Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Supermarket etiquette is always fascinating, especially when it intersects with the not-so-gentle art of queuing. I had a rather unsettling experience a couple of days ago, which I'm still brooding over and would appreciate your take on.

I was doing a little shopping for my mother at the local Waitrose. At the end of my shop, having just a basket, I went to the basket-only queue - but there were quite a lot of people there so I decided to try my luck at one of the other check-outs. Sure enough, some three aisles away someone was just paying with no queue behind her, so I went to position myself next in line.

As I did so, though, I was shooed away by a member of staff, who said - "There are people in the basket queue who've been waiting longer than you", and proceeded to call across the intervening aisles to invite a few of them down to stand in front of me. Increasingly awkward seconds elapsed, as the dull-witted and bovine basket folk stood obliviously in their queue. I for my part was beginning to get a bit irritated. "Let Grill be Grill, and have his hoggish mind, But let us sail, whilst weather serves and wind", was what I was thinking - but what I actually said was, "I'd quite like to pay for my shopping, please." Harsh words, I know, but I felt I had been sorely provoked - by the officious delay, yes, but far more by the apparent imputation that by finding an aisle with no queue I was somehow pushing in. That, as we know, is the worst insult an English person can receive.

In the end she gave up, and deigned to let me spend my money, but I felt sullied and dishonoured, and all the joy had gone from my 2-for-1s.

Has anyone else had an experience like this? Did I behave badly? Did she?
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I have ever had this and I think she was quite wrong - the members of the basket queue could have made up their minds to move. If they want separate queues for baskets and trolleys, they should say so.

*never, sorry.

That was my feeling. Similarly if they want a Post Office style single-queue system.

She was behaving badly.

One of the things I like about Aldi's continental style system is that if the queues begin to get longer, they open additional tills (and all the staff from junior to store manager can do all the store tasks) and actually come and address you as to whether you'd like to come across rather than shouting across the store.

The supermarket wasn't very busy in this case - which is why I felt fairly confident looking for another queue. Even if she'd walked across and persuaded the basketeers to stand in front of me individually I'd have felt a bit miffed, to be honest.

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Was that a race between you and someone else from the basket-only queue or I am missing some clarity in the situation?

No, no one at the basket queue stirred a stump throughout the whole affair.

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She was being officious. And, as you say, the solution to the 'other queue moves faster' dilemma is a single queue (which, come to think of it, they have in the small Waitrose in Newcastle).

All this aside, you are the customer, and always right; if she wants you not to do what you are doing, it's her job to find a diplomatic way of saying so.

She sounds like a legit nutter, and being awkward for the sake of it. I'm all for proper queue etiquette but there is a giddy limit and she went way past it. Rule 8a) subsection ii): If one's co-queuers are too dim to spot a checkout opening up before thee, have no pity and move thy arse to get paid up and get out.

I would have been sorely tempted to complain to her supervisor, she was well out of order.

I feel she behaved appallingly. If there's an empty till, people can move to it. Simple as that. As long as you don't push in (horrors! The very thought!) you can queue-hop as much as you want, though it does tend to be counter-productive.

I am shocked by the language you used, though. Not even an "I'm sorry" in there? Shame on you.

That note of slight asperity will follow me to my grave.

I agree. No one (neither staff nor customer) has ever commented when I've queue hopped. As you say, if the others don't want to move, then seeing a vacant till and moving to it is just normal behaviour.

I think the correct procedure is for the checker to wait until there's NO ONE in her queue, and then hail the front person in another queue to come on over. Which means when she did that with you standing there, she was acting like you were no one.

Tangentially, I once read about a study that found that as a rule, it's fastest to just get in the shortest line, rather than a longer "express" line of more people with fewer items.


I'm sure that study is correct. However little they have in their basket, paying still takes the same amount of time, and with a long queue that time can soon add up.

At "I'd quite like to pay for my shopping, please," I was vividly and off-topically reminded of Giles in Buffy S1. I have like three British references/resources.

Giles: "I've been researching this Harvest affair. It seems to be some sort of preordained massacre. Rivers of blood, Hell on Earth, quite charmless. I'm a bit fuzzy, however, on the details. It may be that you can wrest some information from that dread machine."

Buffy, Willow, and Xander: *wide eyes*

Giles: *wide eyes back*

Giles: "That was a bit, um, British, wasn't it?"

:) Giles might easily have been talking about queue-jumping.

hahaha not as off-topic as i thought, then! :)

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That's great! Four years on, does the cleaner still clean?

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"I'd quite like to pay for my shopping, please."

I have... money. And I'm not afraid to use it!

For the staff member to queue-jump the other shoppers while you were already there does seem (ahem) out of line to me. Picking your till and taking your chances is the normal thing at grocers, and was at, e.g. banks too until the single-queue system was invented, something I presume hasn't been applied at grocers because there just isn't enough room.

All that I have seen is, that when a new register is opened, the clerk will sometimes go to the first person in a long queue at the next one over and offer to switch. Then the rest of the queue splits up, some going with and some staying as the queue gets shorter.

One thing that interests me is that in the US I've never seen a division between trolleys (which we call "shopping carts") and baskets. Here it's always number of items: "fewer than N", N usually being around 10-15.

It varies from store to store. Some have Baskets Only, some "X Items or Less" (or "Fewer" for up-market chains - I kid you not, it's the kind of thing people write to the papers about), some both. And these days self-service is increasingly popular, minimising as it does the need for human contact and therefore embarrassment.

Edited at 2013-08-23 09:36 am (UTC)

Pfft, she was wrong and you were perfectly gracious. Everybody else could have left their queue had they wanted to. (Then again, take this with the pinch of salt that you must; I come from a place where cutting in line is an art form rather than a cardinal sin.)

I assume that place is America rather than Aberystwyth?

But of course. :)

that's just absolutely ridiculous of the waitrose person to have done! dishonour on her! dishonour on her family! dishonour on her cow! perfectly reasonable of you to have taken the initiative to find a shorter queue.

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