Dubai: Shopping for groceries in the UAE is not the same today as it was a month ago. Walking with a mask and gloves on, looking at the watch to make sure that you have not exceeded the time limit, and ensuring that you have bought all the items on the list as your next visit to the supermarket can only be after a few days, have changed the concept of shopping completely.
While many feel comfortable to order products online from the comfort of their homes, I prefer going to the supermarket as I like the look and feel of things. I like to see the way things are stacked, compare prices and view the variety of goods on display.
I usually do the grocery shopping on a weekday, hoping to beat the weekend rush at the supermarket. So when my wife and son are busy in school, physically or virtually, I can spend the time looking up deals and buying what’s needed for the house.
I am not new to lists. In fact, I like following lists – whether they are reminders, things to buy or the order of stories to prioritise on a page. My wife usually writes out a list of things to buy which makes it easy for me when I do the grocery run.
I am not new to deadlines either. We work to very tight deadlines in office, so looking at my watch every once in a while is normal for me. This time I had all of two-and-half hours for a round trip from my home to the hypermarket – enough to do a week’s grocery, I thought.
Mask, list and watch
But I am new to masks and I am also new to buying things while looking at a list and my watch at the same time. Which is exactly what I ended up doing when I went to a hypermarket on Sunday. I carried with me a long list of things to buy and the brochure from the hypermarket which ran into about 50 pages.
With the permit in hand, I drove off to the hypermarket confident that this was just a routine visit to the grocery. What I did not take into consideration was a whole new set of variables. I could not exceed the time limit granted to buy the provisions, I needed to find all the items on sale that were marked out in the brochure and I had to ensure that my mask stayed firmly in place – while allowing me to breathe freely. We have been cautioned not to fidget with the mask, but doing this was not easy. My glasses kept fogging up because of warm air rising through the mask. And with my glasses slipping off the bridge of the nose every once in a while, I found it difficult just focusing on shopping.
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The first few entries on my list were not difficult to find, but I spent the next half hour trying to locate other items which were clearly not visible in the sale area. After walking around the place for some time I had to take the help of the staff who politely told me that they had run out of the product. A quick glance at the watch reminded me that I had to get my act together. Milk, yoghurt, vegetables, and fruits – I kept checking off the items on the list. Weighing the fruits and vegetables meant standing in line maintaining a safe distance.
Running against time
Looking around, I realised that there were other men, also with lists, scurrying around to find things and then seeking help after a quick glance at their watches. Most of the shoppers that day were men – men with lists. It gave me strength to know that I was not alone.
Time is a major factor while shopping these days as one needs to get back home within the period allowed in the permit. So shopping for grocery once a week means dividing time carefully at the supermarket among the different sections – fish, meat, vegetables etc. There is no time to tinker around with electronic gadgets that look good but you don’t need.
Wearing a mask also means it is difficult to identify people. On seeing a person stare at me for some time, I looked again to find that it was a former colleague who was trying to draw my attention without getting too close.
I thought about the doctors and medical personnel on the frontlines in the fight against the coronavirus, in their masks and medical gear, some of them leaving their protective suits on for the whole day without sparing a thought for food or water.
With most of the stuff on my list in the shopping trolley, I was fortunate to find an empty checkout counter. I glanced at my watch again - 15 minutes to check out, get into the car and drive home. The journey back home was uneventful and I made it with a couple of minutes to spare.
At home I tried visualising the events of the morning. My issues with shopping for grocery paled into insignificance when I considered the sacrifices made by hundreds of thousands around the world trying to grapple with COVID-19.