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Dear Miss Manners: Over the last few years I have had half a dozen or so experiences with supermarket bullies -- people becoming more and more aggressive while in line at the supermarket. It goes like this:

While waiting for my items to be checked out, another customer starts to place their items on the conveyor belt behind me. They will take the divider and attempt to squish up my things. At first I thought perhaps I left too much room between items, so I started to make sure there was absolutely no extra room.

This has not helped. These people continue to shove my groceries with the divider, even though it gives them no extra space. I once had a loaf of bread smashed up so badly I had to exchange it for a new one. (I couldn't get to it in time because I was busy down by the cashier writing my check in advance.)

I continue to behave with surprise as if no harm was meant. An elderly lady took the divider and actually gave a couple of little bats at my items, at which I kindly replied, "Oh, are my items in your way? Perhaps I can help." Then I picked up my things and began to place them back into my shopping cart.

This woman popped me slightly on the arm and said, "Oh, no, honey, you are just fine."

I don't know what to do. My husband said I look like a nice person, and therefore people try to take advantage of me. I have never had this occur when he is with me, yet my 16-year-old daughter said she had a woman pushing her shopping cart into her while in line the other day, when there was another customer in front of her checking out so my daughter could not move up any farther.

She had behaved as if it was an accident but was certain it was not, because of the woman's continued aggressive behavior. At what point does one stop pretending these behaviors are an accident?

Gentle Reader: When you are ready to move road rage to the supermarket counter.

You sound about ready -- you are well along in the kind of thinking that starts with a minor annoyance and ends with a shoot-out. Please allow Miss Manners to explain to you how this works in case you wish to reconsider:

In spite of there being generally understood rules about taking fair turns, someone gets impatient and pushy.

Someone on the receiving end begins to smolder and brood about always being taken advantage of. Finally, that person fights back, through words or some sort of retaliation.

The pusher gets defensive and, already labeled rude, decides to brazen it through.


The alternative is to keep doing what you have been doing, which is to alert the aggressors to their intrusions in a way that allows them to retreat instead of to defend themselves. You were doing a good job of it -- Miss Manners particularly enjoyed that subtle threat to increase the delay by putting your groceries back into your basket -- and there is no reason to turn to ruder and less effective tactics.

Trying to kick the habit?

Dear Miss Manners: Is it always necessary to send a thank you note upon receiving cards in the mail, such as birthday and anniversary cards? I am in the habit of sending thank you notes upon receiving cards, especially if a gift is enclosed.

Gentle Reader: Are you trying to kick the habit?

That would be too bad, because it is a nice habit. However, Miss Manners can help you cut down on it. A response to something as casual as a greeting card is not strictly necessary, although it is absolutely required if a present was sent.

Address your etiquette questions to Miss Manners, in care of The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions except through this column.

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