I was travelling last year with a friend when for some reason we both became obsessed with the phrase “how d’ya like them apples.” When our obsession began we were in Morocco, a country with a large French speaking population. We knew very little French, both being terrible at it in high school, but somehow we remembered the French for apple – pomme. Pretty soon we had transformed the saying into “how d’ya like them pommes.” The saying followed us through 5 countries, whenever we somehow managed to one up each other in an argument the saying would float from our mouths.
“How d’ya like them apples” may well be the smuggest phrase invented. It’s purpose is to show somebody else how deeply satisfied you feel, having beaten them at something. As far as I’m concerned it’s the easiest way to gloat. This one sentence lets somebody else know you’re better than them. To have the sentence said to you, is to feel deep shame. Momentarily your self-esteem will be diminished.
A few months ago my friend said he had a present for me. It was a button. It says “how d’ya like them…” then there’s a picture of apples. How d’ya like them apples! I’ve worn the badge on my jacket ever since. From time to time somebody notices it. They squint their eyes to read it “how d’ya like them…hmm…are those…what are those?” “APPLES YOU IDIOT!” It’s about then that the person realises they are indeed apples and they are indeed an idiot. It’s then that I can smugly profess “how d’ya like them apples.”
Now there’s a reason you need to know all of this, I’ll be coming back to it later, but for now let us move back in time a few days. Tuesday morning. 10.23am. I stand in the local supermarket. I’m about to buy. Yup. Some apples.
There’s hundreds of varieties of apples, so many that it’s almost impossible to know them all. If my local supermarket ever gets a new variety in I’ve just got to try it. On that day they did have a few new apples, so I grabbed them greedily and took them to the cashier. I stood in line. Waited. Waited. Have you ever noticed how time goes slower when you’re queuing in a supermarket? Each minute seems to last an hour. I waited some more.
Finally I was at the front of the queue. A middle aged woman sat behind the till and she started to scan my items, keying in the different apples as they came to her. Then she stopped, Studying two reddish apples with her eyes. She looked up at me “are these apples the same variety?” I could clearly see they weren’t. They were similar colours, but completely different sizes. “Er, no, they aren’t.” “Oh” she said “just, this one doesn’t have a sticker on it, I don’t know what variety it is, do you?”
I smiled at her politely “Nope, sorry. You could just put it through as a Braeburn?” She tutted at me “I can’t put it through as a Braeburn! They’ve got different prices! You might not pay enough! Let me just get my supervisor.” She pressed a button and a light above her till started to flash.
I continued to smile. Continued to be polite. But all I could do was scream FFFUUUCCCKKK in my head. I’ve come across this far too often. I don’t know what the hell it is. Corporate loyalty? Corporate fear? This woman, who is getting paid minimum wage, for one of the shittest jobs in the world, is unwilling to allow her supermarket to lose, at most, 10 pence on a fucking apple. Seriously…why does she give a shit? It’s not exactly like she’ll get sacked for putting an apple through as the wrong variety. Hell, they may even, I don’t know, praise her for using some initiative?! But no. She instead needed her supervisor to tell her what to do.
So we waited for the supervisor. And waited. And waited. But the supervisor didn’t arrive. So eventually she turned to the woman working behind her, she held up the apple. “Jean, do you know what type of apple this is?” Jean turned around, stared at the apple, shrugged. “Is it a Braeburn?” The woman tutted again, “no, it’s not a Braeburn!” I smiled “but you could put it through as a Braeburn?” She snapped back “IT’S NOT A BRAEBURN!” Ok, Christ, it’s not a fucking Braeburn!
She jammed another button on her till and a loud bell rang out. Immediately a supervisor appeared. “Yes, Margaret?” “I don’t know what type of apple this is?” “Is it a…” Don’t say it. Don’t you dare “…Braeburn?” Mother fucker. “No, it’s not a Braeburn.” “Ok, let me go check what it is.”
The supervisor rushed off. I looked beside me and a large queue was starting to build, the people beside me were starting to look frustrated. I looked down at the cashier and again I wondered. Why couldn’t she just put it through as a…you know…one of those apples that I’ve mentioned many times already? Why was this woman so afraid to break a tiny, insignificant rule? Why did it matter to her? What did she owe the people she was working for?
I seriously think that if they could get by animal cruelty laws, that supermarkets would teach and employ monkeys to work on their tills. They wouldn’t have to pay the monkeys any money, just peanuts. The monkeys would be endlessly loyal. Sure, there’s the minor problem that the monkey might shit everywhere, but at least a monkey would probably still have the common sense to put an apple through as a fucking Braeburn!
Since supermarkets can’t employ monkeys though, they just treat their staff like monkeys instead, and the staff are only too willing to go along with it. They act like the supermarket is a zoo keeper, who wont bring them food if they’re naughty.
The supervisor came back. She shrugged at the cashier. “I couldn’t find it, just put it through as a Braeburn.” The cashier nodded in acceptance.
What? What? What? Fucking, what!? You’re putting it through as a fucking Braeburn!? Are you fucking kidding me!?
Now I was angry. You see. What angers me isn’t that the woman was a complete idiot, but rather that, for 10 minutes, I was forced to stand there. If I wanted to finish the transaction, I had to wait for them to sort out the apple. They could waste as much of my time as they wanted, and I just had to stand there and smile about it. They had power over me.
I looked at the huge queue. I decided right then and there, that this would be the perfect moment for me to start wasting her time. I wanted the ball back in my court. I wanted the power.
So she started to key in the apple as a Braeburn. I looked at her “excuse me. I think you’ll find that’s NOT a Braeburn. You can’t put that through, you might overcharge me.” She looked up, dumbstruck. I continued, “I’m not paying for a Braeburn. It’s not a Braeburn. You said so yourself.” “What?” “Go find out what it is. It’s not a Braeburn.”
Her eyebrows pushed together, her face reddened. I know what she was thinking, it involved shoving the apple up my arse, but unfortunately, due to her corporate loyalty she couldn’t do anything, she was paralysed. No matter how much of a dick-head I was, she would say nothing. If she argued with a customer, how would that look to the zoo-keeper? She might not get any more peanuts. She stood up and stomped off.
Moments later she was back. “It was a Jonagold.” She rung up the apple. Which is when the manager arrived. “Margaret! Why are you taking so long with this customer?” She stuttered “I didn’t know what type of apple it was, so I-” The manager interjected “why didn’t you just put it through as a Braeburn? For christ’s sake woman!” He walked away, shaking his head. She looked devastated. For a moment I felt a twinge of regret.
But then, she thrust the change violently into my hand. Looked up to me and with as much scorn as she could muster said, “have a nice day.” Have a nice day. The motto for monkeys everywhere.
I stared down at the Jonagold, now in my hand. I looked her in the eye and with a small smile on my lips, I took a bite. I pointed to the badge on my jacket, I spoke the words that I knew were appropriate.
“How d’ya like them apples.”