The Checkout

Yogurt's Hidden Dangers--Part 2

Wow! Who would have thought my short (pun intended) item about height-challenged grocery shopping would have prompted such an outpouring of comments and e-mails. A lot of you told me I was silly, wasting my time and should get over it and move on to bigger (no pun intended) stuff. But even more of you thanked me for talking about a problem that plagues you--and me--almost every day.

Yes, I know there are a lot more serious issues out there (as one reader told me, people are dying of cancer and viruses), but this blog is about consumer topics, things that people deal with daily. That ranges from the very serious issues of identity theft, bankruptcy and product safety to the smaller nuisances in life, such as rude store clerks and short store shelves. I love to talk about all these things so if you've got issues you want me to tackle, please write me at thecheckout@washpost.com.

Meanwhile, I'd like to share what I've learned from you. Many people suggested I use a cane, broken antenna or long spoon to get items from high shelves. That really doesn't solve the problem: A can could still fall on my head once it leaves the shelf. Others suggested I carry a step stool; that's clunky but possible. Even better is a grabber (best described as tongs on a pole). That may even work for you tall people who complained you can't reach the items on the lowest shelves! I may buy a grabber--but even better still: Stores should buy them and place them strategically throughout the aisles.

Thanks for all your wonderful ideas and comments. There are two e-mails I'd like to single out. The first one is from a Fairfax reader Lynn Lawrence, who said she, too, is height-challenged. She had two suggestions on how to shop without having a can of baked beans fall on your head:

"1) When entering the grocery store, proceed immediately to the service desk, tell them you want an assistant to follow you around the store to reach down the things you will be buying...2) Do a little prep work before leaving home, get the phone number of the grocery store you will be Honoring with Your Presence (remember this and remind them you don't have to shop at their store, there are plenty of other stores you could go to, but you love their store and really want to spend your money there!). Grab your cell phone and head out to the store, and when you come to the first item that you cannot reach, (and every item thereafter as well) dial the store's phone number and when they answer say something like this: 'Hello, I need assistance in aisle 14, I cannot reach the product I need to buy. If you don't send someone right away I am going to be forced to try to climb on one of the lower shelves to reach it and I just hope I won't fall and get hurt, because if I do...' " And if your cell phone doesn't get reception in that store? "Not to worry, buy a couple of walkie talkies and give one to the person at the service desk when you go into the store and tell them you will be calling them for assistance with products you'd have to be an All Star Basketball Player to reach!!"

Then there's this poem written by David Plumb, who teaches creative writing at Florida Atlantic University, about another supermarket shopping issue.

Say Cheese Please

So I bring back the cheese.
It's come to this;
bringing back the cheese.
Hoop Cheese it is.
On sale two bucks off
with the card, only she didn't ring it
up right the first time.
I paid full price.
So here I am at 8.03 AM
standing at the lottery and take back counter
with my cheese and I look around.
The long aisles stretch clear to yellow
with lights and hollow music
and from time to time a sales associate,
that's what they are now,
sales associates, glances at me like maybe
I'm waiting for a bus.
And I wait and she, the cashier of the moment
asks what I want.
The discount is what I want.
She has to call the cheese person, she says.
So I wait with my Hoop Cheese
at $5.15 that should be $3.15
for this middle aged woman to appear
with gauze cap and a question mark in her eyes.
It's a very big sign I say.
I don't understand why you don't know.
We're doing the best we can the cashier says
and I say not good enough.
So the woman with gauze hat walks off with my cheese
and I keep it up.
I say how come you don't know what the hell
you're selling and she says I'm just taking up space
and I say, I think that's true.
We're trying to help you she says and I'm about
to just cash in, when the gauze hat returns with the Hoop
Cheese and a label to stick on which I think
is the discount, but by the time
they stop fiddle-dorking around I'm sick
of the whole thing;
the empty super market, the empty faces,
the vegetables down the way
looking lonely as hell
and the Hoop cheese in the gauze hat's hand
that I no longer want,
so I say just the refund please.
You mean you don't want it?
No the refund, please.
And she says it again,
"We're just trying to help,"
as she slips the fiver and the change out
of the register into my hand
and I breathe a sigh, I am so
Damn glad to be away from the death
of the place, the discounts on life,
the whole damn cheese,
Hoop or no.

By  |  March 7, 2006; 9:10 AM ET Customer Service
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Comments

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I would like to suggest another strategy for dealing with supermarket items on the top shelves where they are hard to reach. If you are not vertically challenged (in grade school, they used to call me "Wilt the Stilt," the nickname of a well-known basketball player) keep an eye out for people who need your help with hard to reach items. Better yet, if you notice an item is in a place that is hard for some people to reach (even worse than items on the top shelf are items that have been pushed to the back of the top shelf) move some of them down to the lower shelves where shorter people can reach them later. It's all part of the responsibility each one of us has to make the world a better place.

Posted by: Clare Feinson | March 7, 2006 10:32 AM

I like the poem although it's a bit bleak.

Posted by: Justin | March 7, 2006 11:21 AM

I am not quite 5' tall. When there are things I can't reach at the grocery store I look for a tall person to help me. It can be a store employee or another shopper. It may mean I have to go a couple of aisles down to look for someone, but I do it anyway. Other shoppers I have asked have always been very pleasant and willing to help.

We won't even discuss how clothing stores always seem to hang their petite sizes high up on the walls!

Posted by: Mary Lou Ranck | March 7, 2006 11:31 AM

Today's entire column just goes to show how spoiled we've become as a society.

Between the OPs constant griping about being too short, and the bad poetry of the Cheese guy who has obviously gone to great lengths for a mere $2.00, I'm beginning to lose respect for this supposedly "great" nation of ours. In many parts of the world there is no such thing as "customer service"; the clerk serves you when s/he feels like serving you, even if you have to wait all day.

To the cheese guy I ask, is $2.00 really worth all that hassle? Was it worth making a separate trip to the store, the endless waiting and the subsequent quibbling with the clerk? I've learned long ago just to let the $2.00 go and move on with my life.

To the height-challenged OP, I suggest collaborating with all the other short people of America to form a strong political bloc. Together you could stage protests and boycott stores that refuse to put healthy products on lower shelves. United you have the power to elicit change, single-handedly you're just another whiny consumer with unrealistic expectations for the world.

Posted by: Learn to accept the things you cannot change... | March 7, 2006 1:18 PM

You quibble over the difficulty of reaching items on the top shelf? I have a child whose mental abilities will never allow her to shop by herself. Consider yourself lucky.

BTW, the poem was lame.

Posted by: Charlie | March 7, 2006 1:27 PM

Bravo PM/Charlie. Quit whining about being short. If it's that big a problem, just knock over cans/bottles/etc. on the lower shelves onto the floor "trying" to reach the item you want. I'm sure with the big mess you've created someone will be sure to help, especially after you've done it 5 or 6 times.

Posted by: HP | March 7, 2006 1:32 PM

Being short is your "handicap" or disposition rather, not everyone else's. You were born that way, deal with it. We all have something we're not best suited for. Why does everyone these days think that the entire world should adjust just to make their lives easier?

Posted by: NotAWhiner | March 7, 2006 1:47 PM

Here's another idea: try wearing lifts in your shoes, 4" high heels, or if you're worried about your safety, how about those ugly flip flops with the 4" soles?

Posted by: There's always a way... | March 7, 2006 2:49 PM

Woah, you people are waaaaay over-defensive. Why begrudge a person being able to reach what they want in a store. Yeah, it's a little thing. But that's life--a whole lot of little things all strung together. Use a wide enough lens and no problem's really all that important. Anyone hear an echo?

Posted by: jw | March 7, 2006 3:06 PM

Sheesh, you'd think the Post was doing a three-part above the fold expose on short people not being able to reach things on grocery store shelves the way some people are overreacting. This IS a legitimate consumer complaint, and one that Caroline has every right to report about in this consumer-oriented blog. If you don't think it's worth reading, close the page.

FWIW, I'm 5'9", and before reading this it had never occurred to me that shorter people might have trouble reaching things on high store shelves. From now on, I'll be paying more attention when I'm shopping, and help anyone who needs it.

Posted by: Carolyn | March 7, 2006 3:24 PM

Try it from a wheelchair! There are legitimate complaints about the placing of merchandise on store shelves.

Posted by: CJ | March 7, 2006 6:01 PM

Try it as a disembodied head! :(

Posted by: B. Stiller | March 7, 2006 8:03 PM

Give me a break! The original story was meant to be light-hearted while discussing a true social issue for those who are shorter the average.

I read the story and declined to comment on the first go around. I'm sure that most folkds realize that there are others within society that have far worse challenges. I can't speak for the author, but do not believe that this was meant to be of any disrespect to anyone; regardless of their height or disability.

Everyone needs to get over themselves and realize that editorial journalism is generally nothing more then an opinion.

"And, you know what they say about opinions?"

Posted by: Over the Pettiness | March 8, 2006 2:41 PM

Try this. What about items on the bottom shelf which means, unless you are very limber, you have to get down on your knees to reach the item in question. I'm only 5-9 and getting older every year.

Posted by: LowellK | March 8, 2006 7:58 PM

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