The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Queuing Quandary

As the checkout is approached, we notice more than one queue. What to do? Which one should we join?

Normally I would make a rapid calculation using a home-grown formula based on the number of people in the queue, the size of their shopping baskets/trolleys, their ages, whether they have their money and loyalty card at the ready, and the age and chattiness of the person swiping the goods through.

But no matter how much I refine this method over the years, in the end experience shows there is only one universal about queue joining: the other one always moves faster.

However, I have devised a solution.

It’s not easy, and it takes practice and a great deal of empathy. Because at the heart of it, you need to remove yourself from the centre of your universe. You need to become a bit part player, rather than the hero or heroine of your life.

The trick is to look for someone in the other queue, preferably someone slightly agitated, in a bit of a hurry.

Mentally and emotionally lock onto them.

Feel their pain; feel their anxiety; feel their frustration.

Allow the full depth of realisation and understanding to wash over you – for them, the other queue is going to move faster.

And hey presto! Your queue suddenly speeds up.


Anna van Schurman said...

My sister worked as a grocery checker and she figured this out for me. Part of the problem with your calculation is taking into consideration how much stuff people have. One overflowing cart will take less time than several small orders. It's because it takes very little time to scan but the same amount of time for people to pay. Now this was back in the day before widespread use of debit cards, so that may have changed. But I've always found I'm better off behind just one person with a full cart than behind a few people with just a few things. Until, of course, the full-cart person's yogurt falls on the floor and opens and needs to be replaced. ;)

Kim Ayres said...

This is what always screws up the calculations - you can never factor in who's got an item where the bar code won't scan properly. Although usually it will be either someone who is permanently looking at their watch, or has 4 kids picking stuff out the trolley and throwing it at each other

Brave Astronaut said...

I prefer to use the self-checkout lanes. It lessens the number of people that are involved in your transaction. However, too often, people will get in that line and not know how to use the scanner.

And don't get me started on the express lanes that get clogged by people with more items than they are supposed to have.

Sini said...

so wonderfully evil.. ;)

Fat Lazy Guy said...

My calculations only go so far as how many people are in line, mainly because I don't want to be the person furthest from the checkout :D

Carole said...

Aha, John thinks this is a conspiracy against him. Now I have proof that it happens to others also.

Kanani said...

They've installed these self check kiosks, which are very good for small items, but invariably you get someone technically challenged going through.

But yes, I think the formula is universal --trolly contents, length of line, whether or not the person looks like a coupon clipper, the whole gamut.

PI said...

On the rare occasions we shop together we have this dilemma and I plunge in with a 'what does it matter' recklessness which MTL always s challenges and then it's ditherering and tearing from one queue to the other which really irks me. Queueing time is thinking time.

Jimmy Bastard said...

I've been known to leap over small children to gain just one space in the queue in my local supermarket.

Men begin to plot their strategy from the moment they enter the pet food aisle.

It's a bit like taking part in a huge Wii game, but with more cunning.

Charlie said...

I'll take the grocery anytime over the bank or the post office.

At the bank, a lady wants $500 in travelers checks in $10 increments.

At the post office, a fellow is looking for a registered letter the clerk cannot find.

At least there's magazines in the grocery check-out.

Sarah Gostrangely said...

Hi Kim,

First time visitor here to your blog, it's great. I found it through Gimme A Minute.

Checked out your storytellers blog, I love it, what a fab idea. Keep it up.


Sarah Gostrangely

Mary Witzl said...

What a novel idea, Kim! I am absolutely going to try this the next time we go shopping, because I invariably pick the slowest line in the store. Like Pat's husband, I often dither and move from line to line in an attempt to find the best deal. But with your new method, no longer will I have to resort to this!

Andraste said...

Even something as simple as groceries turns into calculus.

I've started using the self-check out too, though those machines can be tricky and uncooperative too.

Christ I hate shopping.

Sarah said...

empathy used in a cruel mannor.


sometimes the best things in life are free and being a jerk.. feels so good.

savannah said...

i use the time in line to stare at people (from behind dark glasses, of course) and dutifully load my groceries on the the conveyor, hand over my reusable bags and pay by debit card...i am an automaton in the grocery store1 i do like your method... xoxox

(i'm back, sugar!)

Kim Ayres said...

Brave Astronaut - you sound like exactly the kind of person I should be in the other queue from...

Sini - :)

FLG - there is so much more to learn, young padawan

Carole - it's a much a part of the human condition as procrastination, or feeling everyone else knows what they're doing and we're the only one who's clueless.

Kanani - And then there's the Pollaczek–Khintchine formula...

Pat - Option Paralysis is one common side effect of queuing decisions

Jimmy - ah yes, doing foward rolls behind the special offer pyramids, and commando crawls along the freezer aisles.

Charlie - I could cope with magazines- it's the sweets/candy they put next to the checkouts that's the real distraction problem

Sarah - welcome to my ramblings and thank you for taking the time to comment. And if you ever want to contribute to the Storyteller's blog, do let me know and I'll give you access to upload your tales :)

Mary - maybe I should be marketing this idea - "Fed up with always being in the slower queue? We have the solution for $9.99!" - Insert pic of happy shopper leaving the checkout, with grumpy shopper behind her...

Andraste - time to get servants

Sarah - an unfortunately side effect will probably be we lose a bit of our soul every time we do it...

Savannah - woohoo! you're back :)

Conan Drumm said...

I expect Einstein had his first musings on relativity in a shopping queue.

Kim Ayres said...

Conan - you could be right - how many of us have wished we could travel faster than light so we could be back with the shopping before we left?

Oh. Just me?


LegalMist said...

Ooh, Kim, I love your theory -- I'll have to try it!

To date, the most effective one I've found I got from "The Simpsons." Apu was explaining the theory to Marge -- don't get in the express lane, there's an old man up front; "He is starved for attention; he'll talk the cashier's head off!" Instead, look for the line with the most "pathetic single men," even if it's the longest line, because that means "Only cash, no chitchat!"

Kim Ayres said...

LegalMist - that's definitely one to factor into the equations :)

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