July 3, 2003


I was in the supermarket again yesterday and something new happened in the checkout. I was in the "self-checkout" lane, which means I have to scan the stuff myself and bag it -- often the quicker option if you only had a few items, as I did. A man and his wife got into line behind me, and immediately the man pushed past me to stand at the end of the checkout (near the bagging area). He was apparently waiting to bag his order, for when his wife came through, but he kept hovering around me and my items, which bugged me.

I like my personal space. I don't think it's entirely unreasonable to expect to have a bit of space to yourself while I'm trying to complete this transaction. An "excuse me" would have been nice as he squirmed by. And his hovering wouldn't have bothered me near as much if he and his wife not suddenly having a conversation with each other over me, yelling since I kept getting in the way. Twice, I thought this lady was talking to me -- it was distracting.

In the past, I would have just been uncomfortable in this situation -- a result of my hermit-like antisocial tendencies. But I'm starting to realize that I can shed my shyness, interact with people, try to make light of the situation and feel better about the whole thing.

So I meandered down to the bagging area and said to the guy "Hey, you're just standing around. I thought you were going to bag my order." This is one of those cases where the joke didn't go over too well. I tried to smile a friendly smile to show that I was, in fact, joking, and that I was harmless. He mumbled something like "Oh, uh, no" to me.

At that point, the checkout lane robot voice for some reason decided that I had requested assistance and was calling over the manager. Sensing that this would cause a delay, the man's wife switched to another lane and called her husband to her heel.

Hey, life is improv. The audience sometimes wants its money back.

By the way, when I talk to people, I often get folks mumbling back at me. Is that a bad sign?

Posted by James at July 3, 2003 11:24 AM
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>"called her husband to her heel"

Great visual imagery.

That's an angle worth exploring in my own life. Assertiveness without anger. Humor used to gently point out rudeness or idiocy. I think you may be onto something there. It certainly worked for Ben Franklin.

Posted by: Mike at July 3, 2003 11:51 AM

A shy person will mumble. So will a distracted oaf like your friend at the store. Rather than think to yourself, "oo, what a distracted oaf," just tell yourself "aw, maybe he's shy." Most people aren't used to having strangers speak to them in a friendly way, I've noticed, especially in the north, and have no clue how to respond.

Posted by: julie at July 3, 2003 12:35 PM

wow, this is strange. I find I can no longer relate to that kind of supermarket scenario. Up here in Canada the checkout and bag people actually make small talk with me and smile and stuff. It was confusing at first, then I realized that they were not, in fact, trying to mug me, but were, in fact, be sincere. Quite strange. They actually look like they like working.

One time I went to my grocery store at 11pm and I didn't have a quarter to unllock a grocery cart. I went in looking for a change machine. There weren't any. The store manager at one point asked me what I needed and when i told him, he reached into his pocket, smiled and said, "Here you go."

another time I asked the security guy if he knew where I could get change. He smiled at me, asked me for the $2 coin I was holding then walked to the soda machine. He popped the coin in, and hit coin return. Out come some quarters. He smiled again, and said "I wasn't sure if that would work. there you go."

Canada, eh?

Posted by: Rui Campos at July 3, 2003 11:50 PM

You will still encounter plenty of friendly people around here if you are persistent. I have run into quite a few folks working late at night in a 7/11 of somesuch place who are willing to joke with you. You get to know, after a while, by watching a person carefully whether they will be the sort who will look at you blankly or join in the fun.

Posted by: JP at July 4, 2003 12:02 AM

It helps to do errands at unusual times, such as during the weekday when most people are at work. Even a half hour before the lunch hour rush begins is nice because people behind the counter are relaxed and willing to have a conversation for a minute or two.

Posted by: Mike at July 4, 2003 9:16 AM

I can identify with the hovering thing. Do it to me and I might just stomp your foot. I recall an old woman behind me in line at the stupidmarket bumping me in the ass not once but twice with her shopping cart. I know I spoke firm words to her, but I can't remember precisely what I said.

I often employ sarcastic humor to get my point across to strangers who annoy me. Whether they get it or not is immaterial--it makes _me_ feel better.

I'm in kind of a pissy mood, and your hovering story touched a nerve. Sorry for the ranting, but irritating people piss me off.

Ok, chirping birds, fluffy bunnies, vodka gimlets...ah...it's all better now...

Posted by: Patti M. at July 7, 2003 12:15 PM

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