7 Things You Do in the Checkout Line That You Don't Realize Are Rude

Are you guilty of any these?

Young pretty Asian woman with medical face mask making payment in groceries store
Photo: Images By Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images

No one has the intention of walking into their local grocery store and being rude. We all want to leave those around us feeling like we are kind people, but going to the grocery store can be a high-stress situation. It might be busy, there may be parents trying to wrangle little ones, and traffic jams can happen on any aisle at any time.

It's easy to forget to make the extra effort at times, especially if you don't even realize certain things you do come across as rude. As a former grocery clerk, I've compiled a list of things many folks don't realize are rude and shared tips on what you can do instead.

1. Not Using the Divider

I will be the first to admit that I went most of my life without using the divider. And usually I only placed it in front of my items because I didn't realize how inconsiderate it was to not put it behind my items too.

A lot of times the person behind you in line can't quite reach the divider, so they are left to wait until you have already started checking out to load their items onto the conveyor belt.

What to do: Use the divider before and after your items on the conveyor belt. This gives the shopper behind you the space to start unloading. Plus, they don't have to try and awkwardly reach over you to find a divider.

2. Standing Too Close to Other Shoppers

No two people have the exact same boundaries for personal space. Add a narrow checkout aisle to the equation, and it can become an anxiety-inducing mess really fast.

When I was a grocery clerk, I observed folks feeling uncomfortable at how close others were standing to them, but they were stuck between the person in front and the person behind them with nowhere to go. Instead of causing a confrontation, they just patiently waited with overwhelm written all over their faces. No one wants to be that person making others uncomfortable. How do you know how far away to stand?

What to do: The best rule of thumb is to stand about two outstretched arm-lengths away. Stretch your arm out in front of you, then imagine doubling that space and you've got it.

A cart's distance works well too, so another quick trick is to just stay as far away as your cart is long.

It may seem strange at first, but giving folks extra space will not only make them feel more comfortable, but could also help prevent the spread of airborne illnesses — which we can all appreciate during this pandemic.

3. Grabbing the Receipt From the Printer

In your mind, you may think this act is actually helpful to the clerk. You're letting them skip a step by grabbing your own receipt. It "saves them the hassle," you think.

But in reality, this is one of the rudest things you can do in the checkout line. I remember when I worked as a grocery store clerk I had my entire system down: Greet the guest, scan their items, ask for coupons, push total, accept the payment, hand them their receipt, bid them a polite farewell, and move on to the next guest.

This routine helped my day go by smoother and kept me focused on my work. So reaching over to get your own receipt probably doesn't save any time. Not only that, but the area where the clerk stands behind the register is really small. Having a customer reach over the counter into that space can feel very uncomfortable.

What to do: It's best to give your clerk the space they need to do their usual routine. Wait for them to hand you the receipt. Even if it seems to take a little longer on your end, it makes for a much happier experience for them and for you.

4. Leaving Items Set to the Side Instead of Handing Them to the Cashier

You get the checkout line, there are four other customers with full shopping carts waiting behind you, and you realize you don't actually need that second carton of eggs. It's obvious that the clerk at the register is very busy, and you don't want to add to their stress. "I'll just set these here for them to get later when the store is less busy," you think as you set the eggs behind the conveyor belt. You didn't have to make anyone in line behind you wait for you to go put them back, and you didn't have to inconvenience the clerk at the register. "Win, win," you think.

Not exactly. The responsibility of cleaning up the checkout area falls to the clerk at the end of the night. They may be ready to clock out and then notice the eggs you left. So they need to put those back at the end of an exhausting shift. Then they may notice the eggs have actually gone bad from sitting out too long, and now they need to get them to the manager to mark as damaged.

What to do: As soon as you realize you don't need the item, place it in the front of your cart to remind yourself. Then as you're checking out, let the clerk know.

Did you know part of the job of clerks who are bagging your groceries is to be a "runner"? So they are happy to snag that unwanted item and place it back on the shelf. Now no one has to deal with it at the end of a shift, and the product doesn't go bad from sitting out.

5. Using the Express Lane With Too Many Items

"I only have five more items than the sign says, I'm sure it's fine," you think as you hop in the express lane. The most important factor here is putting others before yourself. Sure, that lady behind you with two items may not be in a rush at all, but maybe she has a sick kid to pick up from school, or maybe she's running late for a charity event, you just don't know. You have to consider if the few minutes you save by taking your five extra items through express are worth the inconvenience to other shoppers who are respecting the rule.

What to do: Follow the guideline given by the store. It might seem frustrating to only have a few too many items for the express lane, but by respecting the rules you are making things flow so much smoother for the store employees and the other shoppers.

6. Asking Personal Questions About Items in Other People's Carts

If you're a person who really enjoys small talk with folks you don't know, it may seem very natural to casually comment about items in someone else's cart. "Wow, you're getting really healthy food. Good for you," or "Someone's having a pizza party tonight," might seem innocent. However, it's never appropriate to comment on the items someone is choosing to purchase. Perhaps the person with the very healthy looking items is purchasing food for a sick loved one and has no desire to discuss that with a stranger. Maybe the pizza party you assumed was happening is simply a busy mom feeding her kids the best filling budget-friendly option and doesn't need to be made to feel bad about that choice.

As a grocery clerk, I always did my best not to comment on what items someone was purchasing as I rang them up. It might seem like a completely normal thing to discuss, but it's an invasion of privacy and boundaries.

What to do: Choose small talk topics that aren't personal. Talk about the busy store, the good service you're receiving from employees, or even the weather. But steer clear of pointing out items others are choosing to buy.

7. Including Your Little Ones in the Checkout Process on a Busy Day

Teaching your children at a young age how to properly engage with service employees can be a great lesson. And while you may have the best intentions when you hand your six year old cash to pay the cashier during a busy day, expecting to teach your child a lesson in counting, this can be really frustrating not only to the very busy clerk, but also to the other shoppers. Your kid may have a tough time reaching up, they may freeze or feel overwhelmed, take a long time to count, and more.

What to do: It's best to wait for a slower day when there's no other shoppers behind you to help your little one learn about interacting with service employees. On a slower day, the clerk will have the extra time to be attentive to your kid, and it will probably brighten their day as well.

No matter what store you visit, if you do your best to slow down and be aware of the people around you, you will have a much better and kinder experience for yourself and others.

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