Aisle be back – An Irishwoman’s Diary on supermarkets and checkout dividers
The noble checkout divider – that stick thing that separates people’s groceries on the conveyor belt
The world is divided into two groups of people. There are those, like me, who seek to avoid confronting strangers at all costs. If you parked on my foot, I would probably smile weakly and say it was my fault for putting my foot here. And there are those who have given strangers a piece of their mind so often, it’s a wonder they have any left for themselves.
I avoid confronting strangers for three reasons. A) They might be violent and I might be stabbed to death because I asked them to turn down their music on the bus. B) They might have just received extremely bad news so a stranger pointing out that they have skipped the queue is not helpful as they plan their spouse’s funeral. C) I am a coward.
For this reason, I always have at least one stranger-related grievance to nurse as I go about my daily business. But there’s one grievance I nurse with more care than all the others combined. It concerns the noble checkout divider – that stick thing that separates people’s groceries on the conveyor belt.
The checkout divider is the hallmark of a civilised society. When you place it behind your goods, it ensures that you do not inadvertently purchase the cat food belonging to the person behind you. As an added bonus, their slimy chicken fillets do not touch your warm scones. It also gives silent permission to the person behind you to begin unloading their groceries onto the belt.
Yet, inexplicably there are still people who refuse to acknowledge the existence of the useful device. Why? Do they think the harried cashier will automatically know where their shopping ends and the next person’s starts? Or perhaps they don’t want people to think they are creating a barrier between their apples and their neighbour’s oranges?
Instead they create a barrier of awkwardness for the person queuing behind them. Picture the scene. You are stumbling to the checkout with arms full of purchases (because you only came in for milk and didn’t need a basket). You prepare to dump everything on the conveyor belt, but lo! The person/monster in front of you has not put the checkout divider in place.
Do you drop everything on the belt and reach passive-aggressively across them to take a checkout divider, or do you stand quietly fuming until they notice?
I treat the checkout divider with such reverence that I have been known to place it behind my goods when it is 9pm and I am the sole customer in the shop.
Grocery shopping is a jungle so we need the checkout dividers to maintain some semblance of calm and prevent total anarchy. But all semblance of calm immediately deserts me when I enter the checkout zone of certain discount supermarkets. You know the ones where you go in to buy one jar of cheap but excellent face cream and leave with 33 items? Those items most likely include a hamster wheel and fishing rod although you don’t own a hamster and you’ve never fished in your life.
These shopping emporiums request that you throw everything back into your trolley at the checkout and scurry out of their way as fast as possible. Then pack your bags elsewhere. Some of us like to thwart this German efficiency by using a basket instead of a trolley and then packing directly into our bags. Yes, we are rebels. That often brings us into a head-on challenge with the cashiers. In one outlet in particular, I suspect the manager has entered the staff in some secret “world’s fastest cashier” competition. No sooner do your goods hit the conveyor belt than the cashiers are flinging them at you and it’s like an Olympic sport to get them into your bag whilst liberating your wallet to pay. It probably registers as aerobic exercise on a smart watch.
I have taken to artfully spreading the purchases along the inordinately long conveyor belt in a bid to slow down the cashier. But on those days when I am not operating at peak fitness, the cashier starts winning the battle and a small tower of purchases accumulates in the tiny space beside the cash register.
Some day they will come crashing over my head as I struggle to pack the recalcitrant milk into the bag. I will be knocked unconscious by a €9.99 bottle of prosecco. I will be loaded onto a trolley as I regain consciousness, so the queue can keep moving. I aim to use that moment in the public spotlight to get my important message across.
“Respect the checkout divider,” I will shout defiantly as I am wheeled away.