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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Settle this Debate... Please

So Sunday afternoon, following a day of errand-running - mostly to hardware stores and garden centers - with my wife, I had an email chat w/a buddy who is also learning to balance his recently abandoned single man tendencies with family life (wife, pets, home maintenance, etc.).

BTW, if you're a conspiracy theorist, someone who craves dirt on others, or just a person who reads too deeply between the lines, I hate to disappoint you but "single man tendencies" is not a reference to playing the field or cheating or anything like that. It's about those tendencies to be stingy with your time and space, especially leisure time.

Anyway, my guy and I were discussing cue etiquette, because I spent what felt like a third of my day standing in lines at checkouts and customer service counters waiting to ask a question or get technical advice.

Each time I waited anywhere from five - 15 minutes to get to the head of the line. But after making it to the front I'd get maybe a few seconds into my question before being interrupted by another shopper, who without warning began asking my helper how to fix their problem.

The first time I brushed it off, 'cause the interruption lasted less than 30 seconds. But the next half dozen times I thought about the fact that the person interrupting me hadn't stood in line in front of or behind me, and he annoyed me. They'd walked up, seen the long line, decided they couldn't or didn't want to wait, and then justified the interruption by telling themselves that it was OK, because theres would just be a quick question.

The funny thing is, we - meaning all of us who waited our turn - were all there to ask quick questions.

So here's the problem: I say the interrupters were out of order. Nevermind that none of them excused or pardoned themselves before bellying their way into my customer service time. I'm engaged in conversation with a store employee, trying to find an elusive item or get a tip on what materials to buy, and you interrupt me to ask where to find your item or how to assemble your widget? You're out of line, no pun intended.

My buddy disagreed. He said that if I was willing to wait in line, then my question must've been more complex and more time consuming. So it was no big deal if someone bit 20 or 30 seconds out of my time to ask a more simple question.

He's nuts, and I'm right. Right?

Give me your thoughts. Is it OK to skip the line and cut in on another person's time, because you assume your query will be so quick they won't mind?


  • This is like:

    1. People going in the 10 items or less express lane, with 10 plus items.

    2. When two lanes wind down to one due to road work or a lane-merge, there are always drivers who rush up to the very last inch of road before they have to change lanes, making the traffic jam WORSE, because if everyone just stayed on the one free lane, traffic would flow.

    No, I don't think it's ok to ask a quick question, unless it truly is a QUICK second question, like "Where's the bathroom? I have to pee so badly!" or "Is this the right line for [blank]."

    I think the only way to solve this problem is to have two lines. One for quick questions and the other for slow questions. And guess what? There'd always be someone butting into the quick question line, with an even quicker question.

    By Blogger Manola Blablablanik, at 3:34 PM  

  • Manola is right. Two lines would create two problems. And yes, you are correct in being peeved at those who interrupted you.

    Keep up the good work.

    By Blogger Robert, at 6:22 PM  

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