I have a theory that the study of shopping habits—of how people shop, where people shop, and most importantly, how they conduct themselves while shopping—can provide a fascinating and accurate insight into personality.
Furthermore, there is no other type of shopping that brings personality out in people better than grocery shopping. Give people a cart and the Crazy pretty much comes out.
As with all things in life, Crazy is unique to the individual; it doesn’t wear just one kind of hat, and we each manifest it in our own way.
Take me for example. Similar to the famous Meyer’s Briggs personality test, my Grocery Shopping Personality Indicator ™, puts Crazy into five distinct categories: the Controller, the Free Spirit, the Naturalist, the Ponderer, and the Frazzled Parent.
I am the Controller. Controllers always go shopping with a plan. They know the entire layout of the store, and the really good ones have lists itemized by aisle and by cost. Controllers know the price point of just about every item in the store, they seldom purchase anything at full cost, and will often calculate the grocery tally as they shop.
For this reason, it’s not always advisable to approach the Controller while in Full Shop Mode. While Controllers love to talk about their shopping exploits after the fact—that last caselot of Campbell’s Soup, or the triple coupon on Tide for example. Getting them while they have their shop on might throw them off the tally, and is, therefore, not advisable. In the best of worlds, the happiest way to deal with the Controller is not to shop with them at all. Because there really is no need.
The Controller has everything covered, and unlike the the Ponderer, Free Spirit, or Frazzled Parent, the Controller won’t forget anything as long as it’s on the list. The Naturalist is also quite organized, but, unlike the Controller, if it’s not organic—it won’t be coming home.
The Controller is quite easy to identify in this—the grocery store, his natural habitat. If you’re worried about approaching someone to ask for directions to a particular aisle or product, and suspect you may be gravitating toward a Controller, never fear—as long as you speak to someone who doesn’t have a cart, you’re probably safe. Controllers almost always have a cart.
If controllers happen to be shopping with a friend or spouse, the Controller will have full stewardship of the cart because the true Controller feels naked without one. Furthermore, it is unlikely that you will ever encounter a Controller at the grocery store picking up just one item. The only exception to this occurs when the Controller is married to or involved with a Free Spirit.
Free Spirits live without lists and will challenge Controllers in the most uncomfortable ways … Asking them to shop in trendy little markets where No Name brand isn’t an option, or worse, to pick up items like macadamia nuts or chanterelles on their way home from work. If in doubt, always look for a list. Even with two items, the Controller will always have one. The Free Spirit is a breed all its own. I should know; I’m married to one.
If left unattended at the grocery store, the Free Spirit will pretty much go crazy, throwing brand name items into the cart with wild abandon. The Free Spirit doesn’t care what an item costs, if it’s on the list, or if it’s part of a pre-arranged two week family eating plan.
All the Free Spirit cares about is how the item looks. The packaging, the colors, the presentation. No Name labels repel them like the plague. In general, though, you won’t see a lot of free spirits at the grocery store. Unlike The Controller, large grocery stores are not a Free Spirit’s natural habitat. They can usually be found in farmer’s markets, organic food stores, and more often than not, upscale restaurants.
The exception to this is if the Free Spirit is involved with or married to a Controller. Free Spirits usually love to cook. It’s the hassle of dealing with groceries that finds them at that new Thai restaurant instead of the local Costco. But if they have a Controller in their lives who can find them all the ingredients at the best prices, the Free Spirit’s place is where you want to come for dinner.
The Naturalist, on the other hand, swings both ways. There are Controller Naturalists, and Free Spirited ones. What sets them apart, however, is an utter disdain for all things pre-packaged or processed. While Cambpell’s cream of mushroom soup is often a mainstay in Controller cooking, the mere thought of it wrinkles most Naturalists lightly tanned and freckled noses.
Naturalists come in all shapes and sizes and are comfortable both in health food stores and large grocery chains. Natural fibres, birkenstock sandals, longish hair, little makeup, and a cart full of products from the bulk department are hallmark indicators that you are in the presence of one. As shoppers, they are usually easy to get along with and will generally keep to themselves.
Forewarned is forearmed, though. If you spot someone with a list, pushing a cartload of bulk and organic products, don’t be offended when they look you and your cart full of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese dinner, fish sticks, and Cheese Whiz, over. Simply put, you are in the presence of that most frightening of shoppers: the Controlling Naturalist.
This is the person who will race you to the checkout line, and will count every item in your basket at the twelve item or less express. Furthermore, the Controlling Naturalist shops with his own hemp grocery bags, and will always comment if you choose plastic over paper. Outside of the grocery store setting, however, the Controlling Naturalist is a powerful ally to have. Problems with the government or the local school board? Look no further. The Controlling Naturalist will be your best friend.
Which brings me to my next personality type: the Ponderer. For some reason, Ponderers and Controlling Naturalists tend to gravitate to one another. It’s a dichotomy, really, since the two personality types tend to drive each other the most crazy. Yet, look to the marriages of any good Controlling Naturalist and 95 percent of the time they are married to a Ponderer.
If a Ponderer comes to the grocery store with a Controller, the Ponderer will never have the cart. Instead, the ponderer can be spotted wandering aimlessly around the grocery store with the occasional box in hand. The box is usually something that has caught the Ponderer’s eye, something that is shiny and not on the Controller’s list that they will try to sneak into the cart—which of course, never works.
For the Controller sees all.
But the worst possible scenario of all is the PWC, or, Ponderer with Cart. Worse yet, two Ponderers shopping together with a cart, and worse even still, two elderly Ponderers with a cart. The Ponderer has absolutely no concept of grocery store aisle etiquette, and will hold up traffic by parking the cart at some odd angle in the middle the aisle while trying to decide which type of mayonnaise to buy. But the most lethal of all grocery aisle situations of all is the Elderly Ponderer Cart Holdup in combination with a Frazzled Parent with two or more children.
If you find yourself in this situation—two elderly Ponderers holding up traffic by the Hellman’s while a Frazzled Parent tries to quell the screams of a two-year-old in the cart, at the same time twisting the arm of a five-year-old reaching for the Fruity Pebbles—take heart. Thinking violent obscenity laced thoughts is perfectly normal. And in particular, if you’re a Controller—go easy on yourself. The Ponderer/Frazzled Parent combo can make even the most Free Spirited Naturalist crazy. The safest way to deal with the situation is to simply turn your cart around and go the other way.
They say that awareness is half the battle when embarking on any kind of lifestyle change. My hope is that this Grocery Shopping Personality Indicator has been a helpful way to shed some light on our own behaviors and, thus, change them.
So the next time you’re at the grocery store, silently cursing the Crazies around you, remember … there’s a little bit of Crazy in all of us—and most of the time, we know not what we do.