Mr. Pastis…Tear Down That Wall

I am constantly confused by the rules of etiquette for the little plastic dividers you use to separate your groceries from the other guy’s groceries on the conveyor belt at checkout.

I never know if it’s my responsibility to lay it down behind my own groceries, or if it’s my responsibility to lay it down behind the guy’s groceries ahead of me.

Sometimes I end up doing both, guarding the front and the rear.  That makes me mad, because it means someone in line has shirked their responsibilities.  It’s people like that who deserve to pay for my wandering Wonder Bread should it stray across our shared border.

My own personal philosophy is that each man and woman must guard their own rear.  Although I admit that a sign saying “Guard Your Own Rear” could be misconstrued.

Angry over the ambiguity, I decided to protest.

You see, normally, you use your divider like this:

But yesterday, I decided to do something new.  Rather than set the divider down perpendicular to the conveyor belt, thereby neatly walling off my groceries from everybody else’s, I laid it down parallel to the belt, right down the middle of my own groceries.  Like this:

When my groceries reached the checker, I thought his head was going to explode.  He stared at the groceries for a good five seconds.

“Are those your groceries?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“On both side of the divider?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Is there a reason you divided them up that way?” he asked.

“There’s no sign posted,” I said, “So I didn’t know how to use these things.”  I held up one of the dividers.

“You use them to divide your groceries from other people’s groceries,” he said, obviously annoyed.

“Oh,” I said.

“You didn’t know that?” he said, now squinting angrily at me.

“I did,” I admitted.

“So why’d you put it that way?” he asked.

I didn’t know what to say, so I blurted out the first thing that came into my head.

“Because in my groceries, there are internal divisions.”

90 thoughts on “Mr. Pastis…Tear Down That Wall

  1. Judging from your posts here, one would be tempted to believe that the most interesting thing that ever happens in your life is going to the grocery store.

    That’s kind of sad.

  2. I’m not entirely certain that it’s just your *groceries* that have internal divisions, Stephan.

  3. You’re a nut. I’m sure in some states they’d arrest you for annoying a grocery cashier like that.😉

  4. I’ll watch for the post that cashier ultimately makes to notalwaysright.com.

    Divider etiquette.
    They’re why I prefer self-checkout.

  5. Behind – you should put it behind your groceries, and the person in front of you should also do that. The problem is that most people are jerks and rude and don’t bother. And that really pisses me off that they are that rude. It has to be behind because the odds are that the only person who can reach those stupid things is the one whose groceries are in front!

    Sorry, this is a hot button issue for me. Don’t even get me started on how pissed I get when the belt is wet.

  6. I’m surprised the cashier didn’t beat about the head and shoulders with the rubber divider.
    But maybe I’m not so surprised.
    That’s Rat’s job.

  7. Clear to me … things I will eat, things I don’t want to eat. Like facial tissue and asparagus … unless you put hollandaise sauce on the tissue.

  8. I was once a lowly cashier, and this would have MADE my week. Seriously, it’s boring and painful, so go out and make a cashier’s life more entertaining by trying this (I know I will…tomorrow….)

  9. In front, before you put your groceries on the belt.

    After all, the poor schmuck in front of you didn’t know he wasn’t going to always be last in line.

  10. Congratulations– that story has officially been added to my Sociological Theory course as an fine example of real life ethnomethodology.

  11. When confronted by a clerk like that, I try to have a plausible (but unlikely) excuse. “I’ve separated the groceries according to how I want them bagged.” or “I need them scanned in the exact order I have them arranged.” Sometimes I ask if they can scan the alphabetically – if asked why I just explain I have OCD. You can escalate matters by asking to see a manager, or asking if they discriminate against people with mental issues as a matter of company policy, or if it’s directed at you personally.

  12. Worse than anything involving the dividers, in my opinion, is when people don’t push their cart in front of them down to the bagging area, instead winding up with the cart behind them. It slows things down for them (bagger can’t put the groceries in the cart), it slows things down for the person behind them (not enough space to unload groceries onto the belt).

  13. What annoys me is when the person behind me stands reeeely close to me while I’m paying for my groceries. I’ve had to cup my left hand over the credit card key pad a few times. I always like to stand a few feet back from the person in front of me, which, in turn, annoys my husband who just wants to throw all of the groceries onto the belt and get going.

  14. Off topic but I wanted to post it anyway. Congratulations on being one of the nomination for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year for this years Reuben Awards!

  15. Two remedies that I can see.

    One is to use the self checkout all the time.

    The other (I do this) is to cheerily inform the guy ahead of me that I’m thankful for his paying for my groceries. That insures that he will use the divider behind his stuff. Then all I have to worry about is the end of mine.

    Every so often, just to get a reaction, I’ll ask the checker if the rumor about bananas being bred with pricing bars is true. It is indeed a rumor. He/she doesn’t have to know that it was started by me.

  16. The next step would be to build Stonehenge statues out of your groceries on either side of the divider…

  17. 🙂

    I don’t know where my life would be if I didn’t read Pearls and find this blog

  18. I fully support the aspirations of your people, Stephen. And I add: whatever groceries make their way into your space because the person in front didn’t define his or hers should be yours at no charge. Can I get an amen?

  19. I heart Stephan Pastis! I’ve also had some ambiguous moments in the checkout line and decided to block both my front and my rear. I’m going to to do this the next time an unfeeling fool does this to me. Thanks Mr. P.

  20. Okay, I’ve subscribed. That was hilarious. I always put the divider down on both sides of my groceries because people everywhere are stupid and lazy.

  21. Your bananas are clearly feuding with your potatoes. They have both recruited armies. The divider is the only thing keeping the peace on that conveyer belt. The checkout clerk has NO IDEA what could have gone down had they not been separated.

  22. @stevep65

    Lower picture, above divider:
    Candy bar. Jar of peanut butter. Sack of potatoes.

    Below divider:
    Spool of thread. Drumstick. Bunch of bananas.

  23. At least you had a divider to use! Nothing more frustrating than if there is no divider to be found at your line, or if a divider is way up there close to the cashier and you have to pester the customers ahead of you to pass it back to you.

  24. You were the kind of customer that actually made my otherwise boring retail day interesting. Plus I’m going to start doing this too. If a national trend starts…

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  26. Why are all the cashiers you write about so grumpy? You should write this story in a complaint box or something.

  27. I was a cashier for seventeen years – I’ve seen everything. I would have messed with your head a little bit, and then I would have laughed. It’s a long day behind the belt – everyone could use a little diversion.

  28. Went to Safeway after work…I just didn’t have the guts to try it. I really wanted to…maybe next time. I laughed all the way out the store though.

  29. What drives me crazy is when I (who used to be a cashier) leave my 9-items-or-fewer in the plastic handbasket on the conveyor belt, and the person behind me smacks down a divider before putting his or her items (loose) on the belt behind me. “Not needed. The basket acts as a divider,” I always point out. They always look at me like I’m stupid. If I’m wrong, how come the cashier NEVER asks whether the items in the basket belong to the person in front of me?

  30. I always thought it was up to the person putting their groceries on the belt to lay down the divider before putting their stuff on. I shall now guard my own rear.

  31. Sometimes if the person ahead of me shirks their responsibilities in putting down the divider and I happen to have something that I picked up on a whim, I put it on their side of the divider so they end up paying for it and taking it home. Its childish, but hey, they are doing their best not to look at me because they didn’t put down the divider and they know they didn’t .

  32. Logically, you should cover your rear. If nobody was in front of you then you wouldn’t put the divider down.

    If the person in front of you fails in their responsibility then take something from the stuff they sell by the register and add it to the groceries of the person in front of you as a tax against their laziness.

  33. You are aware I hope, that there are somewhat similar unspoken rules in at urinals in men’s bathrooms?

    These rules are unspoken, but cannot be broken.. Otherwise chaos ensues..

    Never stand next to anyone unless you absolutely have to. Never, ever look over. And don’t speak, except perhaps to comment that the water is cold and deep. And only then if you’re obviously drunk…

    If you cannot handle grocery checkout, don’t pee in public places….

  34. MY head almost exploded just looking at the diagram of your groceries being divided lengthwise. Too funny.

  35. Stephen, sorry pal. I hope you read this comment.

    But lately, you’ve become a boast and an airhead. Couldn’t help get that feeling when I read your posts.
    You deserve to get kicked in the face by Goat.

    We want the old Stephen back.

    Nice strip, keep up the good work.

    -A BIG fan of PBS

  36. Perhaps Staci should be the one grocery shopping from now on. And the one dropping Tom off at school. And the one making the Starbuck’s run. Maybe you shouldn’t leave the house.

  37. This is pure genius. I just started reading your comics and discovered your blog this week and I’m hooked. You are hilarious and brilliant. I love the croc-ese and I now clip out your Pearls Before Swine from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Thank you, your comics brighten my day.

  38. I think the opposite… everyone should cover their front, unless there are no groceries currently on the table. This is because somebody won’t always come up behind you… and if you come up behind someone, there only needs to be one divider on there, not two.

  39. Darn those dissident bananas. I had fun imagining a series of strips about groceries…during the Troubles! It’d be so good. Potato threats galore and petrified produce galore.

    I wonder if people would catch the analogy.

  40. Ahahahahahaha this is gonna bring a whole new realm of activities to my trips to the grocery store. thank you very much mr pastis.

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  42. The rubber dividers are there for people who have issues with other people coming near their stuff, or who aren’t comfortable just saying, “the extra large box of condoms is mine. The jar of vaseline belongs to the guy behind me,” as the conveyor belt comes up to the end of his groceries.

    The people who enjoy dividers thus have the pleasure of placing them before and after their groceries, and the people who really don’t care, or like the social interaction of passing the same message through conversation.

    Also, do you rotate through the grocery stores in your neighbourhood?

  43. Stephen, I would just like to say that your 25 February strip made me smile. Not for its ingenious humor but rather for how you made the casket big enough for Rat’s aunt’s nose. I’m glad she won’t be defiled in death.

  44. {{clap}}{{clap}} This has bothered me for years, i use to put mine (off course the one behind me) slightly tilted just to tick off the people behind me. Ahh the pleasures!

  45. If the belt is moving slowly, start putting your stuff in the gap between your stuff and the stuff of the person in front of you. Lean forward if possible while doing it.

  46. I feel dumber having read this. You are an idiot. You put it in the front of your groceries. If there is someone behind you in line (which there isnt always), they will divide their groceries.

  47. next time you should build a little teepee out of them over your groceries. you know…to protect them.

  48. p.s. i love how someone up there said “your an idiot.” at least you have proper grammar?

  49. Seriously? This is the reason why there are signs in baby strollers that say, “Please remove baby before collapsing the stroller.” Grocery stores will need signs everywhere!

  50. Surely there’s a strip that could be produced from this! C’mon now, maybe Guard Duck on the rear flank or something? Your drawing of the separator thingy down the middle is so funny I almost pee’d from laughing. Thank you.

  51. I did the same long ago in the supermarket… I think she was too busy thinking about her miserable life…😦

    I had a different reason, I thought that dividing my food was going to let me pack them in separate bags (one was for preparing dinner and the other for the rest of the week).

    She didn’t pay attention and started to mix all of them at the end of the aisle.

    You are wonderful Stephan, truly!

  52. This is not original. In fact, it was even covered on a Seinfeld episode.

    What most people don’t realize (including Jerry Seinfeld) is that the dividers have little to do with the people in line. They are for the cashier/bagger to realize to stop grabbing things and throwing them across the scanner or into the grocery bag. It’s very easy for them to get locked into a routine.

    One would think that to be pretty obvious, but people get so caught up in the etiquette of it all that they lose sight that the practical functionality of the bar. It has nothing to do with physical segregation, and everything to do with transaction segregation.

    What pisses me off is people who insist on explaining that they want two orders rung up separately and try to physically divide the items (on a moving conveyor belt, no less), while they have a perfectly good bar fencing their stuff off from the goods of the person next to them. To separate orders so they can have a reimbursable receipt, they should use a bar for its intended purpose.

    In your situation, you probably just annoyed the cashier, and made yourself look foolish for trying to make a point where there was none to make.

  53. This is where you cross the line into being an asshole; when you complicate the life of somebody for your amusement. You annoyed the guy for no good reason? You’re an asshole.

  54. This just made my day. I love reading your blogs. There’s always something in here to make me laugh.

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  56. I am a cashier and many people have done what you have done. It isn’t at all strange. Some even put one like you did and than one after. That way they are telling me that they want the divided ones in a bag alone and so on.
    As a customer some times I am slow in getting the dividers in place before the other person does it and that makes me upset. I will do that(I always think)can’t you wait a bit!!!!

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