A few years ago, whilst on a trip to a suburban Auckland supermarket, I picked up a discarded shopping list. It was an innocuous enough act - I was curious to see what someone else would buy, and scanned through the list hoping to find something humourous, like KY Jelly or something. As it turns out, the list was far more glorious than I could ever imagine. Instead of being just a few things that a person would want to collect, the list I read showed me that what people choose to buy at the supermarket really does speak volumes about who they are and what they're doing. Let's take a look at that first list.
"This is a woman," was my first thought. "Purple pen and embossed paper? This has got to be a woman." My belief was further corroborated when I read through what could only be described as any woman's thought pattern.
1 x Humus. [sic]
1 x bag lettuce.
She's making a healthy salad. But wait, she's changed her mind.
2 x Humus.
2 x bag lettuce.
She's making more than enough for herself.
Reading on, she adds tomatoes, tuna, chick peas and "plastic coriander" (by which I can only assume she means one of those plastic sleeves of fresh coriander you get from the grocery section). Then, she adds, "bottle wine".
The next three terms are what made me the most happy however. Three words written in rushed handwriting, presumably as one is running out the door or standing somewhere in the supermarket.
Someone's been thinking about a sleepover. Here's hope the lucky person got to stay for breakfast.
After I picked up "first date", as I now refer to it, I started to pick up more interesting shopping lists. Few were as glorious as the first, but many contained interesting little ditties that showed me a little bit more about how people's brains work; how people use shopping lists less as direct orders and more as personal reminders.
And my favourite,
Sometimes the lists weren't as funny as they should be; sometimes they were a little sad.
They were the lists of the old and sick,
The busy and desperate for silence,
And the cautious.
"I have to have protein + veg for dinner to repair cartlidge [sic]"
They made me stop collecting them for a while. I realised that I had a (sometimes hypothetical, sometimes very literal) window into people's minds that I wasn't supposed to know about. I started worrying about what I wrote on my shopping lists, and was very careful not to leave them behind in shopping carts. I guess I gave up the ghost of shopping's past. Until November, when I was given the best list I've ever seen. My friend Anni found it at a party, which she says "was full of young goths who wear velvet and do tarot reading in their spare time". I chuckled as she handed the list over, turned it over and thought to myself,
"Man, I love humans so much."