A shopper to outrival all shoppers

2009-03-26 00:00

I cannot possibly allow John Bishop's column about his family's shopping habits to pass without a response (The Witness, March 23).

I think I know someone who would rival Mrs Bishop's stamina for hunting down a bargain. This person, who shall remain nameless, has been known to scrape the night cream off her face, change out of her nightie and go out into the streets of Cairo at 10 pm when she got word of a purchase that had eluded her. On our travels, I have seen her out-haggle street vendors in Jerusalem and earn the head-shaking respect of shopkeepers in Beijing. I reckon she could out-bargain any trader anywhere in the world. She shops as though born to it. If shopping were an Olympic sport, she'd take the gold medal. To see her enter into the pantomime of negotiating a purchase is to watch an artist at work.

First you ask how much, then you exclaim in horror, you offer less than half of the asking price and then you wrangle. For maximum effect, you throw up your hands in fake dismay, pretend to give up and stomp off in search of better pickings. The stallholder hollers after you, gesticulating all the while and you hold your breath: will he or won't he? If he runs after you, you've won: another conquest for shoppers everywhere, and another triumph for the art of shopping.

But I digress. What I really wanted to respond to was the veiled suggestion that the predilection for shopping was somehow genetically wired into the make-up of the female of the species. I can vouch for the fact that it is not. My shopping list is like Bishop's: "Biltong, bread, milk, loo paper, coffee, biltong, salads, tea, sugar and biltong". For a near-vegetarian, this is anomalous, I admit, but that's another story.

My beloved, on the other hand, works off the same principle as Mrs Bishop: a shopping list is a mere suggestion, or maybe a reminder of the essential purchases necessary to make sure you'll be allowed back into the house without being yelled at or sent back to the shops because you didn't get the things you went for. When an upmarket food shop opened within walking distance, I threatened to cut up his credit card. I swear he can smell the cinnamon muffins from our house and hear the vegetable chips crackling. At least, I have to admit, his urges are largely limited to gastronomic purchases, and for that, I'm grateful. As he is a Mediterranean, I suspect that reverence for food is coded into his DNA. Thankfully, he has never come home with braai charcoal when he went out for a set of matching kitchen canisters, or a boot full of "useful" garage sale junk when he was supposed to buy milk.

While I am on the subject of shopping, I wrote some time ago about the Big Shop and promised to do some research into this. I can report that it seems to be a social phenomenon common among people "of a certain age" - those born long before the Internet, cellphones, hypermarkets and superstores. In those "olden days", as my children love to call them, people didn't have the convenience of ordering online and having their groceries delivered, or popping out to the nearby supermarket for weekly or daily provisions. This was especially so when they lived in outlying areas, as did many of those whom I questioned.

They used to build up a Shopping List to beat all lists, and then put on their "town clothes" to go and do the Monthly Shop. I remember those trips well, although not entirely fondly. They meant putting on those uncomfortable and unfamiliar items of clothing called "a dress" and "shoes" and going "into town".

Perhaps that explains why the champion bargain hunter I know is such a loyal and devoted shopper. She's making up for all the lost years living beyond the reaches of civilised commerce. But my beloved, a city boy raised close enough to a smart shopping precinct to know a baklava from a blintz, he has no such excuse.

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