The Art of the Trader Joe's Sample Pass

There is a genuine art to the passing of a sample.  When you’re given the honor of brightening up someone’s day with a little unexpected treat, you must use your powers for good.

If you frequent Trader Joes’s, you know that in addition to cheap wine, Mini Beef Tacos and Chocolate Filled French Toast, there’s a sample-stand. The sample-stand usually has a warm beverage, either coffee or cider, and a delicious treat. At that stand, I’ve enjoyed myself a tasty taste of Reduced Guilt Ziti, a try of Shrimp Stir Fry and a mouthful of Mac n’ Cheese, to name a few.

It’s usually in the Trader Joe’s parking lot, ‘round the time when I secure a cart, that I begin to plan my sample-stand attack. What I want to do is make a beeline to the samples the second I get in the store but I’m a lady.

Instead, I’ll walk down the bread aisle for some “This Strawberry Walks into A Bar” cereal bars and Ezekiel Bread. Dairy is the next logical step because it’s in direct line of the stand. I’ll snatch up some Greek Yogurt and Fat Free Half & Half and then…it’s go time.

My big move is to casually sail past samples, swing a look to see what’s doing and then nonchalantly circle back.

In a perfect world, the sample has just been placed on the tray, I’ll scoop it up, exchange a smile with the “crew member”, compliment the snack, toss the paper cup in the trash and drop a package of what I sampled into my cart. Then I’ll give the “crew member” a look that says, “Without that sample I would have never picked up the Coconut Curry Sticks.  Thank you for all you do and how you do it.”

Sometimes the sample is so delicious that it inspires banter. We’ll talk recipes, spices and pairings. That’s a best-case sample-passing scenario.

I’m also fine with a drive by. No words exchanged, samples on the tray, quick smile, grab treat and hand my empty sample cup to the checkout person on the way out. Fine.

What I’ve been experiencing lately, and I DO NOT LIKE, is the passive-aggressive sample passer. I can spot him three aisles down. I specify gender for a reason. In my experience, only men over 45 do this. He’ll be standing behind the stand, alert and eager. He has not placed any of the samples on the display tray, which is always suspect. I’ll tell myself to keep it moving, this isn’t going to end well.  But my desire to taste the treat is always stronger than my good sense.

He’ll look at me like, “What can I do for you today, Miss?”

Well, this isn’t a deli where I have endless options.  I’ll take it. I’ll take whatever the say hey you have to offer. It’s ONE thing. I’d like THAT thing. I’d like the only available possibility. Look to your left; see that hot plate with food in it that you’ve been doling out for the last 45 minutes? That’ll do. Why are you making me beg? I don’t like you.

Those are the thoughts that rush through my head. In actuality, I’ll blankly stare at him, point to the food and say, “That.” Which is a pretty powerfully obnoxious thing to say. In one word I’ve turned what should have been a nice exchange into something dirty. But I feel justified, he started it.

Whether he would cop to it or not, I believe he’s using his job to force humans into conversation. He doesn’t like how he feels when someone grabs a sample and runs. He feels he deserves more than that from us. So he’s designed the exchange to force a dialogue. The conversation, if there were any, should be sprung from the sample. I resent being forced into a dialogue because Homey doesn’t have enough friends or lovers or whatnot. That’s not in the contract I signed.

After I bitch-slap him by saying “that”, he’s totally thrown off his game. He usually stutters something about keeping the samples warm, etc. That argument doesn’t hold water with me. I’ve sidled up to the stand and we both know the score buddy. While you were busy watching me walk over, you should have been busy hustling me up a sample. Then he’ll ask me something non-sample related like, “Is it still windy out there?” Only further proving point.

I end up walking away feeling badly – never about eating the sample because samples don’t have calories, but because I didn’t rise above my emotions and give it up to Needy Sample Guy. I’m trying to right now imagine behaving differently… Nope, can’t do it.

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