Grocery store line etiquette
April 3, 2007 5:08 AM   Subscribe

Grocery store line etiquette - when someone abandons their cart to go get an additional item, do they forfeit their place in line?

I was in the store the other day, and in all the "lots of items" checkout lanes there were several people with their baskets jam-packed full of groceries. I hate the store and wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. I spied a lane where there was an abandoned cart (with nothing behind it), and figuring that it was fair to go in front of this person, sort of put my cart in a merging position between that cart and the one in front.

Well, the bitch came back, and I sort of made an effort to see if she was cool with the situation, and she absolutely insisted she was entitled to her former place in line, and I should get the fuck out of the way, basically. (No, no outright insults or curses were exchanged). I got rather pissed off (so was she at this point), and though I yielded and headed for another checkout line (because basically I am a wuss), I made a few snotty comments to her as I left.

I did say that since she had abandoned her cart, she should lose her place, but she wasn't buying it. Was I in the right, or was she? There was no one behind her for her to sort of clear it with before she ran off.

In the future in such a situation, I think I'd just move the person's cart back and put myself straight in line, thus putting the onus on them to make a big issue of going around me to "reclaim" their spot, and I'd probably stand up for my position more, since I think it would be more defensible. I wouldn't do this if there were people behind me though, and I'm unable to articulate why exactly.

And I must say I did get some smug satisfaction after I found a much shorter line later on, so I got out of there before she did. HA! So it worked out after all, but I'm curious about the general principle just the same.

If it makes any difference, she came back with eggs, which I know are on the farthest side of the store, so she was gone quite a while - this wasn't just a quick dash or something.
posted by marble to Human Relations (114 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
That's ridiculous. In line etiquette of any kind you can only save a spot with another person, never an inanimate object. You were 100% in the right.
posted by saraswati at 5:14 AM on April 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


No they don't. Jesus christ.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:15 AM on April 3, 2007


I disagree. In the grocery store there is a short window for getting something forgotten.
posted by miss tea at 5:17 AM on April 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


I'd have looked around, waited a few seconds (maybe 20) to see if there was anyone running back toward their cart, then taken their spot. What she did is akin to driving to the store, forgetting her purse, and tossing a tire in the spot she wanted to save it for when she got back. I'd have looked at her like she was insane.
posted by empyrean at 5:18 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing by the celebratory nature of your posting that you're in the US, but here in the UK, the rules are this: if you load your groceries onto the belt before going to search for extra items, then your place is held. For my sins I do this a lot and nobody behind me minds or cares. I guess it's about time management. Nobody hates waiting around while nothing is happening.

If you just push your cart to the checkout, and then abandon it, then your place might be kept, but personally I'd leave it to the person behind the checkout to make the call.
posted by humblepigeon at 5:19 AM on April 3, 2007


I agree with miss tea, we all forget something now and again. You just run and get it, you don't take your trolley out of the line...

What next? Unless you are looking at your items anyone can just take them?
posted by tomw at 5:20 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


When I forget something and have to go back I give up my spot. I use it as a penalty for forgetting hoping that I'll learn to remember all my items in the first go.

Now, if you only had a measly basket and she had a full cart then she should have let you go first because: 1) she got out of line (sorry, I don't think there is a window for forgetting) and 2) she had double to quadruple the number items you did and therefore would take that much more time.

My 2 cents.
posted by LunaticFringe at 5:20 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


If I forgot eggs I would go get them -- with the cart. I wouldn't leave a full cart unless I was grabbing something very nearby. Leaving a full cart and expecting customers to wait while you retrieve items is rude.
posted by LoriFLA at 5:29 AM on April 3, 2007 [6 favorites]


You have logic on your side (otherwise everyone could put their cart in line before starting to shop?), but that won't do you any good, I'm afraid.

I've never known my wife be so angry as one day when she left me in the queue while she went off to get something. When I got to the front and my wife was still absent, I allowed one person (only one) to go ahead of me. When my wife got back a few minutes later it was evident she didn't know whether to claw out my eyes or those of the woman I had let go first.

Not quite the circumstances you mention, but the same strength of feeling, I think.
posted by Phanx at 5:30 AM on April 3, 2007


Checkout lines serve a single function for each person, so the only variables at play between those waiting are the number of items and the presence of the actual shopper.

If you had 50 items and she had three, I would say that she should not expect to be let back in line, but the polite thing for you to have done is let her back with no argument. Regardless, yes, you were in the right to move her cart because she was not present.

To the more general point, though... Arguing about checkout lines is lame. There are battles which are worth fighting and there are battles that only serve to ruin peoples' days and give them a lower opinion of humanity.

Regardless of whom was "in the right" etiquette-wise, you made the proper choice by yielding... Yielding is a great way to deal with these situations -- it prevents you from getting in a car crash while you're busy thinking about who has the right of way and it lets you focus on getting out of the store with your items and sharing a polite smile with a stranger when she returns back to the line in front of you and (maybe) apologizes for being away from her cart so long because she forgot eggs and was having one of those days we all have where nothing seems to go right (which makes that shared, polite smile the high point of her day).
posted by VulcanMike at 5:32 AM on April 3, 2007 [8 favorites]


It completely depends on how close the person is to checking out. If she is holding up the line because it's her turn and she's not there to load her cart full o'food onto the belt, then she loses her spot and you jump ahead. If she is further back in the line and obviously has time to run back and grab another item before getting to the unloading stage, she keeps her spot. Everyone forgets something at some point. It's all about whether she screws up the system or not.
posted by meerkatty at 5:33 AM on April 3, 2007 [16 favorites]


She left her cart, she lost her spot. If she'd been shopping with a companion who was loading their stuff onto the belt, that would hold the spot, but if you shop alone, you have no right to the spot if you leave it.

It's about whether the line moves. If it moves and you're not there to move with it, you lose. This is why you should always shop with someone else. One of you can keep things moving and the other one can go get that bottle of Plax you forgot about. (And if they don't make it back in time, they have to get on another line.)
posted by bink at 5:33 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


You'll get plenty of opinionated answers here, I'm sure. Mine is that, IF there was a clear etiquette, it would allow people to hold their place until they got up to the register. After all, what difference does it make if there's a person ahead of you or a cart ahead of you? Either is a marker that the place ahead of me is taken.

I shouldn't have to move out of my way to push other-people's carts forward. But there's no reason why a line must keep moving forward. It's okay for there to be gaps in the line, as-long-as they don't inconvenience people.

Once a "placeholder" gets to the register, it is unfair for everyone behind to have to wait because the placeholder isn't a sentient being and can't get out its wallet. But I don't think this is a real-life problem, because at this point, most clerks will allow the next person to go first.

Having said all this, I don't believe there is any set (commonly-held) view about holding your place in a supermarket checkout. (At least, not in any of the cultures I've lived in.) Like I said, you'll get some strong responses, and you're welcome to ignore the ones that side against you and use the ones that side with you as vindication. But, in the end, it's arbitrary if there's no accepted etiquette.

What's the etiquette when there is no etiquette? Compassion, The Golden Rule, and Attempting To Get Along With Other People. You and the other shopper failed miserably at all these. You and she should have both tried to defer to each other ("I'm sorry, you can go ahead of me." "No, that's okay. I don't mind..."), and neither of you should have snarked at each other.

I'm not trying to be Mr. Uber Polite. It's a practical matter. We need structures we can fall back on when there aren't any structures. Come to think of it, most people do: when there are no obvious rules, it's a snark free-for-all. I'm suggesting that lack-of-rules (or even a situation where someone else isn't following rules) does not entitle you to snark. That way lies the schoolyard.
posted by grumblebee at 5:34 AM on April 3, 2007 [12 favorites]


If the belt becomes available while the person is gone, by all means, move her cart out of the way and start unloading your groceries. No sense in making the whole line stand still.

However, if the line was such that neither she nor you could begin your checkout while she was gone, what's the difference, really? If she had been standing there with her cart, your wait time would not have decreased. At all. People forget things from time to time, and it's much quicker to make a run for it sans a big (full) cart.
posted by ferociouskitty at 5:36 AM on April 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


You may be technically right about her losing the spot in line, but nudging ahead of her is rude, IMO.
posted by muddgirl at 5:39 AM on April 3, 2007


You are 100% in the wrong, IF the following is true: She got back before the person ahead of her was done. You may cut in front of an abandoned cart IF AND ONLY IF not doing so would leave the checker unoccupied.
posted by DU at 5:40 AM on April 3, 2007 [11 favorites]


I think it mostly depends on how much the other person has and how much you have. If that person just has a few things, like a small basket or a few items left on the belt and you have a big whoppin' cart chock full of stuff, it's only nice of you to give that absent person the benefit, at least for a good 20 seconds or so. You know they're gonna be back soon.

However, if the roles are reversed, and you have a few things and the other person has a lot, it's only fair that he/she allow you to go ahead and not call you out when coming back.

With equal amounts of stuff, you're in the right. With the last two scenarios, get right in front and don't take no shit if it's given.
posted by zardoz at 5:40 AM on April 3, 2007


Do you want to live in a society where bitter rivalry over queue position and the consequent exchange of snotty comments are the norm?

Of course she was unthinking, perhaps even rude, in leaving her trolley and demanding everyone honours her queue position. But that's no justification for being rude in return. Remember your manners, and forget her faux pas. The generous, polite person does not let the rudeness of others spoil the sunny progress of her supermarket shop.

The next time someone commits such a terrible solecism as to nip back for some eggs, why not let her keep her place in the queue. Heavens, you might even consider smiling warmly when she gets back. Perhaps, in an effort to redeem herself, she will apologise for keeping you waiting. You will leave the store mere moments later than otherwise, but with a cheerful rather than sour mood, knowing that you have done your bit to keep the modern world civilised.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 5:41 AM on April 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


She left the line. To hell with her.
posted by mr_book at 5:41 AM on April 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


Also, her making a big deal out of it was probably rude, too. The best thing to do in such situations is to be passive-aggresively condescending.
posted by muddgirl at 5:41 AM on April 3, 2007


Oh, yes, I forgot: only when the checker is ready ("Next in line, please!"), that's when you're justified. Not one second before.
posted by zardoz at 5:41 AM on April 3, 2007


To be fair you should at least wait until it is your turn. It's not like you would have gained much. You could have waited until the line starts moving before you cut in front of an empty cart.

In civil society it is perfectly acceptable to return to pick something up from the aisle. Of course that is not to say it is alright to leave a half empty cart in a busy line but rushing back to pick up a single item is ok. In civil society she should also not bitch at you if you waited an appropriate amount of time without someone returning. I've had people in front of me ask for me to watch their cart when they had forgotten an item and I'm cool with that.
posted by JJ86 at 5:44 AM on April 3, 2007


I too agree with MissTea - a short window is permisible when one has forgotten a single item. Making snotty remarks and arguing over something so trivial erodes whatever moral high ground either of you had to stand on. On the other hand, given her long absence and equally snotty response, she would have been much more graceful to simply let it go.

To escalate or de-escalate the situation? That is the question.
posted by man on the run at 5:44 AM on April 3, 2007


Yes, I agree completely with zardoz. You wait unless she's next in line and not back yet, and then yes, you can go ahead. Otherwise, waiting is the polite thing to do. What made the whole situation worse is that both of you took the other to be making a personal affront. That happens way too much in this society.
posted by The Michael The at 5:44 AM on April 3, 2007


If they leave the line they lose their place. You could probably have got in in front of her in the first place if you'd decided to not bother picking up an item and nip back for it after you'd got in line.

If they leave the line and lose their place then it's up to you if you want to allow them back in. It happens that most people will let someone back in, so the person leaving the line is gambling on that. It'd be polite to let them do that if you think they've genuinely forgotten something (key indicators being a "Doh!" sound just before they run off), but there's no obligation on you and while letting them back in is polite, not letting them back in is not rude.

Being anything other than calm in the situation, for either party, is distinctly out of line.

With what humblepigeon said about the UK - well, I'm in the UK and I don't think there's any rule except the first sentence I wrote above.
posted by edd at 5:47 AM on April 3, 2007


I would also say practicality comes into it too, so I can see where humblepigeon gets that rule about the belt from - it'd be impractical to shift groceries off the belt and stick yours ahead, and cost everyone time all round, and it's part of your responsibility to not delay people behind you as well, so in that circumstance you'd probably have to let them go ahead unless you just had a couple of items you could carry ahead to avoid shifting loads of shopping about.
posted by edd at 5:53 AM on April 3, 2007


here in the UK, the rules are this: if you load your groceries onto the belt before going to search for extra items, then your place is held. For my sins I do this a lot and nobody behind me minds or cares.

You couldn't be more wrong. Sure, someone can abandon his trolley for a minute when he's third or fourth in line, and then his temporary absence ahead of me isn't likely to add any more time to my checkout process. But putting his stuff on the belt and then heading off? Believe me, I mind.

The only reason his place is held and nobody appears to mind is that we're in the UK, and we're just too polite to move his stuff or do anything more than the back of his head a glare when he gets back in line.

I guess it's about time management. Nobody hates waiting around while nothing is happening.

What, so someone's items are sitting at the head of the belt, nobody can do anything because we can't move their shit, somebody else could be checking out while they're running around trying to find a half decent bottle of white... and we don't hate waiting because "nothing is happening"?

No. I don't mind waiting when something is happening. We hate this precisely because we're having to wait while nothing is happening.

Supermarkets are a military operation for me. In, out, back to my cave of solitude. You get in my way, you're going on the list.
posted by chrismear at 5:55 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


It's possible that I take this stuff a little more seriously than most.
posted by chrismear at 5:56 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm strongly on the "you're allowed to dash off for a forgotten item" side.

With the obvious caveat that the person behind the person who dashed off goes ahead if the checker becomes free and that person's still gone.

But, really -- you only have your spot if you're clutching to your cart? How about if she'd been six feet away looking at the tabloids? You knew somebody was unlikely to've shopped and then magically abandoned the idea at the till.

Still. Given the escalation, the "make a big issue," etc, you're both "bitches." Nobody's "right" here; it's just unfortunate.
posted by kmennie at 5:58 AM on April 3, 2007


Here's how I see it. Once you've started loading your stuff onto the belt, you can't reasonably start repacking your trolley and go chasing after a forgotten item, so you can leave your stuff and go. Quickly. If you're not back by the time your stuff gets to the front of the belt and I only have a few bits, I will go in front of you. However before you start loading your items you are perfectly able to take yourself and your trolley off to find your forgotten bits and you should do so, because otherwise it's just rude. Especially if you're at the back of the line, because you have no place to hold. Caveat: if you forget something and you explain to me, I am perfectly happy to watch your trolley for you.

In your situation? I'd just have chosen another line.
posted by corvine at 6:04 AM on April 3, 2007


ferociouskitty is completely and utterly correct here.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:05 AM on April 3, 2007


Lose their place? I think they should lose a body part. I'm with LoriFLA , unless the item they forgot is less than 10 yards away they should take the cart with them.
posted by Carbolic at 6:06 AM on April 3, 2007


You may cut in front of an abandoned cart IF AND ONLY IF not doing so would leave the checker unoccupied.

Agreed. What the hell difference does it make if someone is physically there next to their cart if it's not holding up the line? If they dash off to get something (and surely we've all done that), it's their responsibility to get back before it becomes a problem, but it's not a problem until they're at the head of the line.
posted by languagehat at 6:07 AM on April 3, 2007


chrismear, I would assume that once the items are on the belt, the checker may well have started putting them through. If you have a large load, then by the time your stuff is finished you're back with the chocolate.

Personally, I agree with languagehat et al that you should only push in if the checker is left unoccupied. It doesn't sound like the case, so if I were the lady you'd tried to go ahead of, I'd be telling my friends about the obnoxious self-entitled twit who was so desperate to get one damn space ahead to wait in line (when there were shorter queues around, no less!) that they actually pushed my trolley out of the way!
posted by jacalata at 6:10 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


This thread makes me sad. Don't we all forget things every once in awhile? If the checker was still busy with someone else and not waiting, why not cut her a break and just wait? Someday you'll want that courtesy, too, I bet. A little nice goes a long way.
posted by Flakypastry at 6:14 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


If it makes any difference, she came back with eggs, which I know are on the farthest side of the store, so she was gone quite a while - this wasn't just a quick dash or something.

Ok, unless your grocery store is 2km wide, it's still pretty much defined as a quick dash. It's not like she came back 10 minutes later with 15 things in her arms. She was probably gone, what, 2 minutes? And since (it seems) she wasn't even up at the belt yet, what difference would it have made to you if she was there or not? This is the kind of ridiculous escalation that leads to people pulling out baseball bats because somebody "cut them off" in bumper to bumper traffic.
posted by antifuse at 6:15 AM on April 3, 2007


I vote with VulcanMike.
posted by JanetLand at 6:17 AM on April 3, 2007


If you're in the line and have to go and get something you've forgotten, and on your return the person behind you in the queue cuts up rough I urge you to give them a hug, they clearly need it.
posted by biffa at 6:17 AM on April 3, 2007


if the line was such that neither she nor you could begin your checkout while she was gone, what's the difference, really? If she had been standing there with her cart, your wait time would not have decreased. At all.

I'd really like to hear marble's response to this point from ferociouskitty. Seems to me the key issue is this: "I hate the store and wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible." Sorry, but your hatred doesn't excuse you from the basic courtesy of allowing someone to run to get an item they'd forgotten, so long as the cashier is still busy with someone else. You owe that woman an apology.
posted by mediareport at 6:24 AM on April 3, 2007


Agreeing with grumblebee and Aloysius Bear. There is no established "rule" here. If there were, it probably would vary by the type of store, social class, location, and lots of other factors.

I gather you're shopping at a typical large American supermarket in a typical large American city. You don't like shopping there. Approach it with a little more kindness, and maybe it won't be so hard on you in the future.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:25 AM on April 3, 2007


'Sorry, but your hatred doesn't excuse you from the basic courtesy of allowing someone to run to get an item they'd forgotten'

Nothing is excusing the person ahead from the basic courtesy of asking if it's alright to nip off for a forgotten item first. Seems to me that was the vital first step that leads to arguments at the checkout and lengthy discussion of unwritten rules on AskMe. I'm starting to think our focus is in the wrong place in this situation.
posted by edd at 6:32 AM on April 3, 2007


When I forget something in line and am close to checking out, I go thru the check out and then walk back into the store, get the item, and re-enter another line. Why should my forgetfulness delay others who are equally eager to get out of the store?

Few things drive me as batty as this. Mind you, I'm only rerferring to people who do this who are at the front of the line. If they're back a few people, no problem.

The only exception to my hating these shop-and-queue jerks is when they politely ask me if I mind them running off to get that item. Then, I always say I don't (and mean it), but if they're not back by the time their turn is up, I pass them.
posted by dobbs at 6:36 AM on April 3, 2007


I may be the most impatient asshole out there, and even I recognize the right to go back for an item you forgot and keep your place, unless you are holding up the line. Geez.
posted by dame at 6:42 AM on April 3, 2007


I hate the store
the bitch came back
I should get the fuck out of the way
I got rather pissed off
I made a few snotty comments
I did get some smug satisfaction

They've won. The forces out there, convincing you that your grocery trip to some unassuming store is somehow worthy of the same emotional stress that fighting for food in the wild would cause, have succeeded. We're talking about finding the shortest grocery line and we've elevated it to something to actually fight or get angry about, when we know from the conclusion that it's kind of a crapshoot anyway.

I'd have probably offered a simple "I'm sorry, I didn't know how long you'd be gone" and moved my cart back to the end of that line. If she's cranky about it, so be it, she has her spot. No further commentary needed. If she is gracious enough to let you go first, you've been granted an unnecessary favor and thank her. Stupid people aren't going to learn lessons through abusive comments, and smart people aren't going to feel better at the end of the day having made them.

(The right answer is that she can run to get an item if it doesn't delay the line or make you awkwardly tap her cart forward more than once. If she delays the line or comes back with two hands full of additional things, she is angering the grocery gods and will likely receive her comeuppance sometime in the future, anyway.)
posted by mikeh at 6:44 AM on April 3, 2007 [5 favorites]


Nothing is excusing the person ahead from the basic courtesy of asking if it's alright to nip off for a forgotten item first.

Except, she was at the end of the line. Who exactly should she be asking permission from?
posted by antifuse at 6:45 AM on April 3, 2007


Seconding everyone who said it's only acceptable to cut if the person 'misses their turn' by being gone when their cart reaches the front of the line. If there is a rule in place, it's there so people's time in line isn't needlessly increased; therefore unless the absence is causing a longer wait, it's not a problem. That said, if I forget something, I usually take my cart with me so as not to create the situation in the first place.

In any case, this is not something to get worked up over. Even if this woman was being inconsiderate, it would not justify "snotty comments" in return. Civilzed people do not confront rudeness with more rudeness.
posted by AV at 6:45 AM on April 3, 2007


Leaving an inanimate object to hold your place, depends on the graciousness of those being "held off." It is not necessarily unreasonable provided that certain other conditions are met. It is unreasonable to have an absolute expectation that your cart will be there when you return.

A quick dash is fine, provided there is an individual(s) in front of her who is not likely to be done any time soon. This inconveniences no one.

A quick dash, provided the dash can be made before the last item from her cart is scanned and time of payment is at hand is fine. This inconveniences no one.

If the dash is likely to be longer than this, the individual should secure at least the tacit permission of those behind her before running off to the far end of the store.

A quick dash generally cannot be claimed in the faster moving "10 items or Fewer" line.

A dash that prevents the movement of the line and obstructs those in queue behind her is not acceptable. If she fails to make what is properly qualified as a "quick dash" it is perfectly acceptable to move her cart.

But it is just a grocery line.
posted by MasonDixon at 6:47 AM on April 3, 2007


Civilzed people do not confront rudeness with more rudeness

Uh, and neither do civilized people.

doh.
posted by AV at 6:49 AM on April 3, 2007


antifuse: fair point.
posted by edd at 6:49 AM on April 3, 2007


ferociouskitty: However, if the line was such that neither she nor you could begin your checkout while she was gone, what's the difference, really? If she had been standing there with her cart, your wait time would not have decreased.
I hate it when people hassle me to move forward when they are behind me in line. I sometimes try to explain that they won't get there any quicker but often get a negative reaction. What is it with that?
The rule is simple "Don't hold other people up, give way otherwise" (even if you forget your bananas).
posted by tellurian at 6:54 AM on April 3, 2007


"You are 100% in the wrong, with an extra 10% for calling a cart in line "abandoned" and a person who can accurately determine how long it will take to get eggs a "bitch". It's not like the person was gone so long that their cart got to the front and people had to wait. She got one thing. She came right back. She didn't slow the line down at all. Your time spent behind an initially shopperless and eggless cart would have been no longer than time spent behind the same cart with eggs and a shopper."

Are you fucking high? This is the second time in recent memory where you've completely invented a situation in which the asker is in the wrong by adding facts not provided in the fucking question. Your rich fantasy life does not belong in AskMe.


As for the answer— I seem to be the only person here who has worked as a grocery cashier (and shift manager). Here's the rule, and here's what the cashier should have done:
First off, she has to communicate with anyone who might let her back in line. Absent anyone behind her, she should ask the cashier if she can leave her stuff there. But that means that the cashier should be moving other people through. If you step out of line, it is your responsibility to secure your place again. If someone else comes to the register, they're in the right and can get checked through. You can't interrupt anyone else's sale either.
But, if you have to get just one thing, ask the cashier if that's cool, they'll say yes, then when you get back, the cashier should ask the next person in line if that's cool. Unless that person has so few groceries that there's no justification for setting them back, they should immediately assent. Then everyone's been courteous. But just leaving your shit there and dashing? Fuck you, back of the line. You can ask for cuts at any point, but no one is required to give them to you, and you should understand that before you leave your cart.
By prevailing on people to be polite, I never once had a situation like this escalate, and it happened on more than one occassion. But any arguments about Marble being in the wrong are horseshit.
posted by klangklangston at 6:57 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, and if you just see an empty cart in line, feel free to push it out of the way. That person's still shopping, and is not in the checkout.
posted by klangklangston at 6:59 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I agree with all the people who say a cart can hold a line as long as it's not holding up the line. If she wasn't back by the time she was next, then it's fine for the person behind the cart to go next--no point in the cashier standing there doing nothing while someone was off somewhere else. I would extend that, even, to significant empty space on the belt to pile your groceries on. Part of getting from one transaction to the next efficiently is having the next person in line getting his stuff up as space becomes available.

But as long as there are still people in front of the empty cart who haven't yet loaded groceries, then the cart holding a place is fine. It's not super-courteous, but it's certainly not rude enough to be snarked at over.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:07 AM on April 3, 2007


Situation a] The woman was due to be served next (ie, she should have been putting her stuff on the conveyor belt), the girl on the checkout was filing her nails and looking bored, and you were next in the queue.

Situation b] Someone was actually being served, and the woman was due to be served after the person being served, and you were next in the queue.

In situation a] you were justified in pushing in. No sense in holding the queue up. in situation b] you weren't justified, because it wouldn't save you any time (other than the few seconds it would have taken the woman to fill up the conveyor belt), and it would have made the woman wait for no reason.

IMO.

It all depends on whether anyone is actually being held up. Would you have pushed in had she been stood there (assuming situation b)?
posted by Solomon at 7:08 AM on April 3, 2007


It's a grocery store line, not a nuclear fucking war. Lighten up. If you're so uptight being at the grocery store that you have to introduce the other shopper into your story as "the bitch", you might need to seek professional help.

The grain of salt you can take the above with is that I'm the guy who lets people ahead if they're fidgety or they have brats (quicker the brats are out of the store). I back off the guy in front of me's bumper in traffic jams, and lets people in- saves me gas that I can coast. Build some (nonreligious) karmic credit, people. If you've never realized that you'd forgotten something while in line (not checking out), then I salute your superior mental organization, but lighten the fuck up.

On preview, what mikeh said.
posted by notsnot at 7:14 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


OK, the way to do this so that everyone is happy is that when you arrive and see the empty cart there you put yours in front of it, walk off, wait for her to come back to hers and then go in ahead of her, pretending you were in front of her all along. Right?
posted by edd at 7:18 AM on April 3, 2007


I think I'm going slowly insane. That's what klangklangston said earlier and I then promptly forgot about it.
posted by edd at 7:23 AM on April 3, 2007


You were a douche.

If she had been the next person in line, and the cashier finished with the person before her, then you could have given your stuff to the cashier. But if you are just cutting in front and still waiting in line, you breached the etiquette, not her. People forget things. Since there was already somebody being helped by the cashier, you were penalized no time by her running to pick up a box of cereal, so long as she got back before it was her turn. Since you suffered nothing but took advantage of her mistake to turn it into your own benefit, you are in the wrong.
posted by modernnomad at 7:24 AM on April 3, 2007


I think we need to reiterate the actual situation because people are getting mixed up:

"abandoned cart (with nothing behind it), and figuring that it was fair to go in front of this person, sort of put my cart in a merging position between that cart and the one in front."

So the facts are as follows:
1) At the time of abandonment, there was no one behind the abandoner so she could not have "asked for permission" to grab her eggs.

2) There was another cart in front of this abandoned cart so it was not ready for the contents to be placed on the conveyer belt. It is not known if there were even more carts between the abandoned cart and the belt, but there was at least one.

Given these facts, it is my opinion that the poster was a bit quick on the draw and in the wrong for similar reasons posted above by those with similar sentiments.

But I also feel that both parties got way too worked up over this and I hope they bought ice cream to relieve the grumpy mood they were in.
posted by like_neon at 7:31 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I have to side with those saying that so long as they aren't holding up the actual checkout, it's okay. I don't know if this is established at all, but I would like to live in a society where people are gracious enough to forgive a bit of forgetfulness that doesn't step on their toes.

As an aside, maybe you should find another way to get groceries. Either find a smaller store, hit farmer's markets, or go at weird hours. If staying at the store an extra few minutes typically makes you that bothered, there are other options.
posted by Schismatic at 7:32 AM on April 3, 2007


You could always take the passive aggressive approach advocated by Jeff Foxworthy and help them out with their shopping. It's the perfect opportunity to assist the store move those impulse items. "Let's see, the cart looks like it's owned by a person who would love a Cosmo. Ou, and a wood jumble. Maybe a Milky Way."
posted by Mitheral at 7:36 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think that if you're going to abandon a cart in line, you should have SOMEONE watching over it, even if it's the person behind you in line. A simple "oh, I forgot eggs, I'll be back in a moment!" is all it takes.
If nobody's behind you in line, then what is the full value of holding your place? That's what seems weird to me about the lady in the OP's story. I think it would have been more appropriate for the woman to push her cart to the side, if she didn't want to have it slow her down when she ran for eggs.

However, she didn't. If I had a choice of lines to stand in, I would certainly not choose a line that ended with an empty cart, unless there was essentially nobody ahead of the cart, and a glance from the cashier encouraged me to load up the belt ahead of the empty cart. If I did decide that line was my best bet, then that decision would be made assuming that I'd be after the cart and its owner. But I would also assume that someone so distressed/flaky as to leave a cart in such a manner would be either paying by check, or would realize she forgot her purse in the car. In other words, that abandoned cart would make that line look pretty undesirable.

I think the poster was unnecessarily rude. The forgetful woman was rude too. Nobody enjoys waiting in checkout lines; I try to be especially polite and gracious in line for this very reason - we're all in an unpleasant situation.

A final note - if un-manned carts were really acceptable, effective placeholders, we'd all do half our shopping, put the cart in line, then go finish up the rest of the shopping.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 7:50 AM on April 3, 2007


klangklangston: I seem to be the only person here who has worked as a grocery cashier (and shift manager).
Wrong. Front End Controller at Coles, both Double Bay (now defunct) and Maroubra, but I agree with you.
posted by tellurian at 7:55 AM on April 3, 2007


I say go with Mitheral's means. Personally, I find it somewhat rude to abandon a card in a checkout line, just because everybody has a responsibility to remember to get their groceries. If you've forgotten something, you should be just as willing to wait a little bit longer as you are no willing to make these people wait. And you are making them wait longer, because you wouldn't have been in that line if you had gone to get your forgotten goods with your cart.

I definitely would have done the move-the-cart-out-of-the-way maneuver, and just been like "Oh, sorry, there was nobody here when I got here so . . ."
posted by that girl at 7:55 AM on April 3, 2007


I think that�s a cultural thing, and I think this deserves further study.

P.J. O'Rourke has made some cross-cultural observations on this. Paraprasing a couple (from memory):
(a) �the Russians will not, can not, line up for anything�
(b) �In democratic societies, people waiting for something will form themselves into an orderly queue, while in totalitarian states, they form into a mob. Make of that what you will.�
posted by 314/ at 7:56 AM on April 3, 2007


I seem to be the only person here who has worked as a grocery cashier (and shift manager)

OTOH, I have extensive experience waiting in grocery lines, which a cashier does not.
posted by smackfu at 8:01 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


How does a cashier not have experience waiting in lines? They don't just give you Moses's staff to part the queue whenever you come to one.
Just saying that I've seen this from both sides, many many times. (And that the people calling Marble a douche are out of line, no pun intended).
posted by klangklangston at 8:19 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


I did not know they had groceries in WOW.
posted by buzzman at 8:36 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


. (And that the people calling Marble a douche are out of line, no pun intended).

Awesome pun, incidentally... but only one person called Marble a douche.
posted by antifuse at 8:38 AM on April 3, 2007


if they ask my permission first, it's ok.
if it's just a quick dash and the line isn't moving, it's ok.

but if you leave your cart at the end of the line as a placeholder, it's not ok. i will move in front of you and i will not yield when you come back. you are claiming a level of deference for your abandoned cart equal to that which i, a living, breathing human, am entitled to, and when you bitch, i calmly deliver my stock line "we can decide this in the civilized manner, the **people** who were in line first get served first, or the uncivilized manner, in which the bigger, stronger, meaner and tougher party prevails. what's your pleasure?"

this actually doesn't happen very often. my own pet peeve about markets: people who hold up the line trying three or four credit cards before one finally works, or worse, time-consuming transactions involving lottery tickets, particularly when they scratch off their new ones right there and try to claim their winners. sometimes the customer will apologize to the checker, and when i'm behind him, i tell him "your apology is more properly directed to me and the other people in line you inconvenienced; the checker is on the clock and gets paid the same amount whether she helps 100 people or just you for the next two hours."
posted by bruce at 8:42 AM on April 3, 2007


Some have suggested that it doesn't matter so long as the empty cart does not reach the checkout, because the people behind are not being held up any more than if the person were with the cart.

2 contrary points.

The empty cart is holding you up, because it shouldn't be in front of you in the queue - it should still be wheeling round picking up stuff. The rule is that you get your stuff before you queue - otherwise on busy days people really will grab a place in the line and then do most of their shopping afterwards, thereby jumping the queue.

If someone is picking up extra items, they are extending the time you will have to spend waiting for their stuff to be checked. I was queuing in a station shop once, and the couple in front picked up so many extra items when they were in the line that I eventually had to abandon mine or miss the train. If they'd picked their stuff up before queueing, I would have been OK.
posted by Phanx at 8:43 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: You get in my way, you're going on the list.
posted by contessa at 8:48 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


As a society we need more common courtesy. You can decide how to provide it.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:06 AM on April 3, 2007


Christ, what a bunch of fascists. You'd think you were trying to get the last loaf of bread before civilization collapsed.

First of all, mikeh++. The poster is being unnecessarily gross in her characterization of the other person as a "bitch", among other things. Whatever your feelings about it, don't drag that kind of tone into AskMe right off the bat.

More importantly, I fail to see how your life was seriously impacted- hell, impacted at all- by this. Would it really have killed you to be polite and gracious? People forget things all the time. It's not like she parked an empty cart in line and then filled it up piecemeal. At my Coop, people step out of line all the time to grab something, yet somehow, miraculously, everyone manages to get out of there intact.

Oh, and klangklangston- yeah, I've worked checkout. Not full-time, but I've done it on occasion. Get off your high horse. Your crass righteousness in here makes your douchery second only to the OP.
posted by mkultra at 9:07 AM on April 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


Ask yourself: what, exactly, did you gain by feeling angry and making snotty remarks?

Now ask yourself: what would you have gained by feeling a little empathy (after all, we've all realized we've forgotten an item when we get to the line -- even you, marble) and being gracious?

Or, to quote grumblebee: "What's the etiquette when there is no etiquette? Compassion, The Golden Rule, and Attempting To Get Along With Other People."
posted by scody at 9:19 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm a bit torn. The reason is, in my mind the etiquette is that she should've told the people around her that she forgot something and would be right back. Then they would've told you. It's a courtesy communication thing. Pushing her cart out of the way would definitely be wrong if it was somewhat obvious she was in line & people had confirmed it. But if nobody knew and it wasn't clear then it's slightly less so if she was gone for a particularly long time.

My number one opinion though is that this is actually a little pet peeve of mine. People should all just take some valium and accept that waiting in line at the grocery store is not some kind of competitive race. Honestly. You didn't WIN anything... you bought some groceries and left a store. Congratulations on coming in first. Your medal's in the mail. Sometimes being mellow and patient and not getting in a bitchfest with strangers is a more enjoyable shopping experience though. Just sayin'.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:20 AM on April 3, 2007


For me, the question is: do you want to be the type of person who courts unnecessary enmity and confrontation over trivial things (because really, how did you think she was going to react?), or do you want to, by default, be the gracious, courteous, classy person in every situation? Do you want to be the type of person who creates (or if not creates, then helps foster) all this ruckus over a single spot in line, or the type of person who helps foster harmony?

In fact, in my perfect happy kumbayah universe, those with full shopping carts regularly allow those with just a couple of items to go ahead of them, for no reason other than kindness. The first time this happened to be, I was floored. I promised myself I'd always do the same in the future. Pay it forward and all that crap. (Not that I'm Miss Perfect - I know well the smug satisfaction of which you speak (especially when I'm driving), but I find it's a lot more enjoyable when I know for certain I'm traveling the high road.)
posted by granted at 9:30 AM on April 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


Grocery store line etiquette - when someone abandons their cart to go get an additional item, do they forfeit their place in line?

If the bitch you are complaining about had not been there when it was her turn to pay then of course she would forfeit her place instead of yours.

Otherwise just think about it like this - What would you have saved by getting one step closer to the till? 5 minutes probably. How much time have you wasted getting all annoyed about it? Far too much I'd say.

It's nice to be nice sometimes. Allowing someone to keep their space as they go get something they forgot about. That's being courteous. Bitching about etiquette when you can't even be courteous to someone is a bit sad really.
posted by twistedonion at 9:35 AM on April 3, 2007


In fact, in my perfect happy kumbayah universe, those with full shopping carts regularly allow those with just a couple of items to go ahead of them, for no reason other than kindness.

Absolutely! I do this all the time. So what if I lose 2 minutes more of my life standing in a shop. I've just made someone else a little happier and maybe given them a bit more faith in the rest of us. Though some people tend to look at you like you are mad. I even had someone refuse my offer, even after I tried to insist. Weirdos.
posted by twistedonion at 9:40 AM on April 3, 2007


This thread is AWESOME. I'm in the "fuck her" camp. She was obviously not ready to be queued in line, so her spot should be taken by someone who is. I am also firmly in the "if you forget something, take your cart with you when you go get it" camp. They're on wheels! They roll! It's not that hard. Then you get back in line when you are actually ready to check out.
posted by christie at 9:48 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think, however, that when the lines are long enough for people to feel comfortable leaving their carts as placeholders -- that is, when the waiting time is going to be long enough that a reasonable person feels he or she can reasonably run back and grab a forgotten item without holding up the line -- then a person who feels he or she is *not* allowed to leave his or her cart because it would be rude would be extremely likely to simply forgo the forgotten item. Which therefore, if you are the person behind that cart, doesn't change your wait time at all.

The woman at this store, had she known the OP was going to give her a hard time about coming back to the line, very well could have decided not to go grab the eggs. Which means the OP's wait time, had this woman followed the OP's rule of not leaving her cart, would not have changed in the slightest.

Which means that being impatient in such a situation is not always likely to decrease your wait time, but is pretty much guaranteed to raise your blood pressure. It seems like a bad trade-off to me.
posted by occhiblu at 9:55 AM on April 3, 2007


If you get back before it's your turn, AND you are appropriately nice to your fellow shoppers, then it's okay to keep your place.

If your unattended cart is next in line for the conveyor and you're not back yet, the person behind you can go ahead.

People who think they're being sneaky by claiming a place in line and then running off to do the majority of their shopping? Evil.

The times when I've need to dash off an grab an item, I've nicely said to the person behind me, "Darn, I forgot the milk. I'll be back in two seconds, I swear." You know, to acknowledge that I'm asking them to grant me a little slack and remember that hey, we're all folks annoyed by that screaming child in line 5, but we can still be human to each other. (And I happily grant this benevolence in the opposite situtation, which is by far the more common scenario.)
posted by desuetude at 9:57 AM on April 3, 2007


Oh, and also, to the person above who asked why people behind him in line try to force him to move up -- it depends on the environment, but I've noticed that people who hang back in lines don't tend to notice how the line behind them is making the store severely congested. A long straggly line of people can make it hard for people who are still shopping to navigate around it; a more condensed line is often the best way to politely stay out of the active shoppers' way.
posted by occhiblu at 9:58 AM on April 3, 2007


"A final note - if un-manned carts were really acceptable, effective placeholders, we'd all do half our shopping, put the cart in line, then go finish up the rest of the shopping."

This is exactly what the Spanish do. Everytime. Everyday. In every line, at least once.

Seriously - it's unbelievable; there is just a row of semi full baskets and carts, with no people next to them.

Can't beat 'em, join 'em.

I tested it the other day by hiding at the back of the bread section - eventually, after the sales girl and the lady whos was 'behind' me had caught up on all the gossip and soaps and stuff, she cancelled the sales for my purchases, and put hers through - when I 'sauntered' back, nothing was said, not even a cross word or angry face - including from the 6 people still waiting.

Astonishing. And weirdly liberating.

Isn't life great sometimes? :)
posted by DrtyBlvd at 10:01 AM on April 3, 2007


I spent 6 years as a grocery stocker/asst. grocery manager/janitor/whipping boy/cashier/bagger/jack of all trades for an asshole of a Food Lion, so my word is God here.

The hard truth is everyone turns into a complete drooling simpleton in the pursuit of consumption; the act of shopping is a barely veiled extension of the lizard-brain eating and rutting activites, despite the words, math and trolleys involved.

first, anyone who abandons their cart anywhere should kill themselves. leaving it parked haphazardly in the aisle while you mindlessly prance about 'ooh'ing and 'ahh'ing at soups on sale inconveniences both customers and employees. Keep close to that shit, so you can get it out of the way when you zone out, perplexed by tags that list 'unit price'. [One time someone left a loose pile of groceries on an endcap... an hour and a half later, we had our baggers re-shop it, and soon after someone comes griping at me because someone 'stole their groceries']

Leaving your cart in the checkout line should result in instant death. Grownups write shopping lists. You should at least attempt basic literacy and understanding how pen and paper works before tackling a big boy pants activity like Grocery shopping.

Once you start heading to the checkstand make absofuckinglutely sure you are done shopping (remember the lesson about the shopping list). Also, make sure you understand how credit cards work, and enough math to know how much you've actually purchased. I know that $56 seems like a LOT for 7 boxes of Ho-Ho's and a butterball turkey, and while I can't find my calculator just now, you're really just going to have to trust me. Finally, if you're going to get into a fight about ANYTHING, it's probably not as big a deal as you think it is. your receipt is $0.75 off in our favor? While it does seem like a lucrative scam on our part, I assure you it isn't, and I'll even wager it's not worth the 45 minutes spent fighting with me and everyone around you over.

If someone cuts in front of you in line, or you do so because someone left their cart unattended and they gripe at you for it, do the responsible, civilized thing: move all of your things off to the side, go out to the parking lot and beat each other to death with tire irons.

If you can't conduct yourself inside of a grocery store, you deserve to starve. Die in a fire. Everyone. Thank you.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:12 AM on April 3, 2007 [37 favorites]


Several other options:

Only speak French to the lady. You are in Texas. There is absolutely *no* requirement to be even marginally English literate in Texas. Accuse her of being a racist if there is a problem with it. Cite history of France being first to colonizing Texas.

Remove items from her cart while she is gone. Add other items to her cart.

Stare at her dumbly and do nothing.

- Abandoned cart w/out owner? Tough luck lady.
posted by buzzman at 10:13 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Kindness, my arse. I've got a full shopping cart and I've got a family to feed. I'm obviously not at home yet, I'm still shopping. The person in front of me has bought some portobello mushrooms. The checkout chick doesn't know what they are and calls for a price check. I lose my shit just to see the expressions on their faces. It's a way of making them face up to 'maybe I wasn't entiltled' view of life. Priceless.
posted by tellurian at 10:19 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think we need to address the larger issue of allowing inanimate objects to stand in for us as people.

What about when people put their sweaters or scarves on choice movie seats and then run out to get popcorn?

What about when people walk into a cafe where your *supposed to* stand in line to get your pastries or coffee and then find a seat, but SOME people (often hipster/yuppie types, btw) walk in, and instead of getting in line, walk to a table and "claim it" by putting some article of clothing on it before moving to the end of the line?

Can inanimate objects really serve as proxies for our corporal presence? Is this right? Or just culturally determined?
posted by jasper411 at 10:21 AM on April 3, 2007


It's the "world revolves around me" attitude that wrenches me up. They are putting their convenience ahead of the convenience of others. It was rude to abandon the cart and it was doubly rude to expect Marble to get back behind her. If you think this works me up just ask a question about people who don't bother to remove their chosen method of payment from their pocket or purse until after the cashier is finished ringing everything up. If they do this and pull out a check, that they haven't bothered to pre-complete, and then update their check register before giving the check to the cashier I edge toward homicidal.
posted by Carbolic at 10:22 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


That didn't edit well.
posted by tellurian at 10:26 AM on April 3, 2007


In the UK, some stores used to advertise that if you got to the checkout and realised that you had forgotten something you only had to ask and they'd send someone to fetch it for you. Thus making holding up the line official. I'd love to see what experiencing being stuck behind that would do to the blood pressures of some people in this thread.
posted by biffa at 10:34 AM on April 3, 2007


klangklangston: Your solution is great if there was some guarantee that both customers will assent to behaving like civilized individuals.

However, I've worked in customer service (including grocery cashiering) long enough to know that's not always the case. Maybe I'm a bad service person but I prefer that disputes between customers remain between customers unless one of them is so clearly in the wrong it would be immoral not to do something about it.
posted by Jess the Mess at 10:55 AM on April 3, 2007


Consider this: my policy in lines and in life is that if my forgetfulness or idiocy is going to inconvenience someone, I will make every effort to minimize that inconvenience. Isn't that the essence of being civil and polite? If my leaving the line is going to inconvenience someone, the least I can do is ask either the checker or the people behind me if it's alright to leave the line. Otherwise, I take the cart and come back when I'm done.

As the thread above makes clear, there is no defined etiquette in this scenario, and if the people above who hold such strong opinions would think about it, I think they'd agree on that.

If I choose to leave the line without asking but leave my cart as a space holder, then I come back and people have cut in front of me, then I should shut my trap and go on with my life. That's the option that pumps the least bad karma into the world.

If someone is in front of me, leaves, and doesn't ask if that's alright, the polite thing to do is shrug it off and not cut ahead, even though they are in the wrong. Again, that's being polite, but you're certainly not obligated to endure other people's stupidity. Just shrug it off and think about someone else who's dying of cancer or getting his leg blown off in Iraq if you find that it upsets you so. Sweating the small stuff is only going to raise your blood pressure and send you to an early grave.

Try making the world a better place. It really is little things like this that add up to societal poison.
posted by drpynchon at 11:16 AM on April 3, 2007


It is somewhat impolite to leave an abandoned card for an extended period of time.

However, the impolite behavior of someone else does not somehow permit you to be impolite in response.

We can argue on whether or not abandonment is rude, what the allowable time period is, etc. ad nauseum. But it doesn't matter. Simply allow the person ahead, and move on.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:21 AM on April 3, 2007


I think we need to address the larger issue of allowing inanimate objects to stand in for us as people.

That's not the issue. The issue is learning to be considerate.

If I walk into a coffee shop, and there are 15 free tables, I see no problem with putting my stuff down at one and then going to get my coffee. Who am I hurting?

If I walk into a coffee show and there's only one free table, I should NOT go into a reptile-brain mode in which I'll try to out-run and out-trick anyone for it. If there's one table left, I should assume it's NOT mine. If, after I get my coffee, it's still available, then I can claim it.

It's not about animate or inanimate objects. It's about not being self-centered. Not-being-self-centered is what etiquette is about.

It's pointless to ask "what's the etiquette in a dog-eat-dog environment where everyone is out for themselves?" In such an environment, there is no etiquette.
posted by grumblebee at 11:27 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


i find that treating others with empathy has really made my life less stressful. it's hard to do so all the time -- i'm no saint, certainly, and i can be unforgivably surly in the morning.

Sometimes you're in a rush, or a bad mood, or terribly crapulent, but it's a nice feeling knowing that you have some control over that inner-three-year-old that is always looking to see who has more ice cream in their bowl, or who cut in line, or whose turn on the swing it is. etiquette is for people who need rules to justify their behavior.
posted by fishfucker at 11:33 AM on April 3, 2007


Leaving your cart in the checkout line should result in instant death. [blah blah whine bitch]

Once you start heading to the checkstand make absofuckinglutely sure you are done shopping [blah blah repeat whining] I know that $56 seems like a LOT for 7 boxes of Ho-Ho's and a butterball turkey, and while I can't find my calculator just now, you're really just going to have to trust me.


Christ, what an asshole. No, I don't trust you. Stores rip people off all the time, and I can either annoy the cashier (who's paid for their time) by forcing them to double-check (usually winning a grudging "OK, it does seem to be on sale. I gotta call a manager for the void") or I can just put up with being screwed so as not to annoy the cashier (who's paid for their time, unlike me). Amazingly, I prefer the former. And your word is God only in your own mind.

I tested it the other day by hiding at the back of the bread section - eventually, after the sales girl and the lady whos was 'behind' me had caught up on all the gossip and soaps and stuff, she cancelled the sales for my purchases, and put hers through - when I 'sauntered' back, nothing was said, not even a cross word or angry face - including from the 6 people still waiting.

I'm not sure I understand this story; it sounds to me like you deliberately waited until the salesgirl gave up on the idea that you would return and canceled your purchases, meaning you then had to stand in line all over again to buy them. Is that what you mean? Because that's really weird, even for Science.

posted by languagehat at 11:46 AM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've never done one of these before, but...

Metafilter: that's really weird, even for Science.
posted by grumblebee at 11:50 AM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Chiming in with another data point on whether you (the OP) or her were the bigger douche, and which one of you made the bigger faux-pas, would be rather pointless now.

If you dislike grocery shopping so much, and the possibility of having to wait an extra 5-10 minutes to get out of there (assuming it's not a matter of missing your bus/train) gets under your skin... maybe you should look for a grocery store with more cashiers. Or choose a shopping day/time when there's fewer infuriating fellow shoppers. Or look into online grocery shopping, where there's no lines.
posted by CKmtl at 12:14 PM on April 3, 2007


What's the etiquette when there is no etiquette? Compassion, The Golden Rule, and Attempting To Get Along With Other People.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
Share everything.

Play fair.

Don't hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don't take things that aren't yours.

Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.

Wash your hands before you eat.

Flush.

Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon.

When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.

-- Robert Fulghum
posted by ericb at 12:25 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


If I were Queen, these would be my rules:

Law 1: If you've got a full grocery cart in line...

• and you've forgotten some necessary item you may run back to get it if:

--your brief absence will not slow the progress of the line,

and

--you ask the person in front or in back of you if they would mind if you dashed off for a second.

or

--you offer to let the person behind you, the one holding just a few items, to go ahead in exchange for "watching" your cart.

If you do not come back in time, i.e., the belt is empty and waiting and/or some fellow shopper has had to push your cart forward more than one (1) cart-length, then you forfeit your place and go to the back of any line.

Subarticle 1a: You will pull the cart out of line and take it with you if:

--you calculate your absence will be so long as to impede the progress of the line.

or

--there's a child in the cart (please, for crying out loud, stop abandoning your toddlers in the damn cart. For some reason, that seems to be a popular activity in my local market. Last month, a 18-month old did a backflip out of his seat right in front of me and I had to sacrifice my loaf of Walnut Artesian as padding to save him, requiring me to leave the line myself for a replacement loaf and then the dink behind me got all huffy and cut in front while I was gone so I 'accidentally' clipped the back of his ankle with the lower basket bar of my cart while he was flipping through the Anna Nicole Smith coverage in the Enquirer. Bet that smarts, you little jerk).

or

--the market is small, with limited maneuverable space near the registers.

or

--you have to pick up more than one item.

or

--the item requires the assistance of sales staff (i.e., a pound of sliced-to-order lunch meat at the deli counter).

Thus, based upon the rules of my Queendom, I am unable to judge if you indeed behaved inappropriately based on the evidence you have presented here. However, it does seem that based upon your generally hostile vocabulary, you are due a sharp knock to your Achilles tendon.
posted by jamaro at 12:32 PM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


I back off the guy in front of me's bumper in traffic jams, and lets people in...Build some (nonreligious) karmic credit, people.

I am a 'reformed truly-assholish' Boston driver who wouldn't give an inch for someone wanting to change into my lane in a traffic jam. I now let people in. Not only do I hope for karmic credit(s), but I avoid a rise in blood pressure and simmering (and unnecessary) anger.

I say go the polite route by letting her back in line. If, however, she is next, is clearly absent and the belt is empty, I'd ask the cashier if it's okay to jump ahead.
posted by ericb at 12:47 PM on April 3, 2007


My two cents, as someone who shops for groceries AND was a register checker for a couple of years:

1. Lines suck, and getting to the end of one to find you've forgotten a single item sucks worse.

2. Life is too short to get worked up over one more/less customer in line in front of you.

So, my personal feelings on the subject, which was reflected in the majority of transactions I've witnessed as a shopper and checker, are as follows:

a) empty carts -- ie "I'm putting my cart in even though I haven't actually shopped yet" is a no-no;

b) if there's an "abandoned" cart in front of you, push it along. When you get to the point that walking around the person's cart is going to be problematic, hold off on unloading yours until there's nobody else checking out -- then if the person hasn't come back, go around their cart and unload yours. The persons in line behind you should do the same thing. When the person comes back (presumably with a couple of items at most) let 'em back in.

Don't walk around their cart BEFORE you're the next to check out, though, because that's a guaranteed confrontation (doesn't matter if it's reasonable or not.)

c) when you walk away, you risk losing your place in line. Item b above is a matter of being polite and respectful of other people, and you're taking the risk if you walk away.

In short: if you see an "abandoned" cart, be respectful, because they might have made a mistake -- and if you "abandon" a cart, suck up the possibility that your place in line exists only due to the kindness of strangers.
posted by davejay at 12:59 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


which WERE reflected. Der.

I am a 'reformed truly-assholish' Boston driver who wouldn't give an inch for someone wanting to change into my lane in a traffic jam. I now let people in. Not only do I hope for karmic credit(s), but I avoid a rise in blood pressure and simmering (and unnecessary) anger.

Amen to that. I was the same way, but again, life's too short, and all you're doing is adding to the overall anger in the world. Besides, it's not like it's PERSONAL; it's not like the other driver knows who the heck you are or what you look like.
posted by davejay at 1:02 PM on April 3, 2007


Eh, if she got one thing and then came right back, that's not too bad.

What I hate more is when a new checker opens up a line and says "next in line!" and the people at the END OF THE LINE jump over and basically cut in front of everyone that had been waiting longer.

I see that on occasion and when I said "Excuse me, he said "next in line" and you were at the end of the line" the offender stared ahead and basically ignored me.

People are just assholes.
posted by drstein at 1:50 PM on April 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


I think you both need a holiday.
posted by chundo at 2:06 PM on April 3, 2007


Well, yeah. Something I liked about Italian supermarkets was that there was just one line, and people went to whichever register opened up first. Seemed to make more sense.
posted by klangklangston at 2:06 PM on April 3, 2007


I haven't been shopping by myself with a cart in a long time (either there have been other people who could hold a place in line, or I've been restricted to what I can carry home).

If I'm in line at the grocery store, and I realize I've forgotten yogurt, since I don't have a cart, I lose my place in line as soon as I leave it. Why should having a cart grant me magic special privileges?
posted by oaf at 6:12 PM on April 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


I wonder what "the bitch" would have done if the roles were reversed? Would she have gone ahead of your cart? It's interesting to consider though most will consider it irrelevant.

I don't know that I take a particular side. I can see both sides.. but if there are truly no "rules" then anything goes right? Sounds so.. savage.

But I do find it a bit irritating when people run dashing off to get something. I don't know why. I guess I just think they should be ready. Yeah, yeah. I know people forget things. I always go shopping with my mom. So if one of us goes back to get something, that's cool. Because there's someone manning the cart. I guess that could be hypocritical somehow. But it's just how I feel. I do advocate allowing others ahead if they don't have many items.

But going back to the fact that there are no rules, then no one is really "right" or "wrong." Not really. Obviously, there will be people for and against who will believe something is right or wrong. But that's just their subjective take. And then you got people who couldn't give two shits.

So my final take on it.. I guess one should just go with the flow unless some overly egregious act is being inflicted.
posted by VegaValmont at 9:20 PM on April 3, 2007


i do not have the time to read all 111 response. But here is the bottom line. If while the lady was gone the person in front of her was FINISHED and thus the checkout clerk could not continue ringing people up, she loses her spot. Otherwise, if she returns before its her turn at the register her space is VALID and your a jerk for trying to take it.
posted by crewshell at 10:11 PM on April 3, 2007


If it's a store where they'll ring up staff members to go pick up forgotten items for customers that're at the checkout, then trust me, you'd probably rather she went back to get it herself rather than indisputably holding her place by standing at the checkout while the staff member goes to get the item. She knows what she wants; in the time it takes her to explain to the staff what brand, size, etc she wants, she could've gotten it herself.

Besides, every time I ever encountered this situation as a checkout chick, the person who'd gone back to get the item invariably prevailed. Lots of arguments were had (I have fond memories of two little old ladies walloping each other with handbags over a spot in the express lane, to the amusement of half the checkout staff) but basically, people that get their knickers in a twist about this sort of thing just end up wasting a lot of time and energy and I'm sure you have better things to do.
posted by Persimmon at 10:40 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm happy going along with the notion that, so long as the person returns when it is their turn, nothing was lost by allowing them to run off.

Klang: Your response is so totally rude as to completely disqualify your opinion as to any rules of etiquette. So you were a checker. I've always been a customer, which means I was paying the wages.

What I really hate is the people who shop in pairs. One person gets in line. You see a small order in front, so get in line behind them. Then their partner arrives with an armload, leaves, returns again with more!

These ques do not vibrate, they simply stink. They don't lend themselves to reading something (except funny headlines in the scandal sheets), but just maybe some people-watching, if you're lucky.
posted by Goofyy at 4:02 AM on April 4, 2007


Christ, what an asshole. No, I don't trust you. Stores rip people off all the time, and I can either annoy the cashier (who's paid for their time) by forcing them to double-check (usually winning a grudging "OK, it does seem to be on sale. I gotta call a manager for the void") or I can just put up with being screwed so as not to annoy the cashier (who's paid for their time, unlike me). Amazingly, I prefer the former. And your word is God only in your own mind.

Here's the difference between you and me: I'll admit my anecdote is exaggerated for comic effect, my guess is you won't. "Winning" a "grudging" OK? Show me on the doll where retail shopping touched you.

I'm not talking about customers complaining about legitimate scan errors, or even a cursory line-item summary of what their receipt lists, I'm talking about the people who cannot fathom that the amount of crap they purchase could possibly equal the amount on their receipt, and I have to stand there and add it up for them. Yes, this happens all the time.

Yes, I was paid for my time (as you graciously noted twice in your victim statement), it doesn't make rude customers any less unpleasant.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:01 AM on April 4, 2007


"Klang: Your response is so totally rude as to completely disqualify your opinion as to any rules of etiquette. So you were a checker. I've always been a customer, which means I was paying the wages."

Yeah, and? First off, I don't think I was particularly rude. Second off, ad hominem has nothing to do with etiquette. Third off, it means that I've seen this situation happen hundreds of times, both as a cashier and as a customer. I described the way it should work. And that you chose to focus on my response, rather than the fair plethora of those who were rude to the OP seems to indicate some sort of myopia on your part, which seems to argue that you wouldn't know rudeness when you saw it. Being a customer means that you'd see maybe 20 people get checked through on any given visit. Working an eight-hour shift, and being a shift supervisor, means that I'd personally see 20 people every five minutes in a rush, and well over a thousand people on a good day. It also means that I got to know regulars and talked with them about etiquette.
And, granted, I was describing the norms that I've experienced, but they're fair and never led to even raised voices. Violations of those norms led to sneering and sarcasm from customers down the line, and sometimes open conflict.
As for partner shopping, the rational response there is to give people one partner trip, but if they're returning again and again, you ask 'em to go to the back of the line until they're done shopping, so I can get out the people who are finished. I enforced these norms with a smile, and people felt they made sense and were fair. The only trouble I ever had was with the assorted crazies, and they were special cases.
posted by klangklangston at 7:22 AM on April 4, 2007


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