I didn’t set out this morning with the intention of accomplishing this challenge. And I have to say that at the point at which I decided to do the challenge today, I could not have imagined what learning this would throw in my path. I have once left money behind the till at a coffee shop to pay for the person behind me’s bill… just as a ‘random act of kindness’. This was a challenge designed to push that just a little further. And it did.
I had already ticked several things off the to-do list by 10.30 this morning and it was looking like the rest of the day would be nice and relaxing, as I had plans for coffee with one friend and lunch with another. There was a gap of about an hour and a half between these two rendezvous, and as I left the coffee shop I pondered how to spend that time… which was the point at which it occurred to me that I could do the ‘Pay for someone’s shopping’ challenge!
The first question was where to go.
I was in Cardiff Bay. My thinking was that there were not the kind of supermarkets in Cardiff Bay that would facilitate the completion of this challenge. So, I drove out of town to the west of Cardiff, through Riverside and Grangetown (didn’t pass a single supermarket) before deciding to head for Ely, one of Cardiff’s most deprived areas.
I pulled up in the car park of Aldi and Farmfoods on Cowbridge Road West. The first thing I noticed was that the majority of cars in the car park were newer than mine. Hmmmm. I went into Aldi first. Not very busy. Full of yummy looking Christmas produce. I wandered up and down the aisles and decided that there wasn’t anyone currently shopping there who looked like they had any need of me paying for their shopping! I wandered out and over to Farmfoods. There weren’t many people in there either. Again I wandered up and down the aisles in search of a ‘suitable’ candidate for my challenge.
I have to tell you that the internal dialogue in my head was amazing. “What about her? She’s old and looks like she’s on her own. Shall I just walk up to her and say ‘excuse me can I pay for your shopping?’ What if she thinks I’m a weirdo? Or is offended? Oh, she’s with her friend… right, not her then. What about them? [Mother calls out to child, who has evidently been named after a brand of clothing or perfume….]. Shall I loiter by the till and step in as they go to pay? Gosh the queue is long…What if I cause a scene?” So it went on for at least 5 or 10 minutes, before I decided this was all wrong, and left.
I drove on, through the housing estate – no supermarkets there either – and also stopped at a new Lidl store further up Cowbridge Road… worse than Aldi in terms of misrepresentation of the local demographic! This was turning out to be harder than I thought!!!
I decided to abandon the challenge and head off to meet Evelyn for lunch.
Over the course of our lunch meet, we talked about the events of the morning. I had to confess that I hadn’t realised that there was an unspoken set of parameters surrounding ‘who’ would benefit from having their shopping paid for. I was uncomfortable with the fact that actually this challenge, which was borne of wanting to carry out an act of kindness, was couched in all sorts of judgements and beliefs about people. And it was causing me a fair degree of anguish! Clearly, I wanted to be sure that I would be making a difference to the person whose shopping I was buying… But who was I to judge that? Would I refuse to pay if they were too well dressed? If they were buying cigarettes or alcohol? If they were a couple? Too young? Too old?
Why was this so complicated??!!
Lunch over, I headed for home with the intention of giving the challenge another go on the way. I stopped at another Farmfoods, this time in Pentwyn. Again, I wandered up and down the aisles; again it was fairly quiet; again I didn’t feel that I was in the right place at the right time. I went back out to the car. More internal dialogue. Then back into the shop, which had subsequently become a little busier.
My discussions with Evelyn bought up the idea that rather than loiter at the tills like a stalker, I should actually buy something myself and insert myself into the queue just before or just after the person I had decided to pick up the bill for. So, armed with a bottle of coke and a jar of Nutella, I followed a lady and her daughter to the checkout. She had a small trolley, about half full. Seeing that I had just two items, she ushered me in front of her. (Why do people NEVER do that in Waitrose??). The checkout assistant put through my two items. I was aware that my heart was thumping in my chest. I paused, then turned to the lady behind me.
“Do you mind if I pay for your shopping?”
She looked startled, and firstly tried to explain that she was about to pay by card (I think she thought I wanted to pay and her to give me cash). “No, I mean I’d just like to pay for it for you,” I said. Her face was a picture. “Why?” “I just want to… If you don’t mind.” Muttering something to the effect that if she’d known she wouldn’t have put so much in the trolley, she accepted. Then she and her daughter packed up their shopping and left, and I paid. £40.25 (including my coke and Nutella!). They were gone by the time the checkout assistant had given me my receipt and change. As she did so, she looked at me in total disbelief. “You can’t just do that and not tell me why…” she said. I became aware that the whole of the rest of the queue were staring at me. “It was just a challenge,” I replied, “just something I wanted to do.” “That’s really lovely… Tell me when you’re coming shopping next!” She smiled at me, and I smiled back. It hadn’t been that hard after all.
And to the lady whose shopping I bought, I hope it made a difference.
[41 down, 9 to go]