A SMALL MAN with the pixieish air of a leprechaun stood behind me in line at my local Hannaford. He made some good-natured jokes about the fact the cashier was “in training,” at which both she and I laughed.

Then he began rearranging my items on the conveyer belt in order to make room for his. I looked at him out of the corner of my eye, but didn’t say anything. Everything was packaged except for an orange, which, of course, had a peel.

“Oh,” he said, “I hope you don’t mind me doing that. I wanted to be able to put my things down.”

“I think you have broken some unspoken rule of supermarket etiquette,” I replied, but with a smile.

“Now that’s not fair. If a woman did that, well, she would know better. But I’m barely housebroken!”

The cashier and I had to laugh at that. With an exaggerated sigh, I said, “OK, I forgive you.”

“$31.50,” the cashier said.

The man whipped out a card and said, “I’ll pay for your order today.”

“No, you can’t do that,” I replied.

“You put up with me,” he said. “Besides, the more I give, the more I get.”

He was wearing a Hard Rock Cafe/Foxwoods T-shirt, so for a cynical moment I wondered if he was thinking of his next game of blackjack.

But I was touched. I thanked him profusely. He had made my day.

The idea of “paying it forward” has been around for awhile, as has the trend of performing “random acts of kindness.” I can’t say I’ve participated very much. I try to be a good person in every social situation, but I don’t feel the need to pay for the motorist behind me at the toll booth. So perhaps it’s not surprising that this was the first time someone offered to pay for my groceries.

It definitely happens, though. People notice first responders or veterans in a restaurant and pay their bill. Or let someone with only a few items go in front of them in line. They go the extra mile to return lost purses, wallets and cellphones to their owners.

The leprechaun seemed appreciative that I had “gone along” with his bantering. The truth is, I was trained by a master. My father was quite the raconteur, always telling stories and jokes. He owned an Arnold Bread franchise, which meant he was dealing with grocery and restaurant staffers all day long. I often went to work with him, and though I was shy as a child, I observed and learned how to engage in repartee and chitchat. When I grew up to be a newspaper reporter, I was forced to be more gregarious, and the way I did it was to “channel” my father. Now it is second nature to me.

As a result, I can respond easily to total strangers who strike up conversations with me.

Which happens quite frequently, especially at the supermarket. I sometimes think I should write a book titled “It Happened at Hannaford,” which would feature vignettes of my interactions in the produce section and the pasta aisle, as well as the checkout line.

Here’s my pasta aisle story. As I perused the tomato products, a man of about 60 exclaimed, “I can’t find Mum’s wine!” This seemed like an emergency to me, so I searched with him for the zinfandel, but to no avail. I was two aisles over when I remembered that I’d forgotten the pizza sauce I had been looking for. He was still in the same aisle, triumphantly holding the desired wine.

I ended up behind him in line, where he said he was going to the library to get Mum some books, and then bring them to her with the wine. “She’s 90!” he added.

“I’m a librarian, so I’m glad to hear you’re using the library,” I said. That prompted the young cashier to wistfully say, “I want to be a librarian, but I hear you have to have a college degree, and I can’t afford that.”

I advised her on a course she might take.

That might qualify as a random act of kindness, but usually I’m in a me-centric mode. Take the late August day when I snagged the last of the Geary’s Summer Ale for my husband, Paul. A man saw what I had found and scowled. All the other beers had gone the way of pumpkins, headless horsemen and bountiful harvests. “Oktoberfest,” he snorted. “If I see a leaf falling, I turn the other way!”

The next time something like that happens, I’ll offer my prize to the other person. Because, you know, the more you give, the more you get.

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at [email protected]