7.14.2007

Walmart makes people mean

This afternoon, because I was in search of a venus flytrap for a certain seven-year-old's birthday and didn't know where else to get one, I went to Walmart. This is something Biffle and I haven't done for a while, for reasons that he explains here and we both explain here. Although we could have sought out another venue for carnivorous plants, it was a rainy Saturday afternoon, and I was feeling lazy. So I went to Walmart. While I was there, I was reminded of many of the reasons that Biffle and I chose to stop shopping there in the first place.

First of all, you might as well park on the street and hike across the acre of asphalt, because getting into the parking lot was hysteria-inducing. Cars waited for minutes, holding up lines of traffic, because somebody might be pulling out, so they might be able to get a spot a few feet closer to the door. Once I finally got in, I had to navigate the crush of humanity, people veering in and out of crowded aisles, shopping cart rage cropping up all around me. I found the venus flytrap and made my way to the check out lines, which, of course, were snaking out into the aisles. I got in one of the self check-out lanes and then began to think nasty thoughts about the people in front of me, who were apparently incompetent and had never been at a self check-out machine before. It took them forever. When it was finally my turn, I found out why (and also was reminded of why you should never be snarky about something unless you, yourself, would like to experience it): the self check-out machine was horrible. It wouldn't scan, wouldn't scan, wouldn't scan, and then when it finally did, it scanned the item twice. I'm sure the people behind me were rolling their eyes.

When I got out to the truck, I opened the passenger door and put my plant in the passenger's seat. Hurray, finished. Then a woman walked around the front of the SUV next to me, pushed my car door away from her vehicle, and said, very angrily, "Nice!" She rubbed a white spot where apparently the truck door had bumped her car. The spot, of course, disappeared, but she glared at me.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't do that intentionally."

"Hmmph!" she snorted, stepped up into her SUV, and slammed the door.

I got into my truck calmly, but inside I was seething. "Stupid little woman and her stupid enormous SUV." And that's when I realized one other reason that Biffle and I don't like shopping at Walmart: Walmart makes people mean. It's exhausting, unpleasant, and drains the humanity out of you. I'm sure that in her real life, the SUV woman is a pleasant person with a sense of perspective, just as I hope I am in real life, but after half an hour at Walmart, it's hard to consider that the people in front of you in line aren't incompetent, or that other folks are just as tired as you are and are doing the best they can. People get reduced to their least common denominator.

This has been a valuable insight, and I probably won't be going back to Walmart for some time.

16 comments:

Mrs. Fudge Pie said...

As the golden rule always says "treat others the way you want to be treated". it really isn't that hard to be patient and understanding...even while waiting in line. Remember, you don't know what has gone on with the person that might be ahead of you, and not all people grew up with technology. So you could always try to be helpful if you see someone in front of you having a little bit of difficulty. Someone might just return the favor one day for you. To find a decent parking spot, I would recommend picking a side that no one really goes down, and if you have to park a little further from the door. Be thankful that you have two healthy legs that can carry you to the door. Some people might not have that luxury. Besides I'm sure the exercise would do you good. =)

Walmart doesn't make people mean. Those that are mean were probably already mean and hateful before they had to go to Walmart.

femme fortis said...

That is so weird. I had almost the exact same epiphany (if you can call it that)! I haven't been inside a Wal-Mart in two years... that is until last week when I decided I needed some cheap painting materials right at that second (long story). I actually found a really good parking spot (or so I thought) right up front. After I finally found my way to the arts and crafts section and got what I needed, I made my way to the register. I got in line and stood patiently behind the teenage boy in front of me. Things were okay until the boy realized he couldn’t afford whatever it was he was buying. After a minute of cussing out the clerk, the boy grabbed his bags and ran! Is that the end of the story? Oh, no. The boy was running so fast that he apparently ran right into the side of a car before he was caught by a cop sitting out front. Yep, it was my car. Dented the driver’s side door. I was angry for days. Wal-Mart does something to people, man.

Regenia said...

Your description of WalMart reminded me of my lone trip to a Target in San Fransisco. It was more crowded than any Walmart that I've been in.

I sometimes find myself missing the old Walmart -- when Sam was still alive and the slogan was "Always American." Now the company is just some big juggernaut worshipping at the alter of lower prices, damn the consequences.

Kevin O'Mara said...

I was trying to explain to someone the other day why I've stopped shopping at Wal-Mart. I wish I could have had this post as reference material.

charlie said...

this is why when I DO go to Wal-mart, I only go in the dead of the night. It's more depressing (fluorescence is magnified in the desperate single-digit hours), but at least you don't have to be around anyone. Depression alone is better than the combination of depression and misanthropy.s

I only really go when I'm in SC. There's absolutely no reason to go in LA.

claire said...

I would presume that the SUV woman was small minded and drove around to various commercial establishments angling her car close to others so that she could get some tiny human connection by being rude to those whose car doors brushed by hers. I have a new grocery store theory: always choose the checker who is a teenager.

Kenneth said...

I went to Wal-Mart the other day to buy a high-def TV cable at half the price of other outlets. (Price-gouging on HDMI cables is a whole 'nother topic.) I went to Wal-Mart with hesitation for all the obvious reasons, and also because the boojie PC crowds I run with here in Madison, Wis. get pretty riled about Wal-Mart. So there's some shame involved. But the visit was trouble-free, and I did get a good deal on the cable.

Anonymous said...

Did you realize when you wrote your Wal-Mart piece that you sounded like an elitest snob? I would have thought that Wal-Mart shoppers are a slice of Americana to whom you would champion for any number of reasons. Mass merchandising, minimal service, and low prices attract a class of humanity ripe for micro-managing, i.e., liberal paradise.

Daniel said...

I think you're right: Wal-Mart makes us mean. Six-lane expressways packed full of enormous vehicles make us mean. The sense that everything is on the cheap, dehumanized, scaled to industrial needs and a savage competition, all of these things make us mean.

We can be mean without these things. We can be nice in spite of these things. Correlation doesn't prove causality. Yada yada.

But from a macro-social perspective, the more you build for the lowest common denominator (low-margin profit, cheapest bid, saving a few bucks on cable), the less humane your results. Put all these things together into a culture and you've created an impersonal world where we're isolated in our steel cages, limping from soul-less retail outlet down soul-less highway to soul-less eatery back home to watch TV and wonder where it all went so wrong.

The alternative? Shop local, get around without a car whenever possible, and put a value on things that last.

A. said...

Wal-mart has reached a very scary level of power. Many people tell me that they HATE wal-mart, so they only go there when they REALLY need to. They give them money even though they hate them.

You never need to go to wal-mart. If they're the only person in town that has what you're after, go out of town to get it (or just don't get it). If it costs more to get the item somewhere else...too bad.

If people don't stop shopping there 100%, then they're gonna stay alive. How many local companies would you still shop at if you hated their business policies? Why does wal-mart still get our money even though we hate them?

As my brother would say "why don't you just give me your money and I'll kick you in the nuts."

Anonymous said...

Home Depot does the same thing to me. If you think you're going to get help and they'll give you step by step do-it-yourself details, forget it!!!

The Dad said...

Well, I kind of agree to a certain extent and voldamortisdumbledore.

The Dad

Margaret said...

wait, is voldemort really dumbledore? seriously?

Alison said...

NO, Voldemort is not Dumbledore. But my dad has read the online bootlegged version of the Deathly Hallows and I have cut off all contact with him so that he won't spoil anything for me.

So he's infiltrated the blog and is taunting me.

Grace said...

I agree with this completely. I always feel angry/mean after a Wal-Mart experience. And it just took me until now to realize that it was Biffle that did the banned from Wal-Mart.

Penny said...

To A., who wrote, "You never need to go to wal-mart. If they're the only person in town that has what you're after, go out of town to get it (or just don't get it). If it costs more to get the item somewhere else...too bad."

Who the blazes are you to be telling people where they can shop, or to go without things they need, pay more for those things elsewhere, or to BURN UNNECESSARY FUEL driving to another town to get things? Last I checked, this was still America, and people can shop where they like, so, as you said ... too bad.