Cutting the Express Lane: What Would You Do?

OK, tell me if this has ever happened to you. You're at the supermarket to pick up a couple of things and you head to the express checkout line. Who is in front of you in line, but a shopper to whom the rules apparently do not apply. The sign reads: "Ten items or less." But this selfish shopper has a cart filled to the top with groceries, easily surpassing the limit.

So, what do you do?

Watch the story Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on ABC's "What Would You Do?"

That is the question shoppers at Stew Leonard's, a popular Yonkers, N.Y., supermarket had to answer when they were confronted with a haughty shopper who had pushed her way into the express line with a cart overflowing with groceries.

Will Anyone Respond?

One shopper seemed to do a double take, looking first at the woman's cart, then the big sign that read: "10 ITEMS OR LESS" and then back at the cart. But she said nothing.

When the inconsiderate shopper complained to the man in front of her about the slowness of the line, he held his tongue, too.

But then a woman with short gray hair broke the ice. "Are you in express?"

"Oh, they don't mind," the shopper said.

"But if I'm in express, I do," said the woman, clearly annoyed.

The unpleasant exchange was interrupted by a burly young man with a shaved head carrying just a few items.

"Is this the express line?" he asked.

"Yes," said the angry woman, "except this lady says she's going to be really fast."

"Really?" the man said.

"Yeah," she said and then turned to the shopper: "You're really rude."

When the young woman finally made it through the checkout, we told her she had been part of a "What Would You Do?" experiment to see how people would respond to rude and discourteous shoppers in the express line. The arrogant woman with the overflowing shopping cart was really an actor, hired by ABC. The young man with the shaved head was an actor, too.

Bait and Switch!

Once we saw how shoppers responded to the woman with the overstuffed cart, we decided to change things up a bit. An older woman -- a grandmother -walked toward the front of the express line holding two items. She approached a woman near the front of the line.

"Excuse me," she said. "Would you mind if I go ahead of you? My husband's in the car and he gets so anxious if I'm a little bit late."

"Yeah," said the woman. "Go ahead."

As she cut the line, the old lady turned around to look behind her and beckoned her son, that young man with the shaved head, who was pushing an overloaded shopping cart, toward the front of the line. When the woman who had let the old lady in line saw the full shopping cart, she'd had enough.

"Oh, that can't go there," she said. "This is express. Ten items or less!"

"But my husband's so anxious," the old woman replied.

"You know what? I'm just as anxious to get out. You were all right with two items, but I'm not letting you in." She then turned to a cashier at a distant register. "Are you empty over there?"

"Little old people, they have nothing else to do all day," Tina Sharp, also a grandmother, said after we told her she has been part of our experiment. "They can't wait in line?"

One Final Twist

After that response, we couldn't wait to see how shoppers would react when we replaced the old lady actress with a much younger actress, a very pregnant younger woman.

As the scene began, the pregnant woman walked toward a man in a bright blue T- shirt and asked whether she could step ahead of him in line. Taking one look at her, he said yes.

Then, the woman's husband -- played by our burly male actor with the shaved head -- joined her in line, pushing another overstuffed shopping cart. When the man finally realized what had happened, all he could do was laugh.

"I like to be courteous to people," Jesus Berrios told us later. "I saw the young lady was pregnant so I just moved to another register."

The pregnant woman was an actress working for us. And she's not really pregnant. She was wearing a prosthetic belly.

But would everyone be as sympathetic to our pregnant woman?

Someone Who's Not Buying

When she asked one older man whether she could cut in front of him, he responded: "Why?" When she responded, "I don't feel good," the man just stood there, stone faced.

"I understand she's pregnant," said Lawrence Rosso. But that wasn't a good enough reason "because I felt she was just trying to crash the line."

A woman in short red hair and black-rimmed glasses seemed only too happy to let the pregnant woman -- with her two items -- cut in front of her. But after stepping away for a few seconds, she returned only to find the pregnant woman's husband and their overloaded shopping cart parked in front of hers.

"Oh, with all this? No! I thought you only had two things."

Tempers Flare

Then the husband got into the act, suggesting that the other customers in line might also have more than 10 items. When he began to count the number of bottles in a shopper's case of soft drinks, the crowd erupted.

"You want to count the pretzels?" asked the man with the soda in his cart.

"You can't be real," said shopper Kathleen Fleming. "I can't believe you're still here. Are you insane?"

It seemed Fleming has very strong views about fairness and supermarket etiquette.

"Once you take a rule that you follow to be polite and courteous and you get rid of it that one time," said Fleming. "The next time it becomes easier. And before you know it, people are doing things that are seriously wrong. You have to respect those around you or everything just crumbles."

As another fellow shopper reacted angrily to our pregnant woman, shopper Kathy DePippo was taken aback. She said, whether on the express checkout line or anywhere else, people need to slow down, take a breath and try a little kindness.

"People have reasons to ask for a favor," DePippo said. "I don't know many things you can't wait another 10 minutes for."