James Griffin: Free samples a test of taste

Free samples anyone? Photo / Bay Report
Free samples anyone? Photo / Bay Report

Although this is nothing out of the ordinary, I have to confess I am somewhat confused.

It is not a bad state of confusion, or anything to panic about, but it is, nonetheless, something that is both confusing and perplexing me. And the thing that is troubling me is this: just what, pray tell, is the correct etiquette towards those people in supermarkets whose job it is to give you little samples of food and drink, to try to get you to buy more of said food and drink?

On a good supermarket day there will be potentially many opportunities for the discerning shopper (or "me", for short) to sample little nibbly morsels and, in general, to graze while doing the weekly hunting and gathering. On a really good supermarket day it can be like having a three-course meal while pushing a trolley.

But what, please enlighten me, are the precise rules for each of these mini social interactions? Even though I am a sucker for people giving me free stuff, and tend to buy whatever they're pushing just because it seems the nice thing to do, I do actually understand that by sampling you are under no obligation to buy.

But how many samples are too many samples before you are just standing there pigging out? Two? Three? Eleven?

And how many times can you circle round and come back to the same source of yummy treat before it stops looking like a chance encounter and becomes food-stalking?

Personally, I find it easier to push the envelope on this when there is an array of treats on display, because then I can pretend I have yet to try all the varieties. I guess the key indicator here is that when you see the dispensing person hiding all the samples as you approach, then you have gone back to the trough one too many times.

Also, in this general ball park, this is a supermarket, not a bar, so you can't just pull up a metaphorical stool and expect them to pour you drinks all afternoon. This also explains why the glasses are so damn small.

Often the success or failure of any of my supermarket taste-testing interactions is all about the person offering me the tasty titbits. An affable and informed person giving me food and/or drink is always a good addition to my day, but they are also flirting with me overstaying my welcome and eating all the cheese. A bored teenager, on the other hand, will probably see me taking the sample what-not and moving on; but they also risk me staying to ask annoying questions, just to jump-start them out of their torpor.

Then there are the taste-dispensers who, it would seem, are at the supermarket less to dispense and more to block the aisle. There's a wine-dispensing guy at one of the supermarkets I frequent who, in all the times I have walked past him, has never ever offered me a swig of his hooch. I have made eye-contact with him on numerous occasions, which is normally the thing that instigates the offer to sample, but with this guy nothing, not a sip. What the heck am I meant to do in this situation? Should I march up to him and demand to try his chardonnay?

Undoubtedly the worst of these potential scenarios, however, is when what might be called the Polar Opposite Effect comes into play, in that the delicious morsel you have just popped into your mouth is not delicious but tastes like something Satan himself would have excreted from his butthole.

What do you do in this situation? Even though every survival instinct in your body is urging you to expel this hideous invader instantly, you can't just spit it out, while shouting "Dear sweet Jesus, are you trying to kill me?!"

Or do you go all Bear Grylls on it and declare it the best thing you've eaten since you had that cicada for breakfast?

Or are you expected to politely smile and nod, then hurry away and hoick it up somewhere else in the supermarket?

And if running away for subtle disposal is, in fact, the acceptable response to attempted food-poisoning, where actually should you deposit the foul evidence? In the fruit and vegetable section where you can hide it among the lettuce leaves?

As you can plainly see, these are complex issues I'm trying to deal with here.

It is the basic survival instinct, wherein food needs to be gathered at every available opportunity, versus the social niceties that keep us a civilised society, and not one ramming each other with our trolleys as we battle to get our free thimbles of instant soup.

Nature versus nurture, in action, in neatly stacked aisles; as you can see, it is very confusing to the barely evolved mind.

- NZ Herald

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