At what point did shop assistants decide that we are all kleptomaniacs, desperate to swipe whatever we can get our grubby hands on? A number of recent experiences have made shopping an increasingly unenjoyable experience for me. After a few minutes browsing the shelves of a Dubai bookshop, I picked up a new release and tried not to crack the spine as I leafed through its pages. Then I got the feeling I was being watched. I decided I was imagining it, and turned another page. Then I felt it again and looked up. The shop worker was staring directly at me.
When our eyes met there was no look of embarrassment on her face. She didn't suddenly divert her eyes as if to pretend she had only caught my glance for an instant. Instead, she locked her glare on me, keen not to let me out of her sight. Did she really think I was about to stuff the new Thomas Pynchon hardback down my trousers? Perhaps I looked like a criminal, I thought, before walking a few steps to another shelf. Unfortunately, I was then standing in the sporting biographies section. There was nothing I wanted to read there, but at least I wasn't being spied on. Then, slowly, the shop assistant tiptoed out from behind an adjacent shelf. She was watching me again. How long could we keep this up?
It's not just bookshops. Try buying a new pair of jeans without gaining a second shadow that's as impossible to shake as the one you woke up with. The game of cat and mouse enters a new dimension in clothing shops because the assistants gain new ways of covertly eyeballing you. Watch as they position themselves behind a rack of summery women's tops, then occasionally pull the garments aside to make sure you haven't started stealing socks. One day I expect an assistant to camouflage himself against a pile of clothes that match his uniform. All that would be left is a face.
The stalking policy may simply be the work of overzealous assistants, fooling themselves into thinking we shoppers enjoy being glared at while looking for new underwear. However, I suspect they are acting under orders from above. Some managers are obviously so paranoid about shoplifting that they tell their staff to treat all shoppers like criminals. But it won't work. Everyone knows that shoppers who feel like they are being stalked are unlikely to stick around long enough to part with any cash.