Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 02.04.11
Stanstead, Quebec


Lost in stuff

Considering we're so consumed with consuming, people sure don't look happy when they shop.

You'd think everyone would be downright giddy. Just looking at the profusion of stuff should be enough to illicit outbursts of ecstasy. "Holy baby-bonus! A koala-fur iPod holder! A musical spatula! Bieber-brand industrial cleanser! Sporks!"

Do you realize that as recently as fifty years ago, domestic snow-cone makers didn't exist? Today, we can purchase domestic snow-cone makers for a pittance, and our lives and kitchen counters are that much fuller.

Instead of railing against all our goods being manufactured in China, we should be amazed that this dollar-store Funtime Happy Girl Doll With Make Real Sound was manufactured on the other side of the world by a worker with dreams of someday having a better life and her very own snow-cone maker.

Far from enthused, most shoppers appear drab, anxious and vaguely hostile (which, incidentally, also describes all my high school girlfriends).

This past Sunday, I saw a mere handful of happy people shopping at a Quebec mall in Sherbrooke, which for legal purposes we'll call Coliform de l'Estrie.

One was a young couple holding hands, pausing briefly for a quick kiss. Of course, they had just come out of the bulk candy store with a big bag of sugary delights, and (as the tattoo on my left thigh reads) happiness is a sack of cinnamon lips.

I also saw a happy man at a store we'll call Whiners who, after braving a checkout line of sourpussed shoppers, proceeded to change into his new shirt at the cash. Perhaps he had just robbed a bank. If so, he was the jolliest felon I've ever seen. (Note to police: if identification is needed vis-à-vis distinctive moles, I'm your man.)

Incidentally, I'm apparently in the sourpuss camp. I try to put on a brave face when I shop but my family says I'm a buzz kill. I tell them I'm perfectly fine standing and waiting but they say it's more like lurking and moping.

So while my family went off to consume this past weekend, I went to get groceries for supper, which is my kind of consumption. (My other tattoo reads "To dine own self be true." There was tequila involved at the time...)

My first stop was a store we'll call Stupid C, or as I like to call it "You can get in but you can't get out."

You see, I found the mango I needed but no fresh basil. Was the lack of herbs the source of the general crankiness among the shoppers? Or were they simply peeved like me that, having decided to return all their purchases to the shelves and shop elsewhere, there was no way to escape the store without barging through a hostile checkout line?

I then visited a store we'll call Slaxi, equipped with oversized shopping carts with frozen wheels that veered in odd directions, usually into oncoming carts pushed by the angriest shoppers this side of the gift shop at a Tea Party rally. Were they upset, like me, that this massive store had mangoes but no basil? Or were they just grouchy because they were really, really hungry and the wonky carts were impeding their provision procurement?

I ended up shopping back in Stanstead at a store we'll call It's Got Alpha-Bits, or IGA for short. It had mangoes, basil, regulation-sized carts, bag boys who carry your groceries to the car, and even (for a price) unfortunate-tattoo removal.

What's more, shoppers are friendly. They say hello, they stop and chat, they don't jam carts into your shins. Well, the neglected toddlers do, but still...

These are my neighbours. This is my store. I know where the mangos go, where the french fries lie, where the hummus is. There's civility among the celery and kindness by the kielbasa.

So why are shoppers in the big stores and malls so ornery? Could it be that, lost in all that stuff, we've lost something else?

Do you think a snow cone might cheer them up?

Ross Murray's collection, You're Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, is available in Quebec in area book stores and through He can be reached at