10 Items or Less: The Grocery Store Pet Peeves That Drive Us Crazy
This TV series is painfully underrated, by the way.
My mother shops and cooks for a living. She's there at Randalls or H-E-B or Kroger every single morning -- sometimes Costco, depending on the client -- with her battery of cloth sacks and cold bags, waiting for the day's haul of fresh produce, raw meat and canned goods to rumble down the conveyor belt. There, her carefully selected heads of cauliflower and paper-wrapped salmon filets are mashed and wrangled into submission by some well-meaning (ideally) yet clueless bagger.
It happens with such frequency that I now look forward to her morning "checkout report," which occurs like clockwork around 10:30 a.m. every day.
"Well," she'll start with a long sigh. "Today, they put my eggs at the very bottom of the bag and tried to throw a bunch of cans on top." She always stops them, kindly, and asks them to follow the universal rules of bagging: bread and eggs on top or in separate containers; perishables into the cold bags; raw meat, fish and seafood separate from the rest of the produce. She is usually given a withering look by the bagger, whose actions are then further skewed by pointed sarcasm and exaggerated gestures.
HERE, LOOK, I'M PUTTING THIS STUPID BREAD EVER SO EFFING GENTLY INTO YOUR DUMB REUSABLE BAGS. HAPPY, LADY?
But this doesn't just happen to my mother. It happens to all of us. Grocery stores are ticking time bombs of OCD-triggering mania and wellsprings of pet peeves that make normally kindhearted people want to stab their fellow shoppers through the eye hole with a carrot. I polled my co-workers about their own biggest grocery store pet peeves, finding comfort in the idea that I'm not alone when this grocery-induced rage sets in.
The abandoned cart of a shopper who had to jettison his groceries for the sake of his own sanity.
Sacking groceries incorrectly.
"I try to help the baggers out by putting all the frozen food together, all the canned goods, fruits and vegetables. It means the raspberries don't arrive home in pieces after clanging against a can of Wolf chili. And it's easy to put the frozen and cold stuff in one of those refrigerator bags for the trip. Also makes it easier to unload at home. Most baggers seem to recognize and appreciate this and bag accordingly, but some totally disregard it and slam unlike things together. When I've spent $200 to $300 on an order, this is infuriating. If you're going to do that, let me bag it myself." -- Margaret
Gross packaging and unkempt displays.
Nothing says "We care!" like spoiled food in the produce department and sun-damaged merchandise on the aisles that's been there since the Carter administration. The worst offenders? "Dirty boxes. How the hell long has the corn flakes box been sitting on the shelf that it got dusty?" says Olivia. "[And] bloody meat packages. If it leaks, it ain't wrapped right."
Bottlenecking checkout lanes during rush hour.
What's the busiest time of day? Let's figure it out so we can shut down most of our lanes and staff the remaining ones with prison wardens. "I presume they see me coming and shut down all but two lines," says Monica. "Did I mention I usually shop after work -- primetime? I must hit every shift change/breaktime right on schedule."
There are two kinds of rubberneckers in grocery stores: Those who are new to the store (maybe they're in town, checking out Central Market for the very. First. Time. Ever.) and those who are taking a vacation for the afternoon. Or, as Olivia puts it, "people who don't know what the fuck they are doing at an ethnic market. Fiesta is not a tourist destination. Don't go there to gawk at the many, many Mexicans buying 50-pound sacks of pinto beans and giant cobs of roasted corn. I ain't in no freaking freak show."
Pointlessly small plastic bags.
"I know I sound like a cranky old person. Years ago, if I recall correctly, they didn't use the small plastic bags that are used today, where you can only fit like one thing inside each bag. Like, if you buy laundry detergent, a jar of pasta sauce and a 2-liter soda, that's three bags. What good is that? Instead of making the job easier, you just wind up leaving with a shitload of plastic bags. I don't recall this always being the case, but maybe I'm hallucinating." -- Craig
You're right to be ashamed of yourself, Confession Bear.
An inability to comprehend that ten items or less means ten items or less.
Leaving aside for a moment the grammatical eye twitch brought on by that catchphrase (it should be "ten items or fewer"), my personal favorite interpretation of this classic express-lane law is this one: the dude who insists that 10 containers of strawberry-banana Yoplait count as one item, since they're all the same. He also says the same thing about the 10 cans of Campbell's soup, the five 12-packs of Barq's and the two rotisserie chickens he's sliding down the lane while the cashier watches impassively. (This last part is really the best part about the whole undignified scenario. And by best I mean worst.)
The extreme couponers of the world are in a league of their own. We're not talking about them. No, our beef is with pedantic coupon clippers who hold up the line -- usually during rush hour -- "arguing about an expired coupon that would save them 25 cents," says Rich.
Janky shopping carts.
I get that grocery stores have a huge problem with people leaving carts out in the lots to get hit, or simply vanishing with them entirely. This still doesn't assuage the indignity of wobbling around H-E-B with a gimpy cart that alerts other shoppers to your presence with a combination of shrill metal-grinding-on-metal and sticky, repeating thump where an unidentifiable piece of fruit long ago fused with one of the wheels.
I can't count the number of times I've had to explain to a cashier what Brussels sprouts are (how do you work in a grocery store if you don't know what basic produce looks like?) or why I'm handing them $20.26 in cash for a $14.06 bill (stop trying to give me back the quarter and penny; I'm doing this on purpose so that I get a manageable $6.20 back in change instead of a fistful of whatever coins you're planning on using to make up 94 cents). But there's more. "I hate it when stores go out of their way to send you coupons and with the Kroger credit card you get rebate checks back for all your business," says Margaret, "but then you get brand-new cashiers who don't know how to handle either."
Customers acting like animals.
Look, we are all in this together. For as many pet peeves as are on this list, I've never taken out my frustrations on the staff at the grocery store. You know why? Because they not only have to deal with many of these same issues, they have to deal with us. And we are animals.
We graze out of the produce section like it's the crisper drawer in our own fridge. We pop bottles of soda from the refrigerated section as we shop, leaving the trash in our cart and never paying for it. We discard unwanted items throughout the store, a package of ground turkey propped up askew next to a bag of miniature marshmallows. We spill things and walk away. We let our children run wild. We yell at people who are just trying to do their jobs. We are the worst.
Even if none of the pet peeves above existed, we still would. Think about that the next time you're tempted to mouth off at the bagger who's about to shove your French bread into that tiny space between Swiffer refills and a jug of bleach. A little kindness can go a long way. And even if it doesn't, you've still got the upper hand.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Houston dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.