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Business: Supermarket: Checkout
Conversation Prompts at Supermarket Checkouts   (+5, -2)  [vote for, against]
"Did you know that 68% of shoppers would rather steal their shopping than face another awkward silence at the checkout?"

I hope I’m not alone in confessing that Supermarket Checkouts are places I dread.

It’s not just the fact that you have to cough up your hard-earned cash on consumables that appear to be made entirely out of packaging material, or the impulse-buy items glaring at you from every corner. It’s the silence. The awkward, self-conscious feeling that tends to engulf me while standing there, watching the checkout girl [or boy, or woman or man for that matter] pass my items over the scanner. This feeling only lasts until I can gratefully gather up the bulging plastic bags and slink away, but it has made shopping trips a nightmarish experience for as long as I can remember. It should, in theory, be easy to strike up a relaxed conversation with the person serving you, perhaps by remarking on something you saw behind Aisle 14, or the disgusting number of poorly-dressed youths in supermarkets these days, but for those with my particular affliction (and I’m led to believe it’s not just me) it’s the hardest task in the world.

To save us from this eternal torment, I present Conversation Prompts at Supermarket Checkouts. Nothing special or expensive, just a notebook sized piece of plain white card with a prompt printed in clear, easy to read black ink. The prompt itself could be anything at all, as long as it’s interesting, funny or disturbing enough to start a conversation between the customer and the person serving them.
-- Mr Phase, Nov 29 2006

Sounds good, that eerie silence can be terrifying at times, this would give supermarkets a healthy buzz.
-- Germanicus, Nov 29 2006

You're shopping in the wrong places if it's conversation you're after. Go to a market or use smaller shops. F'rinstance my personal cheese advisor knows what cheese I like or am likely to like, where I went on holiday, where I went the night before, who my fella is, who my stepson is, who my neices are, who my parents are, that we just moved house recently, that I grow vegetables, where I come from, what we're having for tea that day and so on.....Most time it's hard going getting my ass to the next stall in under 20 mins.
-- squeak, Nov 29 2006

No. Cheese.
-- squeak, Nov 29 2006

It's a hard concept to grasp, and quite frankly we English don't expect uncivilised savages from the colonies to get far beyond the 'waving pointy sticks whilst dancing about and hollering war cries' stage.

But there you go.
-- Mr Phase, Nov 29 2006

ooga booga. ;-D
-- Alysonwonderland, Nov 29 2006

extra + for the anno about the colonials.... but will any of them be able to read this, as they scrape about in their bone and feather strewn caves, grunting and snuffling like warthogs?
-- xenzag, Nov 29 2006

//have you ever been to a quiet supermarket?//

I went to Tesco when they first started opening some of their larger stores 24hrs a day. It was 4am, and apart from a couple of people stacking shelves, it was deserted. Very creepy. It didn't help that I was stoned at the time...
-- jtp, Nov 29 2006


I did the same thing at a co-op in roughly the same state of mind. Just me and my mate. It was trippy and sureal (man).

Oh, and the guy at the till was as wasted as we were, which was funny too.
-- webfishrune, Nov 29 2006

I avoid like the plague, the people at the till who I know are going to engage me in trivial conversation.

what is it that people want to talk to me, give me their life history? do I look like a diary?
-- po, Nov 29 2006

You need to sleep more then...generally ;P
-- squeak, Nov 29 2006

The HB should also post the time of the anno as well as the date. think it would be funny so see when they were posted.
-- MoreCowbell, Nov 29 2006

.... not to mention all the grunting, snorting and snuffling.
-- xenzag, Nov 29 2006

Shame these so-called "advanced" islands out 'cross the Atlantic don't keep to Glorious Greenwich Meantime like we do (give or take the odd hour to keep up the war effort).
-- Mr Phase, Nov 29 2006

Please, please don't post the time of the anno's next to the date.
I remember a Monty Python sketch where they did this at restaurants. (wow, I spelled it correctly the first time!)
-- Zimmy, Nov 29 2006

I wonder if all philosophers start with the letter 'S'?
-- Germanicus, Nov 29 2006

//I wonder if all philosophers start with the letter 'S'?// Snietzsche and Splato certainly did.
-- pertinax, Nov 30 2006

Mr. Phase, you seem to be the problem not the teenage kid at the check out. It seems you are not able to strike up a conversation, be in a public place or purchase your food without fear. They have medicine for this.
-- Chefboyrbored, Nov 30 2006

I had already acknowledged that I am the problem, but the condition is nothing like agoraphobia (fear of public places) or even intense shyness, it is simply an inability to strike up conversations at supermarket checkouts. If a medicine to cure this particular problem exists (apart from the obvious, such as doing my shopping online or not at all) I would be extremely impressed.
-- Mr Phase, Nov 30 2006

Hay look, we are having a conversation now. Just not at a check out. Well done!
-- Chefboyrbored, Nov 30 2006

I wonder if shoplifters have this problem. do the checkout people look for psychological clues like large pupils or a direct stare or a curious line in conversation. is that lady pregnant or does she have a 14lb frozen turkey up her skirt?
-- po, Nov 30 2006

I'm mystified as to why you'd feel the need to start a conversation at the check-out. Those poor folks work there for hours at a time. If they had to pretend to be interested in the same comments about the weather two hundred times in a row, wouldn't they go mad? Surely silence, a smile, and an attempt to be efficient and get your PIN right is the kindest approach.
-- Heathera, Nov 30 2006

//If they had to pretend to be interested in the same comments about the weather two hundred times in a row, wouldn't they go mad? //

To answer your question: Yes. Especially as I'm standing right next to the big plate glass window when they ask me if I've seen the weather.

I also have no problem not having a conversation while checking someone out. I also have no problem having one. It depends on the day, the time, the amount of loose change the guy before you had, whatever. I would rather have silence then have a fake conversation to keep up a 'happy' appearance, but that's just me.
-- NotTheSharpestSpoon, Nov 30 2006

// I'm mystified as to why you'd feel the need to start a conversation at the check-out. Those poor folks work there for hours at a time. If they had to pretend to be interested in the same comments about the weather two hundred times in a row, wouldn't they go mad? Surely silence, a smile, and an attempt to be efficient and get your PIN right is the kindest approach.//

Not exactly. I work at a checkout, and for the most part it can get boring, especially when you have uncommunicative customers.

What makes it fun is when you have customers who have a good yarn to you about books, crappy TV soapies (I only talk about the Bold and the Beautiful coz my mum has a friend whose daughter and son were at some point in either mine or my brothers year, and this particular friend doesn't have time to watch and laugh at the Bold and the Beautiful, so she reads it on the internet. Apparently, there was an episode where the character Stephanie pushed Jacky down the stairs or something like that, and she went off and told her daughter that "Steph pushed Jacky down the stairs!!". The daughter thought that she was talking about me, because I have a sister called Jacky!! A huge coincidence, huh?), and have a generally good yarn - it makes you forget that there's another three hours to your shift.

I generally enjoy having a good chat at the checkout, not only is it a small part of my job (be nice, polite, SMILE, ask for flybuys card), but it passes the time, and you meet the most fascinating people. Like the Ultimate Tournament organiser (apparently it's a form of frisbee which you play in teams), the salsa instructor, the lady who wrote books and ran workshops about quilting, the nice lady who had a pHD but was now a full time mum... The list continues. I learned all this information by having a nice chat with my customers. It's amazing all the scandal that goes on behind closed doors.

When I speak to people at my checkout, it's not because I'm paid to do so, actually some people I work with try to avoid speaking, but it's because I'm genuinely interested, as everyone has a story to tell, even if they're not famous for it. It doesn't have to be anything good, it could just be that they're having their in-laws over for tea. It's the interesting stories, like the woman with a pHD who is now a full time mum that keeps me sane throughout the long, long shift.

PS - I try not to be insincere when I say 'have a nice day'. Most customers I have are really nice, and I hope that they come back because they're so nice, and for the most part, I wish whoever I serve well. Unless they're rude, then I say have a nice day incredibly insincerely and mutter dark things under my breath. Just because I work at a checkout does not mean that I'm any less human.
-- froglet, Dec 01 2006

Thank you for that! Sometimes the brief conversation I have with a checkout clerk are just about the only direct human contact I have all day, and I hope they're not just being coached to say something nice to the vulnerable downtrodden.

Conversation staters: Easy: Odd foods. ("What does *that* taste like? How do you prepare it?") Tomatillos, bulgur. (How *do* you explain what bulgur wheat tastes like? I swear, one of these days I'll just bring a spoon. "There. *You* describe it.")
-- jutta, Dec 01 2006

random, halfbakery