a different store, now on a mission; I was like a tiny bloodhound, and the scent I was following was that of rosemary and botanic oils.
Still no sign of it.
Yesterday, after my productive morning, I walked into a third Boots with a spring in my step. This Boots is large and well-stocked, and I fully expected my shampoo to be there waiting for me in all its vibrant verdure. At this point I had come to terms with the fact that this shampoo is obviously rare and endangered. I decided to stockpile it. I mentally prepared myself to become a shampoo hoarder.
I turned the corner and glimpsed a glint of green winking at me from the bottom shelf. My face brightened. I subconsciously picked up the pace.
And then a Boots staff member snatched those five tubes of shampoo and matching conditioner right off the shelf and marched off with them before my very (horrified) eyes. Just… swiped them right off the shelf and disappeared into a back room without a word! I stood there for a moment trying to process what I had just witnessed, then whipped out my phone and found that this shampoo and conditioner is not rare or endangered. Oh no. It’s much worse than that. This shampoo is extinct. It has been DISCONTINUED.
That was just the last straw. There’s only so much I can handle before I need to go and lie down in a dark room. It’s not enough that Donald Trump is out there stomping on people’s lives and liberties like a flabby, mentally-compromised Godzilla with no self-control?
Now they take my shampoo?!**
There are no words.
Everything is unbearable.
*Like Walgreens, but better.
**I have ordered three of the remaining tubes on Amazon to soothe my anguish. Thank you for your thoughts at this difficult time.
I arrived for my meeting with Olga, my personal shopper, about twenty minutes early.
Before you tell me how impressed you are by my incredible time-keeping skills, I should admit that this really had more to do with my spiking levels of anxiety than my sterling punctuality. If you’re wondering how I even got to the point where I was meeting a personal shopper, click here. Regardless, I actually ended up having to take a walk around the block to try to burn off my nervous energy and kill some time before coming back around to the meeting point.
So that was a promising start.
Olga is a tall, stunning woman with cheekbones that would cut you if you got too close. She had long Nelle Porter-style* blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail. She was dressed head to toe in black and carried a very professional-looking clipboard. She looked at me over the top of her black-framed glasses and, in a clipped accent, ushered me briskly in the direction of a door marked ‘Personal Shopping.’ I’m not sure what I was expecting really. I walked towards it with an enormous sense of trepidation. What lay behind the door? A laboratory? A scene from A Clockwork Orange? Graham Norton’s Big Red Chair?
None of the above.
I walked through the door and stepped into a very private, very plush-looking room with two armchairs and a full length mirror. At the back, a changing room beckoned. I sat stiffly in one of the chairs and tried to tuck my Adidas trainers out of sight.
Olga perched herself on the windowsill and gracefully crossed her long legs. She started by explaining that she hadn’t been able to access my online profile – which, let’s be honest, is really for the best – and then asked me what sort of clothing I was looking for and what kind of budget we were working with. She asked for my measurements, asked my age, tapped her pen against the clipboard and said, ‘I will be back in fifteen minutes’ before whisking a large black clothing rail out the door.
While she was gone I tried every single one of the eleven perfume bottles that lined the windowsill.
In what felt like no time at all, she was back. A professional through and through, she didn’t comment on the expression of horror I must have had on my face as she flew through the door with her battering ram of clothes. The rail was jammed with tops, trousers, dresses and sweaters. She skimmed through a brief introduction to what she had chosen, and then wheeled the rail into position in the changing room and motioned for me to join her.
The changing room was almost as big as the room next to it. It had a long, full-length black velvet couch along one wall and a frankly enormous mirror at the far end.
“We will do tops first, yes?”
It was phrased as a question, but really it was rhetorical. Nevertheless, I nodded dumbly.
“I will stay here with you if you don’t mind,” she said, flicking through the hangers at frightening speed. “There is nothing I have not seen before, believe me!” I blinked in surprise. So much for my plan to send pictures of each outfit to friends with an actual sense of style! There wasn’t a hope of me trying to surreptitiously snap a selfie with Olga in the changing room; I had a sneaking suspicion she’d have no time for that sort of nonsense.
She pulled a hanger off the rail and thrust it at me with the sort of brisk efficiency you would expect from an army medic. “This one.”
So began a whirlwind of outfit changes. If you can picture a typical changing room movie montage but fast forwarded to about five times the speed and with absolutely no goofing around. That sounds like I’m saying it was no fun, but that’s absolutely not the case. It was by far the easiest shopping outing I had ever been on. I would pull something over my head and no sooner had it hit my shoulders that Olga would elegantly bark, “No! No, no no! Off. Off!” and I’d be on to the next one.
Every so often I would pull something on and Olga would exclaim, “Yes. YES. I adore it. Yes.” If I tried on something that she had no strong opinion about, she would look at my face in the mirror and say gently, “If you do not LOVE it, do not buy it. If you do not LOVE it, there is no point.” I would make a non-committal face, or shrug my shoulders, and she would shake her beautiful head and make the decision for me. “No. NO. Off, off off!”
In this way we got through the entire rail of clothes in an astonishingly short space of time. A truly embarrassing amount of clothes just didn’t fit me, which led her to repeatedly proclaim, “You are just so TINY!” I actually hear this quite often, but Olga wasn’t saying it in the usual, look-at-you-aren’t-you-adorable-you-human-armrest kind of way people usually say it. It would instead erupt out of her in a verbalisation of frustration after I had made the fifth sweater in a row look like an expensive snuggie.
“Yes” I would nod, guiltily. “I’m really short.”
She would whip around, her golden hair flicking back. “Not SHORT!” she would snap. “PETITE!”
At the end of it all she had gone on three more rail runs, and I had divided the black velvet couch into two halves. On the left was a veritable mountain of inside-out discarded clothing; dozens of the aforementioned snuggie jumpers, trousers with baggy folds that had enough space to smuggle small exotic animals into the country, dresses with sleeves that were almost wider than my waist, and tops that made me look like an aspiring snapchat pornstar.
On the right was a humble stack consisting of two pairs of trousers, one skirt (!), one pair of jeans, three knitted jumpers with inbuilt collars (they’re detachable!), and two tops that defy categorisation. This is the pile I ended up buying and bringing home.
… And so here we get to the point of this exercise. On a normal day, had I been left to my own devices, I possibly might have picked up the olive green pair of jeans. Possibly. Maybe. Never in a million years of Sundays would I even have looked at the rest of the clothes, never mind tried them on. This is why I would recommend the personal shopping thing, even if you think it sounds scary. Even if you think you would hate it.
Somebody who doesn’t know you from Adam is looking at you without bias, and that same somebody is finding items they think would look great on you. It offers you the chance to fall in love with things you might never have known about otherwise. I mean, who knew I could look kind of sweet wearing shirt collars (not sweet like a cabbagepatch doll, but sweet like Wednesday Addams with a tan)? Or who knew I could find a skirt I genuinely liked? Olga pulled, and tucked, and showed me how best to dress myself. She explained why certain garments looked good on me and told me which styles to avoid, and I never felt like she was pressuring me or being anything less than honest.
When it was all over and I left with my two bags of carefully wrapped clothes, I realised I’d actually enjoyed myself. Usually after a day of shopping I feel like I’ve been drained of the will to live, but it turns out that when all you have to do is try on whatever is handed to you… it’s not so bad! I tried new things and I learned a lot.
One thing is for certain though…
I still hate ruffles.
*For any of you young ones that don’t know who that is, Nelle Porter was a character played by Portia De Rossi on the show Ally McBeal and her hair was objectively fetish-worthy. I tried to find a gif of her letting her hair down but it was not to be. You’ll just have to trust me when I say she was #hairgoals before the guy who invented hashtags was even finished school.
If you’re based in Dublin, the personal shopper service takes two hours and is free (so what have you got to lose?) in House of Fraser. The service is available for both men and women and it definitely gets two enthusiastic thumbs up from me. Dundrum Town Centre also have their own personal shopping service; they charge €65 for two hours but throw in a make-up consultation and free parking.