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I have a question for you: Do you use that plastic bar to faithfully separate your bread and eggs from those of your conveyor-belt neighbours, at the grocery store checkout counter? Are you the type of person who slams down that…bar? rod? stick?…if the person in front of you doesn’t put it on the conveyor belt after they unload their cart? Do you abuse your grocery clerk?

I personally view it as a courtesy to the person behind me if I place the bar on the conveyor belt after my items. Others view it as a personal affront to their sacred food treasures if I don’t. Some resort to slamming the bar down, or engaging in elaborate charades that demonstrate the “placing of the baton”, which can have the appearance of an anti-social action. Are they trying to save time or decrease stress by ensuring their items do not go home with someone else? I understand that – I’ve had my share of close calls (I nearly missed my opportunity to go home with O Henry once.) Or is the hostile action an attempt to reclaim personal space? Perhaps that plastic bar is similar to the lines in a parking space or the armrests on an airplane. It’s a means of maintaining order and defining personal space in a world fraught with social media and an increasing need to “share” everything, so that less and less remains in private territory. A defined space, even on a conveyor belt can equal less anxiety, and less anxiety is always a good thing, right?

The Great Divider is also a useful tool for the grocery store clerk. The checkout experience can explode in a silent barrage of non-verbal communication between the customer and the cashier. I’ve witnessed the nasty glares and snarky remarks directed at unwitting cashiers who are just doing their job. They constantly have to ask things like “are these your condoms?” or risk being shrieked at by a stately granny, who almost bought your bananas by mistake. After scanning food items over a swirling red laser for hours, I’d be glazing over and disinterested in who was bingeing at the bakery and why someone was buying 4 boxes of anti-diarrhoea medication. The bar is like those two little words at the end of a book: “The End”. Time to start the next one…

I went looking for names for this seriously important (and often overlooked) everyday tool, but there wasn’t much out there. In the book, Wanted Words 2: From Armajello to Yawncore (edited by Jane Farrow), some suggestions were food fence (by Harold Hoglund), condimental divide (by David and Gillian Calder), back off bar (by J.L. Bond), grub club (by Irwin Friesen), mineline (by Andrew Neale), and vittlestick (by Ron Butler).

Bottom line: the plastic bar is an unsung hero in our daily world. May I make a suggestion? Can we work together to preserve our clerk’s sanity (not to mention the uptight person behind you) and just use The Great Barrier Rod!