A quick cultural and personal background: this refers to Germany, and I am terrible at handling ANY kind of even mild conflict with people, especially people I don't know.

When in queue in a supermarket, how do I tell someone that I feel crowded by them? I am fine with a CART right behind me, but people without a cart standing so close that I can't event take half a step backwards make me almost want to run. How can I tell them without being rude?

  • 2
    Could you explain how this is an "interpersonal" issue? I don't think most people expect "personal space" in a public place. The fact that you are "terrible at handling ANY kind of even mild conflict with people" and "almost want to run" seems to be a more personal issue. Is there any likelihood of a realistic "conflict"?
    – user3169
    Aug 2, 2017 at 6:25
  • @SQB It's not a solution because the problem still remains for the OP. What about the queue for the teller? No cart available there. The use of the cart is a coping mechanism that side-steps the problem and does not develop any of the interpersonal skills involved.
    – User 27
    Aug 2, 2017 at 6:42
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    @user3169 It is an interpersonal issue because the OP needs other people to "give me my space", and the only way to get that is to indicate that, as in communicate that need, or desire, to some other person, hence interpersonal by definition. And, most people do expect "personal" space especially in public. Some cultures have large space expectations, and others small, yet they are still there. I'm ugly, and my scowl is worse, so I always get my personal space.
    – User 27
    Aug 2, 2017 at 6:48
  • 1
    Personal space is a real, and physical, thing. Of interest: A series of articles on proxemics with three parts on personal space; a science fair project about personal space; and a master's thesis on personal space.
    – User 27
    Aug 2, 2017 at 7:14

3 Answers 3


Step 1

If you have a trolley, @Witan-ap-Danu advice (in comments) is the best so far : you could "pull" your cart rather than push it. Now the cart is behind you and gives an automatic buffer zone.

Even if you have only a couple of items, grab a smaller trolley (the one you can either carry or roll, with expandable handle) when you get into the supermarket, and use it the same way.

Step 2 (untold / body language)

Then, waiting inline, you can use the "next customer bar" and put it far behind your goods (like 1 meter, so it becomes obvious for most people). This way, the next customer has to step back to put her/his items on the automated conveyor.

NOTE: Don't turn your back if not needed. FACE the person while putting the items on the conveyor, as people are more willing to step back when in front of someone.

Step 3 (untold / told / polite)

Go back to the small shelf in front on the line, usually the one that split lanes between cashier, and get an unexpensive small stuff, like some chewing-gum or a magazine. Excuse me, I forgot this…. Then, this rude one with proxemics problems will have to step back. Because, YES, they're being rude!

If needed, put it back on the shelf, so she/he has to move back again.

Now, words… Would you please step back a little, and allow me more room?

Step 4

Well, it's time to be not that polite if you feel like it's needed…

Sometimes, people need to be told how rude they are, and you draw the line…


If I have a cart with me:

  • I keep it in a way that the person behind me will come after my cart. So I have control over how close they can come towards me.

  • I stay a bit behind the person currently paying at the counter. So that's probably a good way to have space without having to even speak a word to any of them.

Even if there's no cart, I usually do leave some space before the current person at the counter.

On occasions that I felt really uncomfortable with the person behind me, I would say something like,

Pardon me, please, but would you mind taking a step back? I think it's getting a bit crowded here.

This happens rarely, like really rare. And the usual response is "Sure :)"

This is in Dubai, by the way. I suppose supermarkets are similar in Germany.

  • 5
    Ok, I feel silly now because even if I occasionally step NEXT TO my cart (where space allows), it somehow never occurred to me to step IN FRONT of it...
    – Layna
    Aug 2, 2017 at 7:55
  • 3
    Also works with baskets (to a lesser extent) - just hold it that side of the person... Aug 2, 2017 at 8:40
  • This is exactly what I do...what when carrying baskets or bags, if the person behind me is getting too close, I just put it in the floor between us and often they get the message. Aug 9, 2017 at 17:42

I think a half step back and almost putting your heel on their toe would give you the ice breaker to turn and say "Oops, Sorry I didn't realize you were so close"

I personally tend to shuffle about a little while i'm waiting in lines I keep ample space from the person in front of me however am regularly oblivious to the person behind me and on occaision have genuinely accidentally stood on somebody that decided to queue so closely.

However when that has occured I turn make my apology with the statement that I didn't realise they were directly behind me. They say ok and seem to make a concious effort to stay a little further back. While I feel mildly embarrassed and make a concious effort to stay still for a change.

I don't see why intentionally emulating my idle behaviour would have any ill effect just look distracted people, may take offence if you look them in the eye then step on them.

  • 1
    I was going to suggest stretching or moving casually in such a way that the OP's bag/purse/arm/back got in the way of the person behind them or even bonked them slightly, followed by a quick "oops, sorry". Similarly, moving a backpack/bag/purse from the cart onto their shoulder or back could be done in such a way that the person behind HAS to give them more space or be bonked. In university, I frequently bonked people standing too close with my backpack by accident. After being bonked by a backpack, they didn't stand so close anymore :) Aug 2, 2017 at 17:43

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