Do men and women differ at the shops?
American writer Marcelene Cox said, "The quickest way to know a woman is to go shopping with her".
I can think of other ways, but Ms Cox does have a point, a point traversed in a recent chance conversation we enjoyed in another continent with a mixture of friends and friends of friends. Searching for topics that would not lead to intercontinental dispute we struck upon supermarket shopping and found a surprising accord.
Men, judging by the three present, make lists, systematic affairs based on local knowledge of the supermarket, that minimise any retracing of steps. Brands are studied very fast and rarely for arcane purposes of detailed comparison. Comparison of nutritional values is minimal and seldom is there any translation of kilojoules into calories.
There was some agreement among the men that the time during which they experience most irritation is when surrounded by fruit and vegetables. Here, they have to fiddle about with items not already packaged and in some dreadful places have to do their own weighing. Women seem not to mind this, indeed even relishing this closer relationship with their purchases.
The women (other than the one I know best) involved in this rather lengthy conversation were described (mainly by the men) as sporting unordered lists, leading them to dodge about all over the place. This apparent mild failing was defended in terms of the extra metres covered allowing a sought-after build-up in the number of steps covered in a day as measured by their Fitbits, or the like.
These devices are the equivalent of personal trainers without the person. This lack of guidance by a rippling young man might put off some people, but the independence involved appeals to others. These clever little bits of equipment are worn on the wrist, or in one instance that we came across, hooked on the front of the bra. They sync with one's computer or smartphone and allow access to all manner of encouraging or discouraging measures. "I'm just off to sync my bit."
At the end of each day it is possible to pore over how many steps have been taken during the day, how far walked or run, how much genuine exercise has occurred and how much good or bad sleep has been enjoyed.
With a bit of programming, calories in and calories out can also be recorded and can feature in the day's round-up. There is even the occasional reward in the form of messages about how one's performance compares with the average and a congratulatory comment about having surpassed one's aim for the day.
So any extra steps round the supermarket are all to the good and walking up stairs becomes a joy rather than a nuisance. Of course, the whole matter might become a touch obsessional, but I'm not prepared to take on a fully confrontational argument on this with any convinced users.
Also, there lurks a slightly suspicious corner of my mind in which I worry that the whole thing might be made up and the figures that appear each day don't in fact reflect reality. It probably doesn't matter though, as long as the calorie balance is in the right direction and the supermarket shelves remain stocked.
One reviewer of Fitbit brought the supermarket matter into contention again. He evidently had a slightly wobbly cart that occasionally jiggled a bit. This prompted his Fitbit into a reaction that meant that he was recorded as asleep and then awake every few steps. He might well have been of course if his list was well ordered and the supermarket visit was a routine matter.
However, if one had just cycled 20km it would be disconcerting to be told that one had been asleep. "You might think that you have been cycling, but . . ."
So, are there really gender differences in the supermarket? As usual, it is the state of being retired that allows one to ponder these deep questions. This probably needs to be considered in further conversations when matters of the earlier proclivities of ageing entertainers and match-fixing in cricket have been dealt with.
Men should beware though. They frequently have a tendency to call their approach to the supermarket (and indeed to life in general) logical in comparison with women. An unknown source made the point that "Logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence".
How often in comparison with women do men come home from the supermarket with some wrong or inappropriate items? Women of course are the final arbiters of what is or is not right in any shopping from anywhere, let alone the supermarket..
Ken Strongman is a former psychology professor and pro-vice-chancellor of the College of Arts at the University of Canterbury. He is also a Canterbury-based book and television reviewer.