Put the Fish Down Slowly, and Just Walk Away

The other day I stopped at Whole Foods to buy tuna to grill for dinner.  I waited at the fish counter for my turn.  A woman joined the line between me, then edged between me and the counter to my left, roughly even with my position, attracting my attention as a potential line-jumper.  The first person in line ordered farm-raised salmon fillets.  The woman to my left said something–I didn’t hear what–that caught the attention of the salmon purchaser, and began pointing angrily at the fish.  Were they together?  Had the woman in front forgotten her grocery-purchase instructions?   The woman to my left raised her voice.  “That’s carcinogenic!” she exclaimed, pointing again at the farm-raised salmon.  “That fish is carcinogenic!  If you are going to buy salmon, only buy the wild-caught!”  The woman in front returned some sharp words, turned away angrily from the Salmon Doomsayer, and completed her purchase.  At this point a server behind the counter said “I have to disagree with you.  Our farm-raised salmon exceeds all minimum government requirements and is raised in only the best conditions.”  “That’s a lie!  It’s carcinogenic!  It’s raised in its own filth!”  “No” said the server, “it’s not.”  “Yes it is!” shouted the woman.  “It’s poisonous!  All fish raised in the United States is poisonous!”  “This fish is not raised in the United States.  It comes from Norway.”  “That doesn’t matter. It’s carcinogenic!  You only buy it because it’s cheap!”  She hurled these last words as an indictment, as if it was the worst possible thing one could say.  The server was calm and reasonable.  My line companion was shrill and nasty.  She was not merely discussing the merits of farm-raised versus wild-caught salmon.  She was ugly.  She was vicious.  Meanwhile no one was being served.  The line had grown eight-deep.  I spoke up.  “Enough of this” I said, spinning a forward circle in the air with my right hand and catching the server’s attention.  “Keep the line moving.”  He was relieved to break off the exchange and turned to help the woman waiting patiently in front of me.  I soon bought my tuna and left.

Was this woman having a really bad day?  Was she a representative of the North American Wild Salmon Council?  Was she mentally ill?  What moved her to interfere with the customer’s purchase of farm-raised salmon?  Maybe she thought the customer just didn’t know the facts, but there was nothing helpful, no fellow concern, in how she delivered her message.  It seemed that Whole Foods’ sale of farm-raised salmon enraged her.  It was a weird grace note to an unremarkable day.

The tuna? It was excellent.

5 Replies to “Put the Fish Down Slowly, and Just Walk Away”

  1. Corine

    I do agree with all the ideas you’ve introduced to your post.
    They are really convincing and will definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are too
    brief for beginners. Could you please extend them
    a bit from next time? Thank you for the post.

  2. ellencohn

    Whenever events like this happen to me, I always try to remember a theory I learned in one of my COM classes: fundamental attribution error. Defined as the "tendency to over-value dispositional or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors." Maybe she is suffering from a bad salmon experience? Who knows?
    Thanks for sharing–loved reading this story!

  3. Anand Brahmbhatt

    I love analyzing people, and so the ending to your entry is making my curiosity run wild because I am a Psychology major. I am almost possible that the behavior is not normal, or even considered remotely normal, so what could it be? Perhaps she's bipolar… perhaps it was just a bad day, but I think the tantrum is too severe and awkward to be that of someone just having a bad day. I don't think someone who would be a passionate member of the Council would be this extreme in their approach, because who would really listen to someone who's making a big scene such as this — that's not to say that protesting and those messages don't get the point across, but their behavior, I want to say, is in line with what would typically be expected of a protestor. All in all, I have no answer, not many theories… but hopefully I will in a year or so!

    Wait, maybe it was a dare! (Just kidding, I think)

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