What a trip home with a Waitrose shopping basket taught me

Coco Khan

Last year, I wrote about becoming (sort of) middle class after growing up skint. My feelings haven’t changed: I still feel this life is not my own, and that I am merely a tourist passing through.

But I have my moments. Like when, over Easter, my teenage cousin was talking about Jesus, using the Arabic word Isa.

“I’ve been thinking about Isa,” she started. “Great!” I replied. “It’s never too early to think about an individual savings account.”

It’s the imperceptible stuff – the behavioural codes learned from birth, the way people banter over a table – that I stumble over. Frankly, I think most of it is designed to exclude, and is quite daft. (My favourite faux pas is to go to a restaurant with my posh pals and, if my food hasn’t arrived, fail to say: “Please don’t wait for me.”)

Yet I envy the confidence that some of these peers project. It’s like magic. I remember a security guard saying to one, while he searched his bag: “You’ll have to bin that water and buy a new one.” My friend just looked at him very closely, and in a soft, clipped voice said: “No, I don’t think I will.” The guard stepped aside.

Related: I’ve made my peace with the office milk thieves | Coco Khan

I mention this because of what happened at Waitrose. I don’t usually shop there, but I was passing. I stacked my basket high and paid for the goods at the self-checkout. But there were no carrier bags to be seen; only impatient customers behind me, tutting. I felt judged. I panicked. So I put all the things back in the metal basket, picked it up, and walked home with it, leaving passersby to wonder what they’d seen.

I found out later that you have to ask for bags, by which time I’d returned the basket. The funny thing was that nobody said a thing. Politeness, probably, or perhaps I had finally cracked it. Could it be I project a certain confidence after all?