On Line Ethics (Not To Be Confused With Online Ethics) [Corrected]

This isn’t the first time I’ve witnessed this situation—I think the first time was in junior high school—but it may be the first time I have thought about it beyond the immediate flash of irritation.

I decided to give Trader Joe’s another chance, as they have better pre-prepared meals, frozen or otherwise, than anyone else, and perhaps because a storm was looming, the line to get into the store was tolerable, and appeared to be moving quckly. By the time I got close to the Promised Land, however, the line was growing behind me rapidly.

An apparently elderly woman approached the entrance from the parking lot. The woman who was first in line waved her to the front of the line,  and the senior was able to grab a cart immediately. She thanked the younger woman profusely, over and over.

There were more than ten hopeful shoppers behind me in line at that point. including at least one who looked no younger than the lady who got a pass.

What the hell?

1. Does the first person in a long line have the authority to do that? Who made that rule? Shouldn’t she ask the consent of everyone behind her?

2. How does she warrant all the gratitude? The inconvenience she is accepting  may be the same amount of time as everyone else, but each successive person in the line will feel it a little more keenly. Shouldn’t she have been thanking all of us?

3. In fact, shouldn’t she have been asking if everyone else in line consented to her jumping ahead?

4. I have always believed that the only person in line who could unilaterally let some one jump ahead of her was that last individual. Indeed, I have been in situations where a line-jumper like the elderly woman would have sparked a near riot, as when there is a question about  whether everyone in line will get what they are waiting for.

Is there some social convention I don’t know about in which the person at the front of a line is the Line Czar? Because if there is, I missed the memo.

An archives note: This is the second time I’ve written about line-cutting, which Wikipedia says is also known as line/queue jumping, butting, barging, budging, skipping, breaking, shorting, pushing in, or “cutsies.” The last time was in 2014, when President Obama just cut in front of the people in waiting in a line for barbecue.

I was not pleased.


18 thoughts on “On Line Ethics (Not To Be Confused With Online Ethics) [Corrected]

  1. The Trader Joe’s near us allows elderly & immune compromised people to call ahead, and upon arrival, go to the head of the line. Was a TJ’s staff person monitoring the line where you are?

  2. I know a lot of stores open an hour early (whether it’s once a week or everyday) for seniors age 60+ and the immune-compromised. Outside of those hours, I wouldn’t object to a separate “express line” for seniors to queue up for entrance (and proof of age could be required, which would make it difficult to include immune-compromised in the “express line”). However, line-jumping without the collective consent of everyone behind the desired spot in line doesn’t seem fair. (I qualify for the “geezer hour” myself at age 62, but seldom take advantage of it, and feel totally comfortable shopping in local stores (none of which require shoppers to line up before entering yet — although the Walmart in the county seat might).

  3. I was next in line to get into Home Depot this afternoon (needed cilantro, lettuce, & spinach seeds to plant on Earth Day!) and some gal wanders over and, knowing full well what she was doing, walks in between the entry and my “on deck safe spacing.”

    The doorman said “O.K., one more” and she tries to head on in.

    In a tone that left nothing to the imagination, I said: “hey, the line starts behind me.”

    The look on her face? Girl’s Entitlement, Interrupted.

    Anywho, any discussion of cutsies wouldn’t be complete without the Robert Downey Jr’s Derek Lutz exchange with Chas (William Zabka in Back To School) after Zabka tries to butt in line to sign up for astronomy:

    ”I’ll tell you what. Maybe if you got a note from each of these people…saying that it was all right, then we’d reconsider…but until that day, take a hike…you elitist fraternity scumbag!”

  4. I think what they are forgetting is part 2 of the line cutting rules. Which many forget when they seems to be so selfless…

    YOU GO TO THE BACK OF THE LINE, if YOU are giving up YOUR SPACE in line.

    I have gently reminded people of this, and to the amazement have had a lot of surrounding support. by the store clerks too.

    🙂 You are right, everyone did NOT give up their spot. If you want to give up yours that’s fine, as long as you move yourself where you now belong.

    That being said, my TJ’s allows me as temporary disabled to be “first” in line.. but not everyone knows they have that rule… So I did get some looks when I was waved to the front. by people a lot older than i am. But I understand they probably assumed I was getting a free pass.

    p.s. i still try to type with caps and stuff for YOUR blog only lol. 😉 (except this p.s.) haha. remember you told me to do that and said “unless you are e.e. cummings LOL hahaha. 😛

    • This is a situation where compassion out ways common sense. The woman at the front of the line should of course go to the end of the fine. One other problem with Trader Joe’s is at present they do not deliver.

    • In my longer than I like to acknowledge life, I have never, ever, EVER seen someone who let someone else into la line go to the end. Ever. Has anyone else? This strikes me as one of those theoretical solutions to a problem that in so unlikely as to be useless.

      But I like the theory.

  5. Yes, the last person has the right to let someone skip, and therefore the generous person stays in last position. I suppose that the person now just ahead of the skipper then holds the right to give up the current position to the skipper, and so on and so forth. There’s a routine in there somewhere.
    Home Depot wins for the best system I’ve seen so far, though it’s not clear to the person approaching the registers where the line ends exactly. Aside from the potential for that flaw to incite a riot, all went well, and speedily.

  6. At the Trader Joe’s here in Kansas City, senior citizens are allowed to cut into the line at any time, in addition to the hour reserved for them at the beginning of the day. Whether this is true in other cities I do not know.

  7. #1 Of course, anyone in line can “give up” their place to anyone else – I’ve done it many times myself – so long as the person leaving that place in line goes to the back of the line. (People who ask the person behind if “it’s okay” is idiotic.)

    Come to think of it, I’ve often felt frustrated myself, when one person “holds” more than one place for others to fill at the last minute … whether they knew the person(s) or not. A “line,” as far as I’m concerned and unless officially otherwise, is set up for one or two persons (small children belonging to said person(s) excepted). I have the same objection… and much good does it to object … to people who walk up to a Rush or Wait line and give their extra ticket or “place” (which once left, is no longer their place anyway) to anyone except the first person in the overflow line. I’ve seen people assess those lines as if they were a bevy of Harvey Weinstein targets, up, down and sideways, with that fat-and-hungry look and finally decide which slave is to be his or hers. Leaves everyone with a bad taste in their mouths (no, no pun intended the first time around), sometimes including the person chosen.

  8. An anecdote about line-cutting.

    I was in high school when a young tough about two years older than his peers due to grade setbacks, along with his posse of about three or four, decided to cut the lunch line as they often did. Nobody usually said anything for fear of them — back in the 1970’s there were no “safe spaces” and it was routine to braced and even beaten up by bullies after or on the way home from school if you angered them. In those days, we were expected to defend ourselves or deal with the consequences of a beating — it’s just the way it was in semi-rural Kentucky in 1973.

    But this time, the brother of a friend of mine took umbrage. He was 6’1″ and rawboned, not muscular like the more compact bully. He informed said bully that he would not be cutting the line today. Mr. Bully asked him how he would stop him, and as you’d expect, a fight ensued.

    Except this wasn’t just a couple of pushes and slaps, it was a full-blown Roadhouse-style melee, complete with combatants being thrown over lunch tables and chairs, a furious scrap worthy of full-grown adults. It was a spectacular orgasm of violence the rest of us mere lunch-line standers could only watch in fear and awe, mouths agape. Patrick Swayze and Sam Elliott would’ve been right at home.

    It lasted all of ninety seconds before the assistant principle arrived and broke it up. Both combatants were shuffled off to the office to receive remonstration and presumably punishment. Naturally, the brother of my friend received a considerable rise in esteem for giving the bully his comeuppance, and for a fact, the bully was much better behaved thereafter.

    Now, Jack, I don’t suggest this as a solution for a man of your distinction and sophistication. But line-jumping can have violent consequences, and as the shut down goes on, these become more likely.

    Something to consider.

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