I love a sample. Even when I’ve gorged myself so full at the local Indian all-you-can-eat-lunch that I have to leave with unbuttoned trousers and an unsightly waddle, I view a tiny piece of free food in a supermarket with far more excitement than is really warranted. At the first sign of an apron-clad woman and a small crowd at the corner of an aisle, I’ll be there, next to the chubby child who has escaped his mother and in amongst jostling sharp-elbowed obasans who have long since reached that age where women feel customs such as queuing no longer apply to them. We will be jabbing toothpicks into small pieces of sausage or sashimi, or making grabs for miniature paper cups each containing a mouthful of ramen, and none of us will care a jot about purchasing said items.
I am fine with that. I care not a jot either, except, that is, when there is no crowd and I am the only sample taker. When that happens I feel guilt. I want to say, ‘Honestly, I’m not really one of those greedy people who just snaffle any sample they can with no intention of buying,’ but I can’t say that because that is exactly what I am. It happened today. It was just the lady cooking and me, hovering with a chopstick carried expectantly over from the last aisle and as I speared my prize, the lady spoke to me.
‘It’s nice, isn’t it?’ she said.
Well, it would be rude to say no, or even to say, ‘Yes, but only because it is free!’ so I just agreed. And then she pointed to the packs of sausages next to her and it became obvious that she wanted me to buy some. ‘Only 360 yen!’
With the company of obasans, I am resolute in my refusal to purchase. I can slink away almost unnoticed in the crowd, but I find that difficult to do when alone and being directly spoken to. I’m rubbish at being impolite and find it very difficult to take somebody’s food and then just turn my back and walk off as they are speaking to me.
I made my usual excuse about having to get my wife to try them and the nice woman smiled and pretended she didn’t think I was a greedy fat git or that she hadn’t heard it before. I felt a pang of guilt as I walked away, but it didn’t last long, because just around the corner I saw another small lady in an apron and I hurried forward, toothpick at the ready.