Gone Bananas

A few weeks ago …

“4011 !” I exclaimed to my daughter.

She looked up from her Mac where she was composing her latest essay. “What?” she asked in confusion.

“They started me on cashiering today at the grocery.  4011 !”

And then we both broke out laughing.

“4011” of course being the PLU (Price Look Up) code for bananas.

shipping cartons full of bananas

shipping cartons full of bananas

When she started as a grocery cashier the other year, my daughter had commented in amazement at how many people came through with bananas.  So many in fact, that she too had learned that number the first night, just from sheer force of repetition.

I would have thought that apples would be the most-commonly purchased fruit.  But no, endless bunches of bananas came through.

Not only bunches of bananas, but also bunches of people with similar behavioral patterns, which I found to be rather interesting:

  • People with a large bunch of greenish bananas.  (I wondered if they were feeding a lot of people, or simply don’t care about the stage of ripeness when eating them.)
  • Customers trying to balance their fruit bowl with a couple each of greenish and yellow bananas.
  • Parents herding several small children, with bunches of bananas that had the requisite number of stickers for each child to have one. These were difficult checking assignments — not because of the parents, but because as a cashier I was also trying to keep track of the assorted tots with regards to alerting their adult to their safety, or asking their adult if the candy or toy items coming down the conveyor belt were approved purchases.
  • People with bunches of the organically-grown bananas (PLU 94011; all the organic produce starts with a 9).
  • Tired working folks picking up a sandwich from the deli, a banana, and an energy drink for their meal.
  • Frazzled parents rushing through with bananas, applesauce and bread. ( = “BRAT diet”: bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, a menu for dealing with diarrhea via dietary intervention.)
  • Frequent shoppers with just a few yellow bananas — I heard a lot of apologetic explanations about not being able to plan ahead for weekly menus and shopping lists, and wondered why some people felt the need to explain their purchase choices, unbidden.
  • A few elderly shoppers who explained that they couldn’t carry many grocery bags, or used frequent shopping as a means of getting out of the house.  After a while, I realised that such explanations were probably a curious form of chit-chat.

Although I began to develop my own “scripts” for appropriate cashier dialogs, I found that cashiering is a more challenging position than I had anticipated.  This is because there are a number of different kinds of simultaneous cognitive demands, involving spatial handling, operational sequencing, data entry, calculations, communicating in a noisy environment despite my auditory processing issues, struggling to identify numerous coworkers despite faceblindness, and socialising with the appropriate amount of eye contact and proscribed chit-chat.

Cashiering doesn’t just mean scanning groceries and making change.  I am not only trying to scan accurately and quickly, but also:

  • performing subtle security checks to make sure that no one is walking off with unchecked goods on the bottoms of their carts or pocketing the candy and other small goods near the register racks;
  • sorting the goods as I move it down towards the bagger courtesy clerk in whatever organisational method that person prefers;
  • querying the customer about coupons and whether they wanted the gallon milks bagged and if they want candy and greeting cards handed to them instead of bagged
  • explaining discounts and how gift cards work;
  • looking up endless PLU codes for the numerous types of untagged produce;
  • watching out for children’s safety;
  • greeting the next customer in line so they didn’t feel neglected during the wait;
  • trying to remember who the manager is that night for when I need to call them to void a mis-scan;
  • and of course, bagging while I check when the regular courtesy clerk has switched from my lane to another with greater need.

When bagging, bananas are a tricky item.  I can put vulnerable loaves of bread atop the fragile egg cartons, but aside from soft packs of sugar, toilet paper or maxi-pads, there are few items that will co-exist happily with bananas when packed in limp plastic bags.

Given that bananas are nutritious, don’t require refrigeration or heating, and can be eaten quickly, they have recently filled my lunchbox, er, meals-box that carries both my lunch and third meal.  I drive directly from one job to the next, with just 10-15 minutes for a snack to tide me over between 11 a.m. lunch and clocking out again at 8 p.m.  (I usually have a fourth meal when I get home; call these breakfast-lunch-tea/supper-dinner or whatever, but the third meal is usually rather minimal.)  So what’s the best way to transport a banana safely?  I drop it into a tall plastic drink cup.

Thankfully, I spend most of my time at the garden center end, rather than endless hours of checking. But in this latest addition to my repertoir of work roles, I have literally gone bananas.


  1. Anna said,

    25 April 2009 at 6:48

    “and wondered why some people felt the need to explain their purchase choices, unbidden.”

    THIS, yes. Most often, it’s a woman who feels like apologizing for her purchases. But people of either gender like to explain and overshare (“I’m having a party!” “I never could make a good pudding.”) I never knew why they were telling me, or what to say back. Usually I’d just smile and nod. (Though I would converse with the elderly customers, for the reasons you noted.)

  2. Fledchen said,

    23 April 2009 at 21:49

    Anyone who thinks that being a cashier is a “slacker” job that requires little effort has probably never worked as one for very long.

    I love bananas but I don’t bring them to work with me because I haven’t figured out a safe way to transport them. I will try the plastic cup strategy.

  3. Aspie Bird said,

    23 April 2009 at 21:15

    Nice and interesting blogpost! ;-)

  4. Clay said,

    23 April 2009 at 16:46

    Um, I meant “middle of the LOAF”, not load. Just off by one key. :-P

  5. 23 April 2009 at 16:24

    Eeeeeeeeee!!!! I have worked many, many cashiering jobs, and I, too, find them to be a CONSTANT MENTAL EFFORT! :) Also, it’s a craft, like any other job, and we hone our skills at the small-talk, the bagging, the eye-contact, and all the minutiae involved in doing a good job at it.

    For my troubles, I managed to memorize the 16-times table, since a store I worked at sold bulk herbs by the ounce but we had to input them by the pound. There was a little conversion table on the register, but pretty soon I didn’t need it. Learning through repetition– my favorite!

  6. Clay said,

    23 April 2009 at 15:00

    As a customer, I’ve got a lot of things to do at the check-out counter too. I try to have my checkbook ready before I get to the cashier, filling out what can be filled out beforehand. And I’m very particular about how I want my bags filled, ie., paper *inside* of plastic makes a stronger container, and is more easily carried. I put my items on the conveyor belt in logical order, cans first, then boxes, then bags, then fragile things. I usually get 12 or 16 cans of cat food at a time, and these need to be stacked at the bottom, and make a good foundation. I prefer to pack my bags myself nowadays, after having too many items damaged by cashiers who aren’t as knowledgeable as you. The thing that annoys me most is when the cashier picks up my bread in the middle of the load, squashing it, instead of by the plastic “tail”. They don’t seem to understand that smashed bread STAYS smashed, and messes up a good sandwich.

    Reading of your several jobs, I’m glad I’m retired!

  7. Maddy said,

    23 April 2009 at 13:14

    What an enlightened perspective, thank you. We buy and eat tonnes of bananas, never noticed the codes. I shall be even more careful of ‘my’ checkers next time.
    Best wishes

  8. 23 April 2009 at 10:02

    just had a weird smell of bananas hit me looking at the pic…

  9. Danni said,

    23 April 2009 at 6:05

    I am not surprised. Bananas are the best fruit. (Bananas is also my word of choice for repeating to myself over and over. I like that it’s repetitive and easy to say.)

  10. codeman38 said,

    23 April 2009 at 5:12

    For the green bananas, it could be that they’re hoarding them for later (and letting them ripen in the process).

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