What I Learned at the Aldi store

In our community is a grocery store named Aldi. I had heard that customers had to pay for their shopping carts and the groceries weren’t even packed in bags by the clerks. This sounded unreasonable. I had so much to learn. My dear wife is the adventurous one and it was she who suggested we go see for ourselves. And so my lesson began.

What I first observed was neatness. No shopping carts scattered around the parking lot. No trash, either: no paper, no empty bottles, no discarded food containers. Something was different, but why? Over time, I would learn. I discovered the available carts were chained together and rented by inserting a quarter that would be returned when the cart was returned. Interesting, but what difference does a quarter make when compared to the cost of a week’s grocery purchase? Puzzled, I tarried on, following my dear wife into the store.

My next discovery: quietness. Quiet. No sound. Customers speaking in whispers to each other. No loudspeakers announcing the special of the moment. At first, disconcerting. No music, nothing. Quiet. Quiet like the snowfall on a winter morn. Silence. In our world we are so accustomed to being bombarded by unasked-for noise that quietness can be unsettling, but only initially. And I began to notice something important to me: people respond to quietness by being quiet themselves, and in doing so are polite to others. A quiet environment promotes quiet behavior and quiet behavior is one of patience and courtesy. That was a big lesson for me, that we are quickly affected by the environment in which we find ourselves and that a courteous environment is achievable.

The quietness and courtesies to others I discovered in spades in the checkout line. Typically, this is the painful part of shopping; standing in line for what seems forever to be greeted by a clerk who is already overwhelmed by the noise and the shoving customers. At the Audi store I regularly see customers letting those buying fewer items to go ahead of them. Honest! Allowing them to go ahead. To me, this is a by-product of the positive social environment.

My biggest learning achievement was the quarter paid to rent a cart while shopping. On many occasions, while returning the cart for my twenty-five cent return, I encountered people coming to check out a cart. Instead of cashing in my cart for the quarter, I offered the cart for free to the other shopper. Bottom line: it is just a simple matter of twenty-five cents, the equivalent of tossing them a quarter. But that is not what is experienced. In transferring my cart to another shopper, the reaction is as though I had bestowed a great gift upon them. People who shop at Audi frequently will smile, laugh, and offer profuse thanks. New shoppers will stare, refuse the cart, or ask why I’m giving it to them. To me, that is a further indication that people who participate in a positive social environment enjoy and appreciate positive social encounters; others need time to acclimate to the new experience.

I earlier mentioned the parking lot’s neatness. People who have spent sixty or a hundred dollars shopping aren’t returning a cart for a mere twenty-five cents; it is that by paying the quarter we become part of the enterprise and a sense of honor causes us to return the cart properly and to do our small share to keep the lot neat.

As our world becomes more crowded, having pleasant encounters in the routine activities of our lives will become more and more important. Shopping online is an avoidance technique; we are a social species and benefit from being among others. My hope is that other companies pursue ideas to make such public encounters more pleasant. This world is getting more and more crowded and any such move is a celebration.

Daily Grace


A warm memory of my childhood was hearing Dad saying grace before meals, breakfast and dinner through the week and also Sunday noon after church. This was never negotiable; grace was said in restaurants and on picnics, anytime and anywhere our family gathered to eat. As a child, this was never questioned; this was what everyone did, or so I believed. I remember sneaking a peek at my breakfast oatmeal growing cold as Dad recounted our blessings, and glimpsing the chicken and dumplings on the table on Sunday after church while Dad spoke reverently on our behalf. He generally used “King James English”, with sentences fraught with words such as thee and thou. That seemed natural to me, because I had never heard anyone speak otherwise while praying or saying grace.

Through those years I equated the act of saying grace to the act of eating, yet it always puzzled me, as I found nothing that brought the two acts together. The focus seemed to be on food. That is, people in my world displayed this act of being thankful when about to eat food, but not otherwise. However, children are among the best of soldiers; we do what we’re taught and assume that to be proper.

As I became older, Dad decided that I should learn to say grace at the table. Participating in the ritual was an obvious sign of my maturing and I, ever the soldier, readily accepted the role. What made it easy is that any oral activity done on a regular basis begins to adopt repetitive phrases. For example what person has never heard the phrase, “Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies”, although the phrase has no meaning: food from the good Earth has no need of a blessing. Within just a few weeks I had my words down pat, mostly from what I had heard, either at home or elsewhere. We have good intentions in this life, but we generally tend to shorten repeated tasks, sometimes losing sight of whatever was the original goal. Over time, my vocabulary grew and I was soon able to select various combinations of sentences to include, seemingly from the heart.

Continuing in my maturing role as a sayer of grace, I began to notice that I was not alone in seeing the role as one of performance and not one of involvement. Persons who said grace well, with dignity and a bit of pomp, were asked to do this regularly. Aspiring to be popular, I soon became part of that small group. If you wanted someone who could talk to God, I was your man (or boy). And I believed it.

And that was the problem. Although of good intentions, I had been entrusted with a role not understood. I was both a success and a failure; I was performing the role well, but had no grasp of the purpose. Children seek acceptance and want to do whatever is right (and that is usually whatever the parent defines). I truly meant well, not realizing that I was being rewarded for performance in a role beyond my grasp. When you can recite the right words, no one is ever sure what you really think on a subject. This leaves the child to figure out complex issues alone, as others have already assumed the child understands. By child, I am including teenagers also.

Children want to please, and especially enjoy doing what adults do. My experience was an easy and predictable road to travel. In time, I grew up and made my own decisions. And I learned. When children speak adult sentences we assume the child understands the depth of what was said. We watch in awe of the child’s wisdom, reinforcing to the child to continue the memorized role. We do this as a disservice to children. I also learned to not instruct a child to mimic what I do or say. The child should be prompted to say or do only what the child understands, nothing more. Maturity takes time and cannot be rushed. Let children be children; instructing them to perform adult roles should follow the child’s interests, not the adult’s. Otherwise, we create monsters who can perform, yet not understand.