Shopping is a completely normal part of our everyday lives. However, for older people or people with specific needs, going to the supermarket, shopping centre and the like can quickly become a stressful situation. Chatty checkouts and silent hours are designed to counteract this.
"'Le commerce est un acte humain', (trade is a human act, editor's note) Camille Gira once said. I can only agree with that: When you sell food, it's not an industry, it's an interaction between two people who both have needs." With a smile, Christiane Wickler looks at the Klaatsch Caisse (chatty checkout, ed.) directly behind her, where several customers are bustling about. There is no sign of any hurry in the Pall Center Oberpallen supermarket. On the contrary – and that's a good thing. The special checkout is there for chatting, for leisurely packing and unpacking and for simply taking your time, as a counterpart to automated self-scan machines and fast-paced payment.
The Managing Director of the Pall Center had the idea to change things back in 2019. "We often have older customers here who lack social contact and like to chat to the cashier. At regular checkouts, the customers in line behind them are already snapping their fingers in annoyance because it's not going fast enough for them. We simply wanted to fulfil this need for more interpersonal interaction and the Klaatsch Caisse sign makes it clear to everyone that there is no time pressure here, " says Wickler.
Like the corner shop of old
The concept of slow checkouts originated in the Netherlands, where so-called "Kletskassa's" have been available for several years. People in France ("bla bla caisses"), Germany and Japan have also taken a liking to cosiness, as the feeling of the corner shop of yesteryear is a welcome change from the often hectic everyday life of today. Senior citizens in particular – and Luxembourg has a total of 136,374 of them (as of 1 October 2023) – often benefit from going to the supermarket to share their worries or simply chat about the weather. After all, according to a recent Statec survey, 18.4 percent of all over-60s are widowed and 12.6 percent are divorced, meaning they spend a lot of time alone.
"The coronavirus period has shown how much we humans really need social contact with others, so it's hardly surprising that the Klaatsch Caisse is a complete success, " says Wickler. During the pandemic, experts increasingly voiced concerns about social isolation and loneliness, especially among young and older people, and citizens' initiatives such as the Schnëss telephone (chat phone, a hotline for people that wanted to chat or needed someone to listen to them, ed.) were set up to offer people living or feeling alone a point of contact, someone who would listen. But even after the global sanitary crisis, the fact remains that our world is becoming increasingly digitalised and automated. In many places, humanity is giving way to time efficiency and profit; people are being replaced by machines.
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