I’ll be honest.
I have a problem with crowds. Not necessarily every individual person that makes up a crowd; but there are specific elements that seem to stand out.
I have tended to give people en masse a wide berth for as long as I can remember. I never hung out in a big crowd at school; in fact, I found myself on the fringe of several different popular cliques. At the time it was a little disheartening, but now I realize it was completely apt.
I was a competitive gymnast in my formative years; again, on the fringe of fitting in, an outcast looking in.
I’m an only child.
I prefer dealing with people one-on-one. I can focus on them wholeheartedly, I can listen with earnest and I can relish their vibe. Perhaps that’s why I find myself in the perfect vocation as an adult; a graphic designer with a small online print + paper boutique. Most of my client work is for branding or rebranding and each job lasts about a month. I have meetings via Skype and email or at my studio. One person at a time. My clientele in the online shop also purchase one transaction at a time and most of my sales tend toward the custom, so again, I usually deal exclusively with one person for a length of time.
Perhaps I come by mistrust of crowds honestly!
I have to gear myself up to go shopping. In fact, I have managed to whittle my shopping experiences to only a few actual brick and mortar shops over the years, preferring – you guessed it – to do it all online.
I’m really not a hermit and I’m not agoraphobic or anything; I simply find shopping of any kind these days to be completely fraught with crowds. Crowds that seem to be filled with unthinking, spacially unaware, impolite, aggressive, improperly dressed, selfish folks with only a smattering of kind, forward-thinking, polite, properly-dressed folks.
I jest and exaggerate for comedic purpose… but only slightly.
I know that I’m probably weird in the fact that I map out my shopping route (in geographic order: the pet store, the specialty grocery store, the liquor store, the gas bar, the art store – if required – and lastly, Costco), and, armed with my equally laid out list (by shop, by geographic order, then by shop aisle), set out at 10am on a Wednesday morning, when the masses are usually guaranteed to be at their minimum.
I invariably come home 1-1/2 hours later, completely stressed and ready for my (incredibly early) gin and tonic. I even take my dog for an extra walk to wind down and shake off the experience.
I usually encounter one or all of the following types of fellow shoppers:
This is the complete family that takes up entire aisles with their two carts as they wander at a glacial pace side-by-side pondering which bag of gluten/peanut/fat-free cookies are the best for all of them and simultaneously playing a game and/or stopping to check their emails on ALL of their phones.
This family is seemingly completely unaware of anyone around them and doesn’t really seem to care about that; in fact, they get annoyed if you happen to clear your throat or, god-forbid utter a squeaky meek “excuse me.” They act as if they’re in the comfort of their living or recreation room, which is punctuated by the fact that they all seem to be wearing pajamas or some sort of casual wear that really shouldn’t be worn outside of the home.
This is the shopper who sees something they want/need/covet all the way across the aisle or store or right in front of where you happen to be and makes a complete beeline for it – as the crow flies – with complete disregard (and seemingly complete unawareness) of anyone in their path. Or indeed, the shop’s paths. They have no compunction about cutting you off or indeed, reaching right across you to grab whatever it is that they want, often physically bumping/brushing/moving you without so much as an “excuse me” or “can I just grab that” or any respect of your personal space. They are probably on a similar mission to get their shopping done, but have become so focused that they’ve lost all sense of decorum, etiquette or simple human kindness. I actively remind myself not to lose my way down this slippery slope.
This is the shopper who, quite frankly, shouldn’t actually be out shopping. They don’t really know why they’re there, they’re clearly engrossed with what – or whoever is on their phone and they really seem to have simply wandered into an alien space. And are too busy gawking at their completely unfamiliar surroundings that they don’t notice that it’s full of people rushing by trying to get their shopping done. Sometimes they travel in pairs.
THE HARRIED MOM
Now, I actually sympathize with this shopper, but still find them difficult to navigate. This is the Mom who unfortunately can’t get a sitter or someone to watch their 5 kids (or combination of their and their neighbour/friend’s kids) to get their shopping done and have apparently fed them all a boatload of sugary snacks before venturing out. You can usually spot this shopper a mile away by the flurry of kids that are running around the entire store, free from any boundaries and chasing each other while screaming at full volume. This shopper is often identified by the slightly dazed/glazed look and harried appearance, and can often be found standing off to the side next to her cart, often with a child hanging off of it and on her phone trying to navigate another item on her To-Do List – clearly unable to take even a moment for herself. As I said, I really sympathize with this shopper and have often stepped out of my comfort zone to offer her help.
This is the shopper that has picked up not just one, but usually several items that seem to have been overlooked on the register’s inventoried list. The price never matches what’s on the scanner or this shopper is convinced that they saw a different and often, not much less price, than is registering. This shopper is often accompanied by THE MISSING STAFF. Just when this shopper is making their stand, everyone employed by the store that is able to help is on a break, gone home for the day, helping someone in another area or has simply vanished, leaving the poor checkout person to anxiously watch their line get longer while ineffectively calling out name after name over the intercom to get someone to check this elusive item and its magical price. I also sympathize terribly with this checkout person. This shopper usually digs their heels in despite the meagre savings they will seemingly receive.
For a crowd-averting, organization-loving, personal-space-respecting individual who was raised with a high level of manners, I’m sure you’ll forgive that I find dealing with these elements quite difficult. I find that I tend to come across The Bee-Liner, The Amoeba and The Wanderer on almost every shopping trip I make. More often than not, it takes an incredible amount of will-power to simply not transgress into a Tasmanian Devil to whirling dervish my way through these specific elements of the greater crowd.
Or devolve into some crazed babbling lunatic running through the masses to the exits and into the fresh air to screech into the sky. Think Animal from The Muppet Show.
I also fully realize and actively accept that since I have to brace myself so fully to do something that really comes incredibly naturally to so many, I may actually be unconsciously drawing these unsavoury elements to me; making the joke on me. I do try to tell myself before I get too wound up that I’m the only one that gets supremely bothered by these folks; they simply continue to go about their day unperturbed by their own behaviour.
And completely unaware that they had a latent Tasmanian Devil lurking in their midst!
Geri Jewitt is the owner and creative force behind The Languid Lion, a design studio and online paper boutique. The design studio focuses on helping small creative businesses stand out from the madding crowd with fresh and simple branding, while the paper boutique is full of whimsically handmade paper delightfuls. A perpetual tryer-of-things, she has a blog where she writes, creates graphics or takes photographs of life, love + being the owner of a creative biz. She is an avid Instagrammer, a frequent traveller, a humour-seeker, pretty-lover and full-time fur-mom.
Krystle: I laughed out loud when I imagined you babbling like Animal in a crowded store. I, myself, prefer a high pitched warrior cry like Xena, but Animal cracks me up too. I’d gladly take “The Bee-liner” AND “The Harried Mom” over an encounter with “The Amoeba.” Nothing is worse than inconsiderate people.
Fear Confessions is a series of essays by creatives who share personal stories about facing their fears. It’s a celebration of vulnerability.