And this is why I use self-checkouts

Um whoops.  That wasn’t mean to happen.  I was just rambling away about supermarkets, because I’d just been at the supermarket, and then saw those links, and then halfway through the rant, like before I had actually, erm, tidied it up, I clicked publish rather than save.

My bad.  Embarassing mistake.  Never mind.

Just kind of stupid after the other week.  And way too late to unpost it, because of how I just connected this to all the social media, like a fucking split-second ago.  Well a month, but yeah.

So anyway, if you saw the first, one, um, sorry, it was a bit half-finished and ranty.

And here.  Because I’m sure you all care what I think.  The phone use in shops rant I was going to put up fucking weeks from now in case anyone cared.

Or, titled, In defense of leaving me alone in the shop!

So from England, this.  Someone goes through a supermarket checkout and is on the phone.  Checkout person decides not to serve her until she stops talking.  It turns into a big deal.

Everyone gets worked up, as in, look at the comments there.  And also here, another blog, where the comments are broadly the same.

People are upset.

So this confuses me, basically.

Like the sheer anger.

So maybe I’m rude.  Possibly.  But seriously?  Is this really still something we’re getting upset about?

So I started thinking about this.  At the supermarket.  Today.  Looking around at how everyone was doing their thing, and totally ignoring each other.

Oh yeah, housewifing aside, does everyone know not to shop between Thursday and Sunday because everything costs more, because payday through weekend.  So go today.  Yay!

So anyways.  I was thinking about that, and the anger on those links, and honestly, it’s the obligation to engage with a stranger I don’t get.

Because the supermarket seems basically the same as public transport or the street to me.  It’s big, and impersonal, and basically a unfriendly public space.  Those two people at the checkout aren’t friends, or colleagues, or engaged in some complex task where face-to-face communication is a safety or competency issue.  They’re basically just stuck with each other in the routine of everyday life, and one person is talking on the phone.

Like the person next to you on a train, or while you wait to cross the road.

And I get how to the checkout person, it’s work, and where they are all day.  But still.  Big, impersonal public space.

I don’t know.  Maybe I’m missing something here, because it seems like the obligation, as decent human beings, is this – customer says hi to the checkout person, checkout person says hi back, and both of them get on with it.

Which you can do while you talk on the phone.  By pausing, for just a second, and making eye contact, and saying hi.

Real simple.

But apparently some people disagree.  Apparently a lot of people disagree, rather strongly.

And I really don’t understand why.

So I’m now going to talk about not understanding at great length, obviously.

So maybe there’s some practical reason.  Like watching prices come up, or paying, or whatever.  But, honestly, do you actually stand there watching the price of each thing?  Or know exactly how much it was?

I mean, yeah, I know the supermarket is probably doing something terrible, and probably a lot of stuff is priced very-slightly differently on the shelf and at the checkout.  But I still don’t look.

And besides, I don’t know there’s much room for mistakes that are actual mistakes, like ones anyone can fix. Because at the evil mega-chains where I shop, of which Sainsburys are the spiritual twin I gather, there’s a whole process and also, you know, cameras, to cover that.  I don’t think it would be possible to break out of the procedural loop and mess it up.

So all of that.

And before I get accused of being a horrible person myself for defending the customer, um, I’m really not.  I’m saying that maybe talking on your phone isn’t rude at all, and everyone needs to calm a little.

I’m in favor of polite.  Completely.

Polite was why I said they should say hi to each other.

But maybe that’s all they need to do.  Because they don’t know each other, and it’s a weirdly formal situation, and again, it’s an impersonal, dehumanizing public space.

Like a train.  Or the street.  Where I really don’t feel any obligation to talk to strangers.

So maybe it’s not so wrong for both just get on with what they’re doing.

Um, yeah.  Anyways.

Where I was actually trying to get to was that I suspect the people upset about this are the same people who say how terrible it is we don’t talk to our neighbors or to strangers on trains any more, and what a loss that is.

That’s my suspicion.

Which I don’t get either, to be honest.

My neighbors all seem happy with not knowing me, and everyone I ever talked to on public transport, or waiting for it, it really fucking quickly became clear why they were desperate for someone to talk to, what with all the menacing and boring going on.

And just to put this in perspective a little too, the vast majority of supermarket staff I ever encountered in my life don’t talk to me.  They say hi, and do their thing, and I stand there.  Being realistic.

And also, me, personally, I don’t really like talking to strangers for no reason.  It’s awkward.  Not so sound like a total loner, except how that  might, but being realistic, none of us have much in common with any other randomly-selected other person in society, and unless you’re a very socially orientated person, you therefore probably don’t have much to say.  Bleak as that is.  We’re all different and its just how it is and that’s why we all suddenly decided to spend half our lives finding other people we do have something in common with on the internet.  And this is a good thing.

Um, hi everyone on the internet. And yes that was a plea on behalf of introverts everywhere.

I need to stop for a breath.  And think, um, how the fuck did I get to here.  Because this is really way, way too disorganized to have put it up, and I’m so sorry I did.  But I have, so just sorry, and struggling on, hoping you can follow.

So besides all that, one other thing.

Not that the supermarket might be busy, which it might, or the that the checkout person might be too tired to want to talk.

One other thing is there’s a weird privacy issue about my shopping choices and making eye contact.

It’s basically like not talking to other people in lifts.

Shopping is private.  I mean, not totally private, like lifts aren’t totally private, but there’s different rules.  I don’t necessarily want to chat with someone who knows what toilet paper I prefer.  This seems basically why customs and security people at the airport are all stern and professional. It’s because they might be about to rummage in your bags.

And this, at the checkout, is exactly like that.

So what I’m saying, as well as how maybe this kind of thing is a huge overreaction, is that maybe there’s some spaces, like a security check or a shopping trip, were you aren’t supposed to be looking for lifelong friendship and human contact.  Maybe we should just all stand there, respectful, but politely distant, and then pay, and go.

Because back when I did the retail thing, I didn’t really want to get talked to at all.  And completely not speaking for anyone else in retail, and like I just said, introvert, but there reaches a point where you can just tell which customers are going to be a bit much as they walk up.  Like the ones that hold things up, or try and return things but not at the returns counter, or ask weird questions, and by weird questions I mean sleazy creepy questions.

And by the way, most retail workers are judged on how many transactions they do in a shift.  So talking to them, and slowing them down, probably gets them crap from their manager.

So better just not.  That’s what I think, anyway.

Not that I care, as it happens.

This is all a whole lot of complicated I can just avoid.  Because self-checkouts.

Just that.

Although I thought all the implied stuff in this, about what we expect from other people, and how social rules change and people disagree what they are, I thought all that was quite interesting.  That was what I was really wanting to go on about, except the accidental click forced me into this.

And so to be completely clear, I’m not saying everyone should go around being mean to other people, and absolutely, especially not people in unpleasant jobs like supermarket work.  I’m just saying that maybe it isn’t the rudest thing ever to talk on the phone.

And I went a really, really long way around to say that.

But what the fuck do I know, since I buy my groceries from a robot.

Which is kind of cool, when you think about it.  Yay, the future’s here.

3 thoughts on “And this is why I use self-checkouts

  1. You would think that having a self checkout would be an improvement. Well it is, for the most part. Unfortunately for the least part, which seems like forever, you have to endure a smart-arse computer telling you to remove the item you just bagged before continuing, because the weight is just a teensy bit off. I ask you, how much different can one pizza weigh compared to the next one with the exact same toppings?

    Now it’s not so bad waiting for someone to rescue you at the busy times, the terminal for all the self-scans is then monitored almost all the time. But in the early hours of the morning (assuming your store opens 24 hours) you can be waiting ten minutes. Worse still is the self-scan restart at apprximately 4.30am during which you get to hear the Windows startup sound on each station and none of them can be used until Windows is finished updating.

    Then there’s the actual arrangement of the checkouts. The self-scan lanes are not too bad, there’s plenty room for two or three bags of groceries and customers can queue at them. But the self-scan stations with a shelf for your basket and a shelf for one bag are placed so close together that it’s claustrophobic at the busy times, you’re liable to bump elbows with the person at the next station.

    These robots need a complaint button.

    • Dude, I’m so glad someone else over-thinks this as much as me!

      Yes, completely on the claustrophobic. That’s just squiffy. Because everything about the staff seeing your shopping, it’s ten times worse when it’s other shoppers, because, I don’t know… I like to assume a certain professional disinterest in the staff. They see weird choices all day, so after a week hopefully they’re jaded and don’t care.

      But other customers, just yuk. But people fucking look. And I’ve seen them. And that’s just disturbing.

      And yep, the “something unexpected in the bagging area” just gives me the shits. It seems to be less bad now in our EvilMegaCorp1, like I think they’ve realized how much of a nuisance it is and changed the settings, but EvilMegaCorp2 is still pretty bad. And the small places, like the budgety independent places, if they have them, theirs are just diabolical. And I mean that medievally. Like complaining over and over in one bags-worth. I’ve started to think anywhere that has someone at the door to search bags is going to be trouble, because their robot checkout will be so sensitive it knows whether there’s 51 or 52 baked beans in a tin. Or whatever.

      I mean, someone obviously searching bags. Not doing the “oh no, I’m just here handing out baskets and saying hello, but of course I’ll taser you if you try and run past me” thing.

      I haven’t in the middle of the night though. Maybe I should next time I’m insomnia-ing.

      And I think, to the supermarket, the complaint button is the human checkout. Maybe?

  2. Oh wait. Um, just to be clear, for the sake of the Australian tourism industry.

    Dear overseas people. Australian supermarkets don’t actually taser people when they suspect them of shoplifiing, not even only very occasionally. They don’t not at all. Please visit, we’re not that bad, honestly. Thank you.

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