Thursday, August 9, 2012

8 Commandments of the Checkout Line

The funny thing about etiquette is, it’s the little things that drive us nuts.  Sure, there are thousands of etiquette books and hundreds of guidelines about netiquette and dress codes and proper forms of introduction but when it comes right down to it, we become most infuriated when people violate the small, unwritten rules of civility.  Few of us are offended if someone wears white after Labour Day or sticks their name tag on the wrong side of their body, but try to sneak 11 items into the express checkout lane and we turn into Emily Post.  In my observations of everyday etiquette, I have noticed that the grocery store checkout lane is a bottomless pit of bad manners so I thought I’d address some of the worst offences here, in Moses style.

1. Thou shalt not disobey the express checkout rules – If you’re able to shop for, and pay for, groceries on your own, you must know how to count to 10 (or eight, or whatever the case may be where you shop).  Eleven is not 10.  Twelve is not 10.  Only 10 is 10.  And, in case you’re wondering, two of the same item still counts as two, not one.

2. Thou shalt have your cards ready – Before you enter the store, or at least when your groceries are being checked through, locate the card you wish to pay with.  Nothing is more frustrating than seeing someone dig through a wallet or bag searching for an elusive debit, credit or worse, points card, while a lineup of shoppers fumes behind them.  Have your payment card at the ready and if you can’t find your Air Miles or PC Points card, just leave it and vow to be more organized next time.  I actually stood in line once while a cashier let someone go out to their car to look for a points card.

3. Thou shalt not force price checks – I get it. There’s nothing worse than picking up ten frozen pizzas because you think they’re $2.99, only to see them clock in at $5.99 but that doesn’t mean you can hold up the entire line to prove a point.  If the deal was advertised in the flyer, show it to the cashier.  If you thought you saw a sign, and there aren’t too many others in line, have them check.  But holding up five other shoppers because you’re convinced the margarine was $.10 off when you have no evidence to back it up, is not cool.

4. Thou shalt prequalify your coupons – So you’ve seen Extreme Couponing and you want to get in on the action.  Fine, frugality is good.  But, as a fellow couponer, I can tell you that Canadian coupons are much more restrictive than their U.S. counterparts and your efforts to save money will often be stymied by expiration dates, quantity limits and pairing restrictions.  Coupons are great but before you dig through your purse for that that crumpled scrap entitling you to $.50 off cheese strings, read the fine print.

5. Thou shalt try to pack your groceries quickly – Now that we pay for plastic bags and stores no longer pay teenagers to bag our purchases, many of us have to cram our fish fingers and milk into a mish-mash of reusuable bags, bins and backpacks.  Understandably, this takes time but there’s no need to be a perfectionist about it.  Finish the job as quickly as possible and move on so that the next customer can use the conveyor belt. 

6. Thou shalt not alleviate boredom by talking into your cell phone – I know checkout lines are boring but that’s what the National Enquirer is for.  If three-headed dogs aren’t your thing, browse the news on your smart phone but refrain from long, annoying conversations.  Remember that the people sharing the line with you are trapped and can’t get away from your inane conversation. If you can’t resist, at least hang up when it’s time to pay.  Trying to fish a credit card out of your wallet while simultaneously bending your head to keep your phone from falling, all while having a conversation, is not only time-consuming, it’s disrespectful.  

7. Thou shalt behave if you’re allowed to go ahead – Once in a while, you will find yourself behind someone with a bulging cart when you only have two things.  Depending on their mood, time constraints and level of awareness, they may let you go in front of them.  They may not and that’s their prerogative.  If they do let you go ahead, you must not hold them up in any way.  That means no questions, no price checks, no haggling over price.

8. Thou shalt not chit-chat – This is not really an issue in a large city where most transactions are anonymous and the chances that you know a cashier personally are minimal.  However, in the small town where I grew up, it’s not uncommon to wait in a checkout line while the customer in front of you chats with the cashier, getting caught up on everything from her mother’s hip replacement to the upcoming Rotary BBQ at the arena.  I know this is lovely and we all need to smell the roses, etc. but when people are waiting in line, it’s best to keep social chat for social events.

Is there anything you would like to add to the checkout line commandments?  I would love it if I could get two more to make an even ten. 


  1. Nice rules of etiquette for shopping. I try to follow them myself and have included many of them as good netiquette for my own online code of conduct. Talking on your cell phone in line is bad netiquette. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate it, your awesome!

  2. Hi David, Thanks for dropping by and for your kind words. Glad to hear I'm not the only one who gets annoyed at the grocery store.

  3. Another great post Louise. I hope I never encounter what that photo depicts! And thanks for the reminder about white clothes and Labour Day ;-)