Are We an Impatient Society?

Impatience | Source: snapshot19 on FlickrFirstly, many apologies to those who checked in this week and didn’t find a new post on Monday or Tuesday – it was partly due to the long weekend and partly due to the busyness of life. In fact, life seems so busy that I’m beginning to wonder if its negatively affecting me.  I’m usually an exceedingly patient person – I’ve been told as much by many of my friends and family. But these days, it seems like my patience is waning. Is it a side-effect of life, or are we just becoming a less patient, more impersonal, rush-rush society? I’m not really sure but allow me to share a personal story to illustrate this…


Yesterday, I slept in after a late night of wedding planning, and I didn’t get the chance to eat breakfast. Since I have to walk by a grocery store to get to school, I decided to stop in on the way and pick up a bagel and a banana. On this particular morning, around 9:30 AM, the grocery store only had two cashiers working – one at the ‘express’ less than 8 items checkout and one at a normal checkout. There were about 6 people in line at the express checkout, and just one person being served at the normal checkout, with only about 10-20 items left on the counter. I did some quick mental math, and figured I’d get through faster in the normal checkout than the express checkout.

Checkout | Source: Lee Jordan on Flickr

So I put down my bagel and banana and waited. The customer in front of me decided to go and look at the plants for sale next to the cash. After a few seconds, she asked how much a particular plant cost. The cashier didn’t know, so she got on the phone and called someone over to find out. Now I know everyone hates it when a cashier has to do a price-check – in high school, I worked as a cashier and you can feel the disdain from customers when you have to pick up that phone. But that experience as a cashier has left me with a patience for it. Sometimes it happens, and the cashier is just doing her job. That said, my patience for it only extends so far as to when the customer actually wants to buy the item!

In this case, after waiting for a minute to get a price, it turns out the customer had no intention of buying the plant. In fact, she’s already bought a similar plant at a different grocery store the week before, and wanted to compare the prices. As everyone in line then found out (at this point, the lineup was now several people long behind me), she’d paid $50, nearly twice the price, at the other grocery store. During this entire process, the cashier and the customer decided to have a conversation about plants, and the cashier processed the customer’s items at a rate of about one item every 30 seconds. It was like this cashier’s entire body below the neck was stuck in slow motion while her head was still in the real world.

At this point, I was getting a little annoyed, and let out a visible ‘sigh’ in protest. The woman  behind me in line was a little more obvious – she muttered ‘some of us have to go to work!’ just loud enough for everyone to hear except the customer, because I don’t think the customer could hear anything except herself droning on about this stupid plant. After the cashier and customer carried on for what seemed like an eternity, we eventually all found out that the plant she’d bought at the other grocery store was twice the size. Well, no wonder it cost twice as much, you dimwit! At this point, the collective groans of the lineup behind me were enough to put a major sports event to shame.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the cashier finally wrapped up all the items and sent the customer on her way. As she grabbed my banana and bagel, she gave me the dirtiest of looks and muttered in a low voice, ‘You didn’t go to the express line…’. OH, the never of this cashier! Seriously! ‘I didn’t go to the express line’!  I didn’t realize that the alternative was the ‘so slow, I could have eaten the banana and bagel while I was in line’ line. In fact, I should have eaten the banana and bagel while I waited and just walked away. That would have been a nice exercise in defiance. Of course, by this point, there was no one in the express line.

In the end, I took my bagel and banana and left without a word. All in all, I probably lost about 5 minutes listening to this woman drone on about her plant with the cashier. All the while, I just want to ask this woman if she understands the environmental implications of her $50 plant purchase when the reality is that the plant was probably grown by a child slave in a third-world nation who will only receive about $0.01 of her $50 in exchange for growing the plant and shipping it around the world so that she can kill it about a week because she talks so much that she forgot to water it.

OK, I know, that’s a little cynical, but maybe not far from the truth. 🙂

As I finished my walk to school, I asked myself if my reaction was fair or if I was a by-product of the rush-rush, impersonal and impatient society we live in. Why shouldn’t the customer have been allowed to have a small chat with the cashier – I don’t know what her life is like, this may be the only human interaction she gets all day. And why should I deprive the cashier of the conversation – as someone who has been a cashier, I know that it can be a crappy job and a conversation or two with a nice customer can brighten the day up. Was I too harsh? Should I have been more patient? Would I have been more patient if I wasn’t running late already? I know I wasn’t the only one upset about the situation – most behind me in line were grumbling with equal ferocity.

At the end of the day, I can’t help myself thinking that a few minutes of my life were stolen away – and I value my time! I’m ok with conversation between customer and cashier as long as it doesn’t impede the natural flow of the lineup. Where it does, its just unnecessarily delaying everyone else. As much as I hate the new self-service checkouts that many stores have, this is a case where I would have gladly taken advantage of them.

Readers, have you had a similar experience? Share your stories, feel free to vent a little! Or should I have been more patient?

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13 thoughts on “Are We an Impatient Society?

    • Oh I know… that drives me batty, too. If anything, I pay and then run back into the store with the receipt to double check a price.

  1. I struggle a lot with being impatient. I think I’m better than most with the way I’ve designed my life but I’ve noticed that since I’ve started blogging and working my more-than-full-time job I am constantly moving; not just any moving, but moving as quickly as possible to get things done!

    With that said, when I do get in a traffic jam, or notice myself getting annoyed with people taking up my time, I just remind myself to take a deep breathe and realize that it isn’t the end of the world.

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