Caveat Emptor

Everyone knows women like to shop. Just as everyone knows that if you go to bed with wet hair you will catch a cold: Young men will get ill if they don’t drain semen from their testicles on a daily basis; bats fly straight for your hair, and men can’t multi-task.

As it happens, I do enjoy shopping: my mother liked shopping, as did her mother, so it’s probably genetic. My sister will send all day shopping. Before you get the wrong idea though, I must stress that shopping is not quite the same as buying.

Pop into Clive Rundle’s boutique and feast your eyes on some of his creations, go into the tobacconist and savour not just the smell of good tobacco but the accessories designed to appeal to a rich smoker – barometres and decorated walking sticks and Art Deco hip-flasks.

Poetry, Big Blue, House of Isis, Herbert Adams, Africology, Hamleys, Peacocks, Lush, Brown’s, Sowearto – a couple of hours spent browsing is always good for the soul: beautiful things, lovely scents, inspiring ideas, and pleasant staff, eager to help.

The Republic of Rosebank is a pleasant place to shop: multi-billionaires choosing to slum it and actually visit retail outlets in person would probably choose the Citadel of Sandton for their shopping experience, where everything is more expensive and exclusive.

Journalists, models, actors, writers and artists rub shoulders with politicians, BEE billionaires, old money, young tourists, and beggars in Rosebank. The Mall might be celebrating Christmas in November with their off-putting carols and Xmas Trees, Xmas Lights and, most important, Xmas Presents, but outside African entrepreneurialism is what gets visitors coming back for more.

This afternoon a snazzily dressed man was dancing two marionettes to the blasting strains of Gangnam Style: a crowd surround him, many filming the act on their cellphones. He knows the shooters are not the givers so toward the end, the marionettes were brought forward to perform x-rated antics on some of the young videographers while the puppeteer sang “Hey, Sexy Lady!”

Nino’s, Motherland, Mugg & Bean, Fathers’, Doppio Zero, Fournos, Seattle – a coffee-lover’s paradise – but with a wide variety of teas as well, not to mention wickedly delicious cakes, muffins and pastries.

Cheap early bird breakfasts [hint: avoid The Spur, it’s Halaal and believe me when I tell you ‘spiced beef’ compared to bacon is like Paarl Perle compared to Bollingers] and Lunch Time specials make the Republic of Rosebank to best place to shop.

Not, however, the best place to buy. Many of us browse in aspirational emporia but restrict our actual buying to supermarkets or, at least, chain stores. I see tourists wondering around Rosebank with large bags from Edgar’s and Truworths and the @Home Store, and I wonder how badly the rand is actually doing that they are prepared to put up with local “service” to get a good deal.

Like many of my compatriots, I can afford only to shop at Pick ‘n Pay, Clicks, Dischem, Woolies, Food Lovers’ Market, Spar, Mr Price, Game, Checkers, Builders’ Warehouse, Crazy Store, and other popular nation-wide chains targeted at the lower and lower-lower middle class.

Supermarket shopping for essentials is seldom much fun: I enjoyed visiting the large Hypermarket in Norwood as a way to unwind at the end of a long and unpleasant working day, but now I don’t live in Norwood, I don’t have a job, and I use a Value Supermarket rather than the more exotic Hyper.

The staff are cut from the same mould though: an extensive consumer survey (conducted by me) has proved conclusively that Pick ‘n Pay staff [ in the interests of accuracy I cannot say Workers] are the rudest and most disobliging of all.

On a recent visit to the Rosebank branch I initially thought management had employed only mute staff with Alzheimer’s since all smiles, comments and pleasantries were ignored. Such was not the case, however. At the bakery counter I am routinely invisible until every black customer has been attended to, and good luck finding anyone to help you if you need your fruit and veg weighed.

I have never received any help at the deli counter, the butchery section does not appear to understand English, and the shelf-packers account it a victory if they can prevent your reaching three stacks of shelves. Ask them to please pass you the mosquito spray or P-Nut butter or whatever and you will be ignored – or treated to an outbreak of outbreak of vernacular expletives.

The time to go supermarket shopping is on the weekend when temporary staff are behind the tills: inflation, weather, politics – all are fair comment while your goods get whipped through the scanner to the accompaniment of chat.

What am I trying to say? Just that you get what you pay for and often the cheaper the goods the more unpleasant the shopping experience. At an upmarket shop like Poetry or Clive Rundle’s The Customer is King, but at the Rosebank Pick ‘n Pay, The Customer is Kak.


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