Editor’s note: The 20-40-60 Etiquette team is happy to have Joe Hight, editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, as our guest. He was instrumental in getting this column started several years ago when he was director of information and development at The Oklahoman/NewsOK and he also answered questions as a regular guest! Welcome, Joe!
QUESTION: I went to Target to buy a couple of things, and I lined up to pay. In front of me was a woman with several items in her basket. The checker checked out all of the items and then totaled the bill. THEN, the woman got out her checkbook, filled out with the amount, and paid. After that, she stood there and reconciled her checkbook. The items had been sacked up and ready and she was still working on her checkbook and holding up the line.
Is there any reason that people can’t have the check made out and ready to fill in the amount while they are standing there? They can also have their money ready to pay or their credit card ready. I was totally annoyed with the holdup.
CALLIE’S ANSWER: I think you need to chill out and go to Target at a different time. I am sure this woman didn’t mean to hold up the line and got carried away. If you’re in that big of a hurry, go to the self-checkout line.
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: Yes, that would be great if other people were always prompt and ready to go, on your schedule. But that’s not going to happen; we all have different challenges on any given day, and we all approach our routines differently. Sometimes people are rude and thoughtless by nature; sometimes they have other things on their minds.
I held up the line accidentally the other day and felt terrible and apologized multiple times to the people behind me. I was so nervous about doing so that I then dropped my wallet and everything spilled, which delayed my checkout even more. The people were really gracious and kind to me. Now, several days later, I can’t remember what happened that caused my holdup. I bet they can’t either.
This is not the first time this question or one like it has come up in this column. The best I can do is make sure I have everything ready to pay as often as possible and be patient and gracious with other people when I can, like the people were behind me. I probably get most frustrated when people do things that inconvenience other people and then don’t care or act like they are entitled to do that. So I’ve been the one who held up the line and the one who has been frustrated by others who do, and I feel your angst. However, I can’t control other people’s actions, only my own. Breathe deeply. We all have to suffer through long checkout lines in one way or another.
And for a really great look at this issue from a deeper, more existential perspective, search the Internet for the words of the commencement speech that David Foster Wallace gave to 2005 graduates of Kenyon College, called “This Is Water.” It is worth your time.
HELEN’S ANSWER: It is so hard to get behind someone in any check-out line who is not ready to pay. They have all the time in the world while waiting for items to be checked. It shows a real lack of awareness to wait until the last minute to do the routine check writing. Since it is hard to summon the courage to ask these people to move along, maybe reading this question and the answers can do a lot to make people more aware of how to get the lines moving a little faster.
Readers: Be ready to go with your checkbook or credit card or cash. Put your change up immediately and get out of the way!
GUEST’S ANSWER: Joe Hight, editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette: The issues with this situation are: 1. The awareness of knowing people are waiting behind you and being prepared. It would have been easy for the offending check writer to fill out most of the check beforehand and then quickly fill in the amount after the bill was totaled. 2. The courtesy in being aware of the line behind you and doing everything possible not to cause further delays. 3. The patience in waiting for the offending check writer to finish what she was doing. Yes, we’re all in a hurry, but we don’t know the circumstances that caused the woman to wait until the bill was totaled. It may have caused a wait of only a minute or two. Is that worth the anxiety and higher blood pressure? Read the headlines on the tabloids. Talk about the weather with the person behind you. Think about what you would have done in a similar situation. Then simply smile about it.
Awareness, courtesy and patience are three areas in which all us can improve.
Callie Gordon is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email email@example.com.