Thursday, June 08, 2006


On my way to have afternoon tea at the home of some friends, I stopped at a boutique grocery store in one of the city's wealthiest suburbs to get an upmarket treat to share.

You know the sort of place; little bags of wild Iranian figs, complicated boxes of designer chocolates from chocolatiers who produce about three boxes a year and name them as they would their children, wheels of luxurious cheese that are trucked in by a circuitous route so that they don't have to pass too close to any poor people, and so on. The store itself had lots of stark, immaculate graphics on its signage, a layout that suggested that the shelves were stocked by interior designers rather than minimum-wage teenagers, and a clientele who are so insulated from ordinary people that they don't even realise that they're supposed to be looking down their noses at you - it's simply inconceivable that a commoner oik could come into contact with them.

When the proprietress asked me if I needed any help, I mentioned to her that I am constantly keeping an eye out for sweet capsicum jam - I had some in Pennsylvania once and I haven't been able to find it locally. All I wanted to know was whether she stocked something similar. But off she went, talking about a supplier in the Basque region of France who did something similar, but she couldn't get it in because of Australia's labeling laws, then rattling off a few suggestions of obscure businesses I could try in far-flung corners of the city (as if I had a couple of spare days to drive around town looking for jam), and then off she went to get me the URL of a New Zealand company that might stock it.

I felt like saying, "Hey, if I was that fussed about it, I'd just go online and order it from the appropriate version of Amazon*! I was just curious - I don't want you to scour the globe for it!" But it was all I could do to just smile, nod and say thank you a lot.

Throughout the whole exchange, I was twitching like I do in job interviews. At any second I was going to blurt out a reference to commercial television, or admit to going to a state school, or fail some subtle class indicator and reveal myself to be a prole. Then she'd chase me out of the store and call the police, who would confiscate my Volkswagen convertible on the grounds that it's too high class for the likes of me, and make me walk home. Or, you know, something like that.

Eventually I somehow managed to make it out the door with a $14 panforte the size of an iPod, which naturally in due course proved to be exquisite.

I don't know why I feel so class-conscious when I go into this suburb. I breeze in, having forgotten what happened last time and cheerfully going about my business, then an hour or two later slink out feeling as if I've been trespassing. I have no idea how much of this is in my own mind and much is being generated by the locals. All I know is that I hate feeling like a prisoner of my class, unable to deal comfortably with those above or below me.

* 'Jamazon', presumably.


Blogger Chris Walker said...

Good thoughts Bland.
I've felt a similar uncomfortable class-consciousness in what used to be the Corner Store near where my grandparents once lived -- it's now an uber-chic gourmet deli thingie. If only all the beautiful people who have invaded the suburb, and hence the gourmet deli, could have seen each of them back then. (In case you're wondering, I'm talking about Swanbourne.)
I sometimes find that the best way to deal with the prisoner-of-my-class feeling is to stare the buggers -- i.e. those of other classes, be they above or below -- straight in the eye.

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Bart in Ecuador said...

Jamazon... you really kill me.

Incidentally, this comment was send to you from the real Amazon forest, and I understand it's not amused by the fact that its name is used for a supersized grocery store.

12:29 AM  

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