Stop it! It’s Twelve Items Or Less!
At first, I thought people were just absent-minded. I watched as they trudged through the aisles, making small talk with increasingly frustrated customer service staff, dragging their bags behind them to their cars. They seemed tired; I could understand why they might have exceeded their item limit.
But it seems I was too quick to give the benefit of the doubt. It seems as though these charming folk really have actually never learned to count.
I was in the supermarket last week, grabbing my five regular items: chocolate, chocolate, milk, chocolate and cat food. The self-serve checkouts were closed, but what with being able to count the fingers on one hand I headed for the “12 items or less” lane. Yes, I thought, this is definitely less than 12. There is no ambiguity.
Imagine my surprise when finding myself stuck behind a glossy-haired woman, blathering away on her phone and piling item after item on to the conveyor belt. Because I am fairly bitter and motivated by revenge, I counted them as they were beeped through. Thirty-two items. Thirty-two. My heart bled for the bewildered checkout dude. And it occurred to me that this woman may have realised she was over the limit when she entered the process with half a trolley full.
Seriously. Stop it! Stop taking more than 12 items to the 12 items or less lane!
Fortunately, I am a patient and considerate human being, so I stood dutifully by and waited for my turn. My five items didn’t even require a bag. This is the correct way to do life.
Perhaps I am being unreasonable. Maybe it’s not the actual figure that these people struggle with, but what qualifies as an “item”. I believe it was Supermarket Sweep (the best show in television history) that first encouraged mass item dumping. 15 tins of formula. 18 bottles of vitamins. 12 boxes of nappies. Razors, razors, razors.
Maybe what we need is an Express Lane Doorman? Someone to clarify the rules and determine whether you should be allowed through.
Is it “12 items or less” or “Less than 12 items”?
Can I go through if I have 15 individual bananas? Do they count as one item?
What if I have 15 individual tubs of yoghurt? Are they one item?
If I can’t fit my shopping in a basket, do I automatically have too many items.
If my mum is there, can she bring an additional 12 items?
The Express Lane Doorman would have a guidebook with the answers to all of these questions. He would have stopped the woman in front of me and said – kindly, in Morgan Freeman’s voice – “Madam, you have three pineapples, two packets of English muffins and eight bags of jelly beans. Please make your way to the regular aisle behind those people who have chosen to do the right thing.”
And then to me he would say, “Congratulations, you have successfully navigated basic mathematics and sign reading. Proceed to the checkout.”
12 items or less. One of the great ambiguities.