At the risk of sounding like a grumpy uncle, I feel an unpleasant epidemic sweeping the nation. Namely, we all seem hell-bent on ignoring the rest of humankind.
As is the case with many of life’s big moments, it was at the self-service checkouts in Tesco that the realisation really hit me. I’m telling you, those things are a window into the anthropological leanings of mankind. That row of irritating machinery is the watering hole of modern day society.
Picture, if you will, a woman at one such self-service checkout. She’s all paid up and is crouched on the floor packing her scanned items from the bagging area into her rucksack. She’s packing at a truly glacial pace - which is not an uncommon occurrence – but there’s a long queue so she’s getting a few dirty looks. Regardless, she’s hardly committing a crime. If anything, she’s saving a plastic bag by using her own rucksack so she should really be applauded.
But what’s this? A man is on the approach. And he’s starting to use this woman’s checkout, even though she’s still squatting next to it packing her items from the bagging area. I start to slow down myself, fascinated to see what will unfold.
He scans his item - an egg sandwich - and now he’s just standing uncomfortably close to the squatting woman with the egg sandwich in his hand waiting for her to be finished so he can put it in the bagging area (I love saying bagging area). But she’s still going. Very slowly. So the man is just standing there with the egg sandwich in his hand.
The situation escalates quickly. Now the shouty self-service voice is telling him to put his item in the bagging area. She repeats it again. He’s scanned and he’s not putting his item in the bagging area. She’s about to have a meltdown.
But he can’t. Because as we’ve established, the woman is still squatting there at his feet packing her items from the bagging area.
I mean ethics aside, there’s a very real question here over how the self-service checkout let this happen in the first place. How can a new transaction be started when the previous person’s items are still in the bagging area? But that’s beside the point.
The strangest thing about this whole fiasco is that the man and the woman haven’t even acknowledged each other. No eye contact. No good old-fashioned confrontation from either party. Literally nothing. He didn’t tell her to hurry up, she didn’t look up in indignation and tell him to get his own checkout. They were frozen in this strange tableau, him silently fuming, her seemingly oblivious. Like malfunctioning robots.
And as I watched, my initial amusement turned to sadness. Sadness that this is what we’ve come to. Better a screaming match than nothing, surely?
Eventually she puts the last item in her rucksack, zips it up and walks off without even looking at him. He places his egg sandwich in the bagging area - much more aggressively than I have ever seen anyone place an egg sandwich in a bagging area before – pays, and leaves.
Feeling somewhat emotionally spent, I too leave, clutching my own items with a sense of having witnessed something upsetting. I couldn’t immediately recount the incident verbally to anyone in a way that made it sound as socially significant as I felt it really was. But I’m sure we’ve all witnessed or even been involved in our own versions of it.
It goes beyond self-service politics to this ‘hands off’ attitude we’re all adopting. Why bother interacting with anyone when we can get what we want without having to do so? It’s easier to shove someone aside on the train when you haven’t made eye contact with them. Or to put your headphones in and head down when walking along the street so people have to swerve to avoid you, not the other way around. Even ‘ghosting’ in the dating world is indicative of this total disregard for other people’s feelings, an inability to even be bothered to explain yourself.
So please, in metaphorical supermarket terms, don’t scan your egg sandwich before the person in front of you has finished. It’ll be a better world for us all.