Pet Peeve

I just had a very disappointing interaction with a customer at Target.

I was at the “10 items or less” check out line. You’ve all seen these. There are multiple cashiers, but it’s very unclear as to how many lines customers should form. I’ve noticed that polite people tend to wait in a single line, or, if there is one person waiting or multiple people already in a single line, polite people at least have some form of verbal or non-verbal negotiation with the already queued people to make sure they wouldn’t be cutting by forming a new line.

I was the one person in line. And a woman waltzed right in front of me and went up to the farther counter to wait. I called to her, “It’s one line, I think.” Just then, her targeted cashier freed up and another assured her that forming multiple lines was OK. So, she turned to me and snidely said, “See, you’re wrong!” (Whatevah, it’s not written on a sign anywhere and I’ve stood at that checkout in a single line before.) So, I said, “Well, then it’s the neighborly thing to do.” And she retorted, “YOU were in the wrong line.” (Like I was the stupid one for being so naive as to expect the simple courtesy of a “Would you mind if …” from another human being.)

Dear human race, is it really necessary for us to be so rude to each other? Hmmmm? What do you think? Is it too much to ask to look out for others in small ways?

Psychology studies have shown that altruistic people are happier people in general. (See studies by Philip Shaver. Note that this says nothing about whether or not these individuals were already happy or their altruism precipitated their mood.) Also, conditional altruism is actually an effective strategy for evolution and long-term survival. (See Richard Dawkins’ Selfish Gene and see the Prisoner’s Dilemma” of Game Theory.) Now, I’m pushing the limits of relevance to the aforementioned situation since this woman and I are complete strangers and likely (hopefully) to never run into each other again. Therefore, the potential opportunities for reward of any altruism on her part would be limited to those who witnessed her being a nice person and that probably would extend only as far as the parking lot or the next 20 minutes or so.

But if psychology and evolution aren’t motivators enough to be decent and kind, here’s another often overlooked but important point. Queueing theory states that, all things being equal, M/M/k queues are more efficient that M/M/1 queues. For those of you that didn’t go to engineering graduate school, this says that the bank model is more efficient than the grocery store model. In the bank model (one line, multiple servers) individuals, on average, wait less time than in the grocery store model (one server per line).

Additionally, studies have shown that wait time is negatively correlated with a customer’s evaluation of service. Said plainly, the longer you have to wait for something, the crappier you are likely to think of the service or goods you eventually receive. So, you are more likely to enjoy what you are purchasing if you wait in line with everyone else. And companies are more likely have better reviews if they make it clear that everyone is to wait in the same damn line.

In short, don’t be an ass.

There. Now, I’ve gotten that off my chest, I sure hope someone does something nice to that woman today and she mellows a bit in return because, personally, my world can’t handle people being mean to each other for no reason at all. Ignorant and absent-minded, yes. But actively rude and selfish, not so much.

Yet another reason that I wish to move to a smaller town. Less anonymity means higher rate of return on niceness and higher rate of retribution for rudeness.

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7 thoughts on “Pet Peeve

  1. Let me begin by saying that I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to say anything, for fear she’d have reacted that way without ever extending the trust to see if she would. If I had accidentally blurted it out, I’d be distraught to the point of canceling appointments and not leaving my room for a day or two.

    My usual best defense in those situations is to remind myself that, as bad as I feel, I only encountered her for a few seconds. She has to live with her shitty attitude all the time! It is its own punishment.

    One of the repeated truths I find in various sources is that people believe what they get will make them happy. But they’re wrong. No matter what people have, they continue to believe that it is something they still need that prevents them from being happy.

    The truth is that giving makes people happy. A single carefully created event of expressing gratitude (in one study, writing a letter of gratitude and then reading it aloud and presenting it to someone) increases people’s happiness for up to a year! Now that’s long-acting medicine!

    • You could actually talk to a manager at Target and ask them to make it clear how they would like people to line up since you had this unpleasant experience at their store. Maybe even talk about the queueing (sp?) theory thing up there. Totally makes sense to me. And you could frame your suggestion altruistically while also getting what would’ve made that whole thing irrelevant, which is clarity.

      At my Target, it’s always 1 line, multiple checkers in the 10-or-less line, and the checkers back you up if someone jumps ahead. They’ll tell the jumper where the line is and call the next person in line. (but I’ve also never been there when there was no one or only 1 person in line, so…)

  2. You really inspire me to turn to my better nature when faced with that kind of thing – which I am sad to say is still not always my first impulse. I’m really grateful to you for that.

  3. I got so pissed at King Soopers last night when a clerk opened a checkout counter and took customers that were in the queue behind me that I abandoned a cart full of food and walked out after politely, yet facetiously, telling the clerk off. I hope no one noticed it before the ice cream puddled on the floor.

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