Central Market is my favorite grocery store. It’s where I do most, if not all, of my grocery shopping. The experience of shopping at this store is similar to one you’d find at Ikea. They have an entry point that winds itself throughout the store, with secret short cuts if you’re not there to linger. One of the most alluring and anxiety-inducing attractions are the many food demos set up throughout the store. For people like me, they are land mines of awkwardness.
There is nothing more satisfying than trying new products, especially when it’s food, free food. Unattended sample trays are the best. I often help myself to bread, fruit, or whatever else I can possibly fit on a toothpick, a miniature kebob of goodness.
Central Market, however, offers a more hand-son demo experience. And the are set up all over the store. In one stretch, they have three demo tables in a row. It’s the gauntlet of food-induced small talk.
Many years ago, when I started my humble observations, I wrote about my disdain for small talk
. I wish I could say that I have softened that position, but I have doubts that I ever will. Live demos are the yellow brick road to the Oz of unwanted conversations. It’s the ultimate battle ground of good (the best samples) vs. evil (small talk).
Similar to putting your hand on a hot iron, I know that stopping at one of these demos has its consequences. There are no free rides. If you eat from the hand that feeds you, then you’ll have to pretend that you’re there for more than free food. Pretending sucks. I just want to eat and leave.
As I navigate past these stations, I have to keep reminding myself of this. Food demo stations are the modern day Medusa. If you look, you’ll want. If you want, you’ll either have to advance the dialogue or take a risk that things get awkward.
Ultimately, the interaction comes down to this:
Demo person: “Hi, would you like to try ______ today?”
Demo person: [Charlie brown teacher speak]
Me: (Thinking about how I can bail out)
Me: “Wow, that’s really good.” (obligatory)
Demo person: [Charlie Brown teacher speak]
Me: “Great, I’ll definitely keep that in mind.” (No, I won’t)
I have never spent time with a prostitute, but I imagine I’d walk away with the same feelings of insincerity and guilt that I feel after pretending to be interested in a demo product. [And this is what’s great about my blog. I’m the only one in the world who can correlate demo people with prostitution] I know I shouldn’t feel guilty, but I do. I doubt normal people build up a battering ram of insincerity before walking up and grabbing a cracker to begin with, however, I recognize the intermittent explosive device of social awkwardness way before I turn the corner.
My name is Justin. (Hi, Justin.) I have post traumatic food sample disorder.