Human Encounters in Dehumanising Spaces
I’ve always found shopping at Aldi to be a strange experience. For me, it’s such a dehumanising place. I always get flustered trying to pack my groceries into the bag as quickly as possible, before the cashier mechanically announces the price of my shop. Apparently the workers are timed on how quickly they can scan a shopper’s items, and they get incentives for the “quickest cashier of the month”. This means that they are rewarded for the least amount of interaction with the customers. They have an incentive to ignore you.
I mean, I get it. It’s simple Fordist production line logic. The faster they can rush you through the checkout means shorter queues, less staff, and cheaper products. But really, are cheap prices worth losing your humanity?
Not only is it dehumanising but it’s also de-natureising (is that a word?). Shelves and shelves of cheap, mass-produced plastic crap that you definitely don’t need and will probably break after a few uses, making its way into the mountains of landfill. The vegetables are covered in so many layers of plastic that they even start tasting like the stuff.
Aldi encourages competition, and rampant consumerism. If you’ve ever witnessed the “release” of “exclusive products” then you know what I mean. Masses of people waiting outside the store, impatiently fidgeting with agitated expressions, sizing each other up out of the corner of their eyes. This is neoliberal capitalism in the flesh.
So anyway, now you know how I feel about the place, I’ll begin my little anecdote.
Here I was, standing in the queue, my baby in the pram smearing a yoghurt pouch all over herself and my shopping on the conveyer belt. My hands began instinctively twitching in anticipation of the “extreme speed grocery packing challenge”. Just as the cashier says to the customer in front of me, in her rehearsed, robotic phrase “would you like a brochure?” I spot it. There on the belt, in the middle of my shopping is a huge, hairy, brown, huntsman spider, which I immediately alert everyone’s attention to. The cashier, suddenly, comes to life, she turns from robot, to feeling, thinking, human. She shrieks, springs to her feet, and launches herself out of her little plastic, Covid-safe cage. I mean, I have seen this same cashier for years, and never have I witnessed such a transformation!
So anyway, our recently humanised cashier is gone, to God knows where. And to her rescue come two, strapping young Aldi robots of the male gender. They begin heroically searching through my shopping for the cause of the chaos. One of them grabs some paper towel, and I suddenly realise his macabre intentions. So, snapping into action I grab my coffee cup from the base of the now, yoghurt covered pram (and child). I spot the arachnid, wedged in between the taco seasoning and a packet of frozen mixed berries. As I’m looking for a piece of paper to trap my hairy friend, an enthusiastic, middle-aged customer behind me joins in the fray.
So here we are, a collective of recently humanised humans, using our human faculties and human language to creatively solve a human problem! (According to scientists, the art of conversation dates back hundreds of thousands of years and early hominids used language to help each other develop stone tools—a skill that was crucial for the success of our lineage).
Anyway, this arachni-thusiast lady behind me scoops up the spider in my cup, places a cardboard prepaid phone packet on top and carries it outside, depositing the eight-legged disruption on some nearby flora. She returns inside where we are all laughing at the absurdity of the scene, and metaphorically (and Covid-safely) patting each other on the back.
So now, in Aldi Byron Bay, we have recently humanised humans, we have social interaction, collective problem solving and we have a whole spectrum of emotions. We have interrupted this strange dehumanising Fordist production line supermarket with a funny little encounter with nature. Success.