It is the principle that matters


The other day on my way home, I stopped at a local supermarket. This particular supermarket was overflowing with foodstuff that was jamming every aisle and making navigation difficult in the tightly crowded lanes. The supermarket itself was dressed up for the occasion with the staff decked out in maroon blazers with dark pleated trousers. The trolleys or grocery carts were new and shiny with a hint of space-age design. The ambiance inside gave one the feeling of being in a wedding hall and not a market. After making my selections and paying for my purchases, I made my way home.

The following day, I reached in the fridge for a container of ricotta cheese, one of my purchases of the previous day. On opening it, I noticed some green mold on the surface of the cheese. It was upsetting. My plans for a light iftar of green salad and ricotta cheese were abruptly terminated. I put the container back in the fridge, making a mental note to return it to the store at the first available convenient time.

Two days later, I took the container with me and made my way to that supermarket. After a few minutes of trying to locate the responsible person in charge, I managed to convey to him my displeasure with the purchase. He reached for the container and started examining it. His scrutiny was worthy of a scientist examining plans for a space shuttle. After several silent moments and some shaking of the head, he turned his face up to me and asked me what it was that I wanted. “Well, for starters, you should check a few more of these to see if the batch is defective. And if it so, then I would expect you to remove the whole lot. And as for me, I would like either a replacement or my money back.”

“But it is only nine riyals,” was his patronizing reply, tinged with a hint of sarcasm. “Nine riyals!” I echoed back with equal sarcasm. “So what if its nine riyals? Does money fall from trees? And how do you suppose I came to possess nine riyals? By sleeping through the day and drawing on my birthright or inheritance? And is “principles” a word you are familiar with.” I could feel the course of blood through my veins quickening. “But you are a Saudi, ...and for nine riyals?” he responded a little meekly this time, the sarcasm vanishing from his voice, a tremor of anxiety replacing it instead.

My fist curled momentarily into a restrained punch, but calmness was the order of the day. “You think all Saudis have no value for money? Or are we so dumb as to not know where our money goes? Besides, where are you from?” “Egypt” was his hesitant reply, beads of perspiration beginning to form on his forehead. “Now I know in some parts of Egypt nine riyals can sustain a family of four over a handsome meal, and here you are deriding my decision to get my nine riyals back,” I retorted. “Furthermore, I would rather gift it to someone more deserving than have it fill the coffers of this establishment.”

His manner very apologetic, this gentleman then walked over to a checkout counter, withdrew nine riyals and handed them over to me. He literally begged me to continue as a patron in that establishment. Calmly and without acknowledging his pathetic pleas, I took the money and on my way out handed it to a little Afghani boy trying to sell me some chewing gum.

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