It’s busy today at the market. There are only three checkouts open, every one of which has a minimum of four customers. I’m 7th in line at the express desk, wishing they’d open the second express. The grocery store angel hears me and they open the till next to me and post the “Express” sign. Now I’m third in line.
The woman behind me asks, “I have only one item, can I go ahead of you?” I don’t really want to give up my space, even if she only has one item, so I check the other express line.
Thinking I’m doing her a favour, I point to it and tell her “there are fewer people on that one, if you go there, you’ll get through before I will.” She glances at my basket, shoots me a dirty look and as she heads over there says, “This is the express desk” and points to the sign above the till. “9 items or less” it reads. I count, just to be sure. Yup. Eight items. I’m good. She can glare all she likes. But I still feel guilty for not letting her go ahead of me. Grrr. Makes me mad that I’m so susceptible to that sort of thing.
Somehow, we end up at our respective tills at the same time – they’re right next to each other, and she glares at me as she puts her item (remember? One item?) on the belt. Bananas. I look back with a bland expression, but I still feel bad, as if it’s somehow my fault that she ended up taking as long as she would have if I had given her my place. My intent was both benevolent and self-serving. I really thought she’d get through ahead of me with only one person ahead of her in the line, instead of two, which is what I had. And I really didn’t want to give my place up. I thought this was a win-win solution, but why is she so angry and why do I feel so fruffled up and edgy?
It takes her clerk the same amount of time to check through her single item as it does mine to check through my 8 and ask me if I need two bags or one. I know her clerk. Jen’s been working at the store for years, and she’s one of the fastest clerks they have – she has to be to be on the express desk. All the time the customer glares at me as if I’ve committed something worse than a mortal sin, to have refused her what she wanted, and ended up making her take more time at the till.
She leaves a couple of seconds before me – with not just banans in her bag. I can see the outlines of one box, and a round container, as well as the familiar shape of the bunch of bananas pressing against the bag.
Why, even when I see she tried to scam me for a place in line, am I still feeling ruffled and upset about the entire episode? I’m the good guy here. I tried to get her through faster than my spot would have while keeping my place, I had fewer than the maximum number of items, I was polite and respectful.
She demanded a spot ahead of me (her words were questions, her tone was demanding) and her demand and her tone both implied that her time was more valuable than mine, and that she somehow had a right to go before I did. She assumed I was breaking the rules by taking more than the maximum number of items through the express till, and tried to make me feel guilty about it. Her steady stare implied that she was angry at me because her line up moved slower than mine, and her clerk took as long as mine did. So why do I feel like the bad guy in this?
How do people like her do that to people like me? And how do I stop falling for it?