Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Proprieties and Usages of Good Society — Lesson IX. Shopping

Proprieties and Usages of Good Society — Lesson IX. Shopping

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 15, 2010

VIII. Proper Street Deportment
X. Social Observances in Calling, at Weddings, and Funerals (to be linked when posted)

IX. Shopping.

The women do the shopping of the world. Men buy and sell in great quantities and conduct the wholesale business and traffic of every country, but it is the women who do practically all the buying of food, of clothing and of house furnishings. Women regulate prices in necessary commodities, by their whims and fashions, and indirectly control the market, and in the same indirect way, women regulate the customs and habits of shop-keepers and shop employees, while their own characters are more or less moulded and modified by the reacting influences. It is, therefore, not unprofitable to observe somewhat closely the ethics of shopping, as they are governed and controlled by as immutable laws as any other social force.

Every lesson in ethics or good manners must necessarily begin and end with the counsel of patience and good nature, sympathy and proper dignity of womanly reserve.

To begin with, the most important duty and obligation of shopping, which should be performed at home before setting out on your quest, is to decide what you want. One of the most unsatisfactory, and certainly one of the most extravagant, methods of shopping, is to start out without any definite idea of what is wanted, how much of it will be needed, or how much it will cost. To buy a thing because it is cheap, at a time when you do not particularly want it, is the most questionable economy in the world. Take a bit of paper and a pencil and set down exactly the things that you require; and it is a good plan to set opposite each item the amount you can afford to pay for it. This enables you to determine whether you have money enough to make your purchases, and what price, proportionately, you can pay for each.

O, that all the American women would adopt the sensible, economical, nerve-saving plan which governs their English cousin’s expenditures! The English women would scorn to live in the haphazard, unhappy-go-lucky way in which many American women manage or mismanage affairs. The English woman’s income is apportioned out exactly like the funds are in a large business institution, – so much is allowed for coal, so much for rent, or taxes, so much for groceries, so much for clothing, and after every necessity is provided for, then the margin is carefully divided up for luxuries and investment, while many American women spend just as their fancy moves them, and oftentimes indulge in a piece of luxury at the expense of a necessity. The law of ethics is so closely related to the law of economics, that no woman who has not all her resources under her perfect command, her mind free from the care of debt or extravagance, and unburdened by that Sinbad weight which rests upon the conscientious woman when she knows that she has spent money which should have gone in other directions: only that woman, I repeat, who stands safe and clear on the pedestal of her own womanhood, in perfect control of her resources and faculties, can be an ideal shopper. We will suppose, then, that our ideal lady has made out a list of all the things which she requires and their probable prices. She is neatly and very plainly clad, and modestly enters the door of the store or shop where she is to begin her day’s work.

In all large department stores in cities, there is a floor-walker whose duty it is to give shoppers all information about the store that they may require, and to answer all their questions. Let the shopper ask her questions, if she have any, of this official and no one else. Clerks are not supposed to answer questions, much less are they hired to visit with you, no matter how old your friendship or intimate your acquaintance; they are there for business, and it is presumed that business is the object for which you entered the store.

When you have found the counter where you wish to purchase your goods, wait patiently for your turn, and do not push rudely before another waiting customer, no matter how great your hurry. Speak always in a low tone of voice, and do not take the clerk and the nearby customers into your confidence on any and every subject that may or may not pertain to your present business. Some women have so little regard for the rights and feelings of others that they will take up a clerk’s time for hours, looking at everything he may have in his department, and then walk coolly away without purchasing a thing. Clerks are always anxious to show you their goods; but it is certainly expected that you will not be unreasonable. In no way can a woman show her selfish, disagreeable nature more than in the temporary intimacy of shopping. Civility, kindliness and sympathy are as necessary, and make as beautiful an adornment to character in this special walk of life as anywhere else in the world.

Samples are sometimes furnished at stores, but should not be asked for in unreasonable quantities, as the clerks are thereby embarrassed and sometimes annoyed.

Another form of rudeness of which some are guilty is the constant repetition of how much cheaper a rival shop-keeper’s goods are, and how much more desirable.

“If they are,” thinks the clerk, “why don’t you go there and do your shopping?”

But above all the bad habits to which shoppers are addicted, that one known as “jewing down” is the worst and most vulgar. It is next to impossible to retain one’s self-respect and indulge in this habit. Clerks soon learn such a character and shrewdly place the prices of their goods so high for such a customer that they can well afford to be “jewed down,” and even then, oftentimes, they charge the unwelcome visitor more than the regular price. Does the customer consider that when she asks for a reduction upon the goods that she is tempting the clerk to have a sliding scale of prices for the rich and the poor; and the difficulty about this “jewing down” habit is that it seems to attack the rich and well-to-do far oftener than it does the poor. Write in big letters over your shopping memorandum before you start out, “I will pay the shop-keeper’s straight price or not purchase.”

Bargain counters are a great temptation to women – perhaps because they lack the business instincts and training of men. As a rule they are a delusion and a snare, and while some good bargains are necessarily made at such times and places, there are many things purchased because they are cheap but are not really needed, which makes the poorest bargain in the world. And there is such a waste of nervous energy and force given to it by women shoppers who spend more time and effort in this foolish bargain hunting than would suffice to make the clothing. And because of all this, we are constrained to say that bargain counters, as a rule, should be avoided by all women; but if a woman should go to one, let her retain her modesty and civility, being extremely courteous to all with whom she may come in contact.

When you have made your purchases, be sure you count your change carefully, and you will also certainly be honest enough to make any mistake right which the clerk may happen to make in your favor.

Do not run accounts, if you can help it – such a course is productive of sleepless nights, extravagant habits, and finally of bankruptcy. If you must run accounts, always take a little book with you and set down in your book every item you purchase. This will serve to keep tally on your memory, as well as on the accounts of the store. Accounts which are run without this precaution always seem to be one-third or one-half larger than counted on.

Do not be over-proud about carrying small parcels, nor make yourself a nuisance and the laughing-stock of the store by asking them to deliver small parcels when you can well carry them in your own shopping bag. A shopper of this description once went to the Co-op. Store, in Salt Lake City, and bought two or three spools of thread, ordering them sent to her residence, which was some distance away. The Co-op. delivery man was so disgusted that he took four men and his largest delivery van and horses, drove noisily up to the lady’s gate, “helloing” to the inmates of the house, cracking his whip, and shouting to his clattering horses. With grave faces the four men got out, lifted the tiny parcel carefully as if it weighed a thousand pounds, and the four of them carried it soberly up the walk and deposited it on the front porch. This, at least, is the story that is told about the matter.

When you leave the store, a polite “Thank you” and “Good day” always bespeaks the lady and leaves a pleasant impression.

Such, then, are a few of the ethics of shopping.


1. Who do the shopping of the world? Is it retail or wholesale shopping that they do?
2. How do women regulate prices? How do they mould and modify habits and customs of shop-keepers and clerks? How are the women reacted upon by these habits and customs?
3. What laws govern the ethics of shopping? On what foundation should shopping manners rest?
4. What are the obligations of the shopper beginning at her home?
5. Why should the shopper make a list of her wants and the approximate price she ca afford for each item?
6. Do you think it well-bred to talk loudly to the clerk? Is it right to take up all the time you feel like, chatting with the clerk who may be a friend? How many things should you “look” at before making a purchase?
7. What are the points of rudeness about shopping that you can remember and that offend you most?
8. What about “jewing down”? What objection is there to it?
9. What can you say of collecting samples from stores?
10. What do you think would form the outfit and qualifications of an ideal shopper?
11. What about carrying or delivery of parcels? Do you know any instances similar to the one related in this lesson about the delivery of a parcel? Review the incident referred to.
12. What can you say about running accounts? What should you do if you have to keep such accounts with shopkeepers?
13. What can you say of the bargain counter? What economy is there in purchasing a thing when it is cheap, but not needed?
14. What have you to say about change? Why should you carefully count your change after making a purchase? when should you count it, and why?



  1. To buy a thing because it is cheap, at a time when you do not particularly want it, is the most questionable economy in the world.

    Urgh. That reminds me of some eggplants I had to throw out the other day. (They were very inexpensive, but I never could work them into the menu.)

    “Jewing down.” That’s awful. I’m glad that’s not a term I’d ever heard before today.

    Besides that term, and the details about store accounts and home delivery (it would be nice to have home delivery of milk, in particular) it sounds like the principles of being a consumer are much the same today as they were a century ago.

    Comment by Researcher — April 15, 2010 @ 8:09 am

  2. Ah, Researcher, you obviously grew up in a more enlightened time or place than some of the rest of us. (What!? There’s someplace more enlightened than Utah Valley?!?)

    But that term wasn’t by any means limited to that benighted corner of the Intermountain West. I remember joking with a Jewish attorney at the firm where I worked in the mid-80s, and she said she had heard the term first from her “very own husband!”–who was not Jewish.

    I also heard someone say once that there were so many tightfisted Mormons that before long that crass term would be replaced by another: “He wanted $50 for it, but I Mormoned him down to $45.”

    Except for baba ghannouj (which apparently can be spelled anyway you want), I can’t imagine anything useful that could be done with eggplants.

    That opening line about “women do[ing] the shopping of the world” reminds me of the statement made by one of our children years ago: “Daddy goes to work. And Mommy goes to Pathmark.” (Substitute Safeway or Costco or Walmart or Giant Eagle or Wawa or whatever–it works in any language.) That may have even made it into the morning prayers: “Bless Daddy to have a good day at work and Mommy to have a good time at Pathmark.”

    Needless to say, She Who Must Be Obeyed was not amused.

    Comment by Mark B. — April 15, 2010 @ 8:39 am

  3. Meh. I think I have enjoyed this the least of all installments–though the fault be not yours, Ardis. To me, basic shopping and money handling seems intuitive, although obviously it isn’t if they bothered spelling it all out! Aside from the obviously distasteful characterization of Jews, I wonder why the author thought all Englishwomen were tidy shoppers and money managers. I’ve heard cheap Scots jokes, but this stereotype doesn’t seem to have made it into the present day. Anyway, I’m looking forward to funeral etiquette after this! I shall continue to decline to kiss dead husks, no matter what they say.

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — April 15, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

  4. ‘Jewing down’??? Eeeewww. New one on me.

    it would be, I think, politic not to comment on the shopping habits of the English woman!

    Comment by Anne (U.K) — April 15, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

  5. One of my favorite things (happens very rarely for some reason) is when my family helps bring in the groceries and household goods after I’ve been shopping. For one shopping trip, I figure that I handle the goods at least five times: once to place in the cart, once to place on the check-out register, once to load into the car, once to bring into the house, and once to put away. It’s a labor-intensive process, and add in a pregnancy or any sort of injury or disability, and it can quickly become onerous. Why are shopping and delivery services not more wide-spread?

    Comment by Researcher — April 15, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

  6. Actually I did enjoy this piece. ‘Jewing Down’, I’ve used that term years ago but not lately. I’m old and remember hearing that term alot. As far as the store part goes remains me of that BBC sitcom ‘Are You Being Served?’. You wonder if they shopped in old Mexico or Eastern markets where haggling over prices is expected and an honored method. Don’t run accounts…well there goes lay aways. Good day all.

    Comment by Mex Davis — April 15, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

  7. Very interesting to compare today’s shopping habits with those of another time. Like some of you, my curiosity was somewhat piqued by the reference to the economics of the typical Englishwoman; well, baffled would be a better way to describe it!
    Mex, the term “floor-walker” reminded me exactly of “Are You Being Served?”!!

    Comment by Alison — April 15, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

  8. There are some grocery delivery services in the US. Peapod, WeGoShop and Safeway offer limited area delivery. I’m sure there are others. When we lived in Maryland we used Peapod a few times. But the work of knowing what you want ahead of time was too much to keep up for very long. I guess that is what the lesson was trying to promote. Plus we felt it was perceptively more expensive.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — April 16, 2010 @ 8:20 am

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