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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Chit-chat can get personal

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

No, really, it's very nice when the folks at the check out stand make conversation. They have enough to do, what with all the scanning and price checking and bagging and double bagging. Offering up a bit of chit-chat is really going the extra mile.

But sometimes, you just don't want to talk about what you're buying.

I don't mean only the obvious unmentionables. Those, one would hope, would be unmentionable — though too often, they're mentioned QUITE obviously, via price check or a request for a casual endorsement ("Do these things really work?").

But even with the other stuff, the regular stuff, the seemingly innocuous stuff; as far as I'm concerned, the grocery and drug store check out counter policy should be don't ask, don't tell.

If I'm running up a bill of chips, beer and guacamole that goes puka $300, one might assume it would be safe to ask, "Ho, big party your house?" But if there's no big party, I don't want to have to explain and I don't want to have to lie. Most of all, I don't want to confess.

If the purchase heading down that little conveyor belt includes a case of Diet Pepsi, a half-dozen ridiculously expensive low-carb diet bars, a grapefruit and five tubs of sugar-free, fat-free, milk-free, fruit-bottom yogurt, I really don't want to hear, "Class reunion coming up?" It hurts to be so transparent.

Other friendly comments I'd be happy never to hear in the check out line:

"You're lucky you wear that size. My size is always sold out."

"Your cat must be really big."

"You eat that?! Ewwwww."

"Wow, this is the first one I've ever sold like this."

And the grand-prize winner, spoken by an overly-ebullient drive-through cashier as he's handing over the merchandise: "Ho, you come here every day, yeah?"

No. Not every day.

"But plenty, yeah?"

I live nearby.

"Almost every day."

I'll never go back again. Maybe. Well, just not as often.

Could we please bond over some topic that's safer, like the weather or politics?

Frankly, I don't want to think about what my purchases tell a total stranger about my life.

OK. All right. Here's the one that still smarts. It happened one day not too many years ago when my entire grocery store purchase consisted of a large bag of Cheetos, a bottle of strawberry milk, a box of Kleenex and a vanilla ChipWich. The clerk looked at me with great sympathy as she waited for my credit card to clear the less-than-$10 purchase and said, "Don't worry, sistah. You too good for him."

I'll never have a personal shopper, but I just don't want to BE a personal shopper. Can't the check out line be personable without being personal?

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.