Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In the Bag

I feel like I'm slacking a bit on the blog. I have a pretty long mental list of things I want to write about, but at risk of revealing my true nerdiness - I am reading a really good book and I just got a new sewing machine so I have been…ahem… busy. Well, actually I also seem to have discovered a new aspect of cultural adjustment. I have lived abroad a few times before, but only once longer than 6 months (Japan). Now that we have been here six months, I am finding myself settling in and as a result, am quite busy. I am now able to make doctors appointments, register the boys for swimming and gymnastics and run errands (which takes forever here). I'm also sitting on an Embassy board. And, I still have those two crazy, adorable monsters who follow me around. So, life has gotten more hectic and the blog posts pile up in my head and aren't making it as quickly to the page.

But, that being said, I do have some topics stocked up. I'm going to try to stretch them out to several posts, but here's one thing in particular I have been wanting to blog about for months - plastic bags!!

Allow me a non-food related tangent here. I have two, well probably more than two, but two especially big environmental pet peeves - plastic bags and bottled water. I firmly believe that if US and international manufacturers transferred the money and energy they put into making plastic bags and bottled water into making reusable bags, reusable water bottles and bringing potable water to the world we could change millions of things about the way we live in every corner of the world. And if governments around the world were to ban (or highly tax) the use of plastic bags…well, I'm no environmental expert, but I am thinking tons of new innovative industries and a reduction in pollution could be the only result. I have not researched this much and I am not out to change the world, but this is what I think.

So, this actually does bring me right back to food. When you buy groceries here - they send you home with a ridiculous, and I mean Ridiculous number of plastic bags. Bagging groceries is something I know about - I worked at a supermarket for five years. I know all too well how many items you can get into a plastic bag without it breaking and I know how you can pack it so they bag won't break. Supermarkets in the US over use plastic bags too, but I am telling you, here it is insane.

Here's an example - the other day I bought: two packs of plastic hangers (10 hangers per pack), two bunches of basil, a bunch of parsley and a head of lettuce. How many bags did I come home with? Five! Yes, five plastic bags. That is a bag for the parsley, a bag for the basil, a bag for the lettuce and a bag for each pack of hangers. I don't know why they do this, I really don't. Jeremy has the theory that because in most homes you can't flush your toilet paper, you want these bags to line your trashcans because you take the trash out every day. It is true that most Dominican households do take the trash out every day. We too line our trashcans with grocery bags, but we can flush paper, so we're not in exactly the same situation. But, still, I just don't get it. There's got to be a better way.

Now, I bet you're asking where my reusable bags were the other day - I forgot them at home. I really, really try not to forget, because the bagging here is so out of control. But, this takes us to the funny part of my story - the reaction by the cashiers and baggers when I do bring my reusable bags.

Here's the way it goes down:

I walk up, put my old, grungy Trader Joe's and Whole Foods bags along with the canvas Esprit bag I have had since the fourth grade (I am super proud of still having this bag) on the belt followed by my groceries. The cashier asks me, once all the things are unloaded, if she can start. It's always a she (I have never once seen a male cashier) and they always ask if it's okay to start. I am assuming this is so I can check to make sure everything is ringing up correctly - I can appreciate that.

Then, she proceeds to try to find the bar code for my reusable grocery bags. I say, "Those are mine already. They're for bagging my groceries." She says, "Oh, you're not buying these?" I think this is funny because they are on their last legs of shoppingdom. "No," I say, "I want to bag my groceries in there."

She smiles, seems to get it and throws the bags down the belt, where the bagger (always a teenage boy - there are no female baggers, ever) proceeds to put my reusable bags into a plastic bag. I say,"No, no, those are for bagging the groceries. I want to put my groceries in there." Blank stare. Removes reusable bags from plastic bags. Groceries begin to come down belt. Bagger begins to bag my groceries in plastic bags. I say, pointing, "No, please use the bags I brought. Those bags, there." He picks them up, points to them. "Yes," I say "Please put my things in there." He puts one or two things in.

Then, something comes down the belt that throws him off - a pineapple. It's thorny, perhaps dangerous, it might break these nice bags the lady has brought, better go back to the plastic. He goes back to the plastic. "Please," I say, a bit more firmly, "All the things can go in the bags I brought." He leaves the pineapple in the plastic bag and puts it in my reusable bag. This repeats throughout the entire checkout process, every single time I go to the store.

Adventures in grocery shopping - see totally about food : ). One time I lost it a little bit…just a little bit. I kinda' snatch the bag away and was like, "Here! Let me show you!" and I did it myself. I think I needed to do that once. But, afterward I felt really bad. The other day Jeremy got annoyed at a bagger and did a similar thing. I was like,"Oh, you're such a newbie at shopping." He said, "Ya', how do you handle it now?"

How do I handle it now? I just repeat myself, slowly, firmly, but with an unfailing smile. Sometimes I tell them I know it's strange, but I am trying to protect the environment. Sometimes I laugh a little, but in a kind-hearted way (I think). I kind of try to remember that these teenage boys who work for pennies and whose parents can't afford to send them to school maybe just think I'm crazy. That's fine with me really. In the end, maybe it saves a few bags from going into the sea - where I'm sure our trash goes because there's no recycling here…


  1. Do you have PriceSmart in Santo Domingo? When we were in Port of Spain, PriceSmart stopped giving out plastic bags. (They did, however, sell reusable bags.) I think the blight of plastic and styrofoam bags and containers if one of the most unattractive things about such places.

  2. Yes! We only go there once or twice per month, (in fact I need to go today) but when we do, it is always refreshing that they get the reusable bag thing.

  3. I suppose that on the positive side, re-using the bags for something...poopy, smelly somethings (haha - gross!) is (almost) like recycling! :)

    By the way, Hi! Nice to meet you, my husband is trying to get into the FS (Oral assessment in May!) and while checking out some FS blogs I ran across yours :)

  4. I hear you, but I like collecting plastic bags for doggy duty. I know I could be more environmentally friendly by purchasing the greenies or whatever they call the biodegradeable dog bags, but I'm too cheap. Which also is my main objection to bottled water; I'm too cheap to shell out for bottled water when it comes out of the sink for pennies.

    One other quick note, which you're probably already aware. I saw a news segment reminding people to wash their resuable grocery bags. Unwashed bags are a haven for bacteria.

  5. Camille and David - you're both right about the uses of the bags. I use them for doggie duty and for small garbage bags. Clearly my passionate rant only goes so far...i.e. to the level at which I adhere to convenience. But, well, maybe we're all a bit that way : ).

    As for the reusable washing thing - you over estimate me. I do wash them sometimes, but only if there is a visible spill. But, we don't buy meat, so maybe my germ ratio is smaller...maybe..because, you know, nothing else in the grocery store is germy. Right?

  6. I have the opposite problem in Beijing. Here, we're required to provide cloth bags, or we're charged extra for the plastic. Go, China! But, here's the problem: I walk in with maybe 6 cloth bags, and they proceed to stuff everything into two of them. Canned goods with bread, tomatoes next to pineapples... it's all the same to them. So I'll say "hey, here are my other bags!" And they just sort of look at the other bags, confused, and keep stuffing stuff in the original bag. Arghhh.

  7. Do you tip the baggers? Here in CJ we tip the baggers, and maybe if you start tipping them and they get to know you, you'll have no problem getting them to remember to use your bags?

  8. Good question Jake - I don't usually tip the baggers unless they do a really good job (e.g. actually use the reusable bags). I have seen people tip baggers before, but rarely. The main tipping comes when they walk you out to the car - which they ALWAYS do. Maybe I'll start tipping them anyway - not a bad idea. Now there are usually at least 2 baggers per cashier which perhaps raises another problem.

  9. It's Friday, and that means that the Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up - and you're on it!

    Here is the link:

    (If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)



    And just to let you know... I always ask for paper bags at the grocery store and then use them as trash bags at home! That means no plastic bags from the grocery store AND no plastic garbage bags in the home! Double score! :)

  10. That is a great ending line! Haha! I hate it when I forget my bags too!