You may be surprised that some well-meaning things you do might actually be pretty rude to your local grocery worker.
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Trader Joe's storefront
Credit: Getty Images

Personally, I think anyone could benefit from some time spent working in retail. Grocery retail is an especially strange realm all on its own. Everyone has to eat; therefore, everyone has to buy food somewhere. And as someone who has worked for Trader Joe's, I've observed so many (too many!) different corners of human behavior from my time spent at the popular grocer.

Some grocery shopping behaviors could be best described as strange or heartwarmingly sweet, but often there's some downright rude behavior. Maybe you're a shopping-cart returner or a reusable bag purist, but no matter what your shopping style is, you may be surprised that some well-meaning things you do might actually be pretty rude to your local grocery worker.

1. You go big with your reusable bags

Reusable bags could be an entire chapter in a book of rude customer behavior. Bringing them is a small, useful step to take when trying to lower your carbon footprint, of course. But my co-workers and I often shuddered at a cart overflowing with reusable bags. At the top of my list for poor reusable bag etiquette is bringing every reusable bag you've ever owned (stuffed into each other like a Russian nesting doll, making it impossible to get the all-important insulated bag without spilling dozens of bags everywhere).

After that, dictating that you'd like us to keep cold items packed together (most cashiers will do this anyway), handing us dirty bags or putting grocery items on top of your bags are all universal no-no's in the grocery store.

Consider bringing only the amount of bags you need and keeping them easy to access under the cart (with your insulated bag as the easiest to grab).

2. You have less-than-ideal shopping cart etiquette

If reusable bags have earned their own chapter in my manual of grocery shopper complaints, then shopping carts deserve one, too. It may make sense to bring your cart to a worker who's gathering wayward carts in the parking lot. You're helping them, right? But if they have three, four, six carts in their charge, opt to bring it to the nearest cart corral instead. The TJ's shopping carts are next-to-impossible to turn on a dime, so expecting an employee to pivot for your cart could be a pretty rude ask.

Sharing a cart with a friend? Consider separating your cart before approaching checkout. This will make it easier for the cashier and quicker for you to get out the door and on your way.

3. You want to "help" in the checkout line

You also might not think it's rude to hand each individual item directly to your cashier (or allow your small child to "help" from their seat in the cart), but it's a common pet peeve of Trader Joe's employees. One or two items makes sense, but no more than that. Especially in light of the pandemic, having a bit of personal space can help keep people safe and healthy. I have lost count of the number of times I've had a customer cough or sneeze before handing me a mountain of groceries. So next time you want to be helpful in line, set your items on the shelf next to the cashier to scan as they're able.

4. You ask an employee if they work there

The chances are slim that you're going to stumble upon a non-employee at Trader Joe's that is wearing a Trader Joe's name tag, Trader Joe's T-shirt and Trader Joe's sweatshirt. We work there. And we're probably pretty busy trying to stock shelves, bringing canned artichokes to a co-worker or tracking down a long-discontinued hummus for a customer. What grocery workers do is important, hard work that's crucial to our communities. To avoid being unintentionally disrespectful, avoid asking this question. Instead, feel free to say a quick hello, and then jump in to asking the question(s) you have. Most TJ's employees prefer that much more.

5. You act like an expert

If I had a nickel for every time a customer has said "It's a papaya" to me as I check their produce for its specific produce code, I'd have many, many nickels. It may seem helpful to tell your cashier that they're looking at a nectarine, rather than a peach, but it's really not. Memorizing dozens of produce codes is crucial for being able to speed through a cart of groceries, as well as a pretty solid party trick. But with Trader Joe's often stocking upward of 10 different apple varieties, four different tomatoes and exotic seasonal fruits such as dragonfruit, loquats and apriums, it isn't realistic to have every single produce code memorized.

Instead of trying to share your expertise with us, kindly assume we know the difference between one piece of produce and another. It's the product code we're looking for. We were likely the person who stocked that exact papaya at 5 a.m., and we know the difference between how Honeycrisp and Jonagold apples feel with frightening accuracy.

6. You try not to disrupt an employee

Think you can sneak by us and reach to grab that last jar of cookie butter? It's best to assume you can't. Often customers opt to reach above our heads, by our faces and even under our legs to grab a last-minute item so as not to distract us, but we'd much rather have you announce yourself. A polite "excuse me" before (not after or during!) you reach and grab is much appreciated.

Each and every Trader Joe's employee is working as fast as they can to restock (often with a sharp box cutter at the ready to get to products), so it's for everyone's safety as well as their comfort that you say excuse me. You know that one TikTok trend and meme about "never letting them know your next move"? Customers at Trader Joe's sometimes behave very similar to that, so please just ask us kindly to step aside if you need to access something around us.