Crumbs, kernels and germs

When we go to see movies, it is usually to movie theaters across the border from us in Switzerland. The multiplexes are pretty much the same as anywhere – more or less clean, staffed by more or less bored young people, with overpriced concession stands. Regular ticket prices are around 19 Swiss francs, or $20, for an evening show. That doesn’t include loge seats, drinks, a foot massage or PR swag or anything, just the ticket to get in.

Then comes the food and/or beverages. For two people, popcorn and a couple of drinks can easily run another $25-30, and I’m not talking about jumbo-sized portions, just regular amounts.

So, yesterday, when we went to the movies and decided to share a medium popcorn ($7), we were disappointed and a little dismayed to find that beneath the top layer of nice, puffy popped corn, the box consisted of kernels and popcorn crumbs – clearly scooped from the very bottom of the popcorn bin (not popcorn popper, because here the popcorn is brought out to the heated concession bin in massive plastic sacks). And so, reluctantly, I went back to the stand to return the box for actual popcorn instead of warmed, salted kernels.

The two employees took one look at the contents of the box and agreed to exchange it, no problem. Now, in Switzerland, people rarely make these kind of customer complaints, and in the face of complaints, the usual employee response is to cast doubt on the complainant’s integrity. So the quick acquiescence of the staff surprised me and gave me this impression that my box of kernels was not the first one to reappear at the stand in the hands of a pouty movie fan.

One of them, a fresh-faced young woman, went into a back room and got a big bag of (fresh?) popcorn and upended it into the bin. She then came and retrieved my box from my hands, saying, ‘let me get you some fresh stuff’. I thought she would toss my box, or at least the contents, into the large garbage bin that stood near the counter, but no.

She took my box of half-eaten popcorn, dumped it into the bin of fresh popcorn, scooped everything around in wide, expert-looking gestures, and then refilled my box and handed it back with a smile.

Now, I’m not much of a germophobe. I won’t touch the open bowls of nuts in bars, but I’ll eat most things, and I will admit, I even ate the popcorn because the big bag of new popcorn had just been put in and the old box that got re-added had been my own. I don’t have a cold or flu, I had just washed my hands when we arrived at the movie house, and I’m not too worried about infecting others.

Still…this made me think that I will have to put a lot of energy into forgetting before I can ever order a box of movie popcorn again, especially knowing that my popcorn was added back into a bin of stuff in order to save what can’t be more than 20 cents worth of raw material.

Movie going just got pricier, and I don’t mean in terms of Swiss francs.



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