Sunday, August 28, 2005


The Grocery Bag

When I was five, my friend Jamie forbade me to play with one of his toys because there was "a special way" to use it. I don't remember the toy, but I remember the denial and the phrase "there's a special way." It turns out to be a recurring theme in life: the tone of condescension mixed with exasperation, leading to "I'll just do it myself."

This turns out to be an occupational hazard of the grocery bagger, as I've learned in my Saturday grocery bagging job at the Neighborhood Food Co-op.

I understand that many people want their groceries bagged in a "special way." It's inconvenient to have a bag packed too heavily, and nobody wants their fruit bruised and crushed because it's been packed underneath the canned goods.

Nor does it bother me that about 50-60% of the shoppers at the co-op prefer to bag their own groceries. Many people find occasional grocery-bagging to be fun. I do -- that's why I volunteer for the three hour Saturday grocery bagging shift.

But here's what annoys me. I ask everyone "would you like help bagging your groceries," or "would you like me to bag those for you?" And here's just some of the broad range of responses I get:
  1. (Insulted tone) "I think I can handle it myself." I wasn't suggesting you're incapable.
  2. (Shocked or suspicious tone) "I can do it." I wasn't trying to steal your stuff.
  3. A grimly determined stare with no verbal response at all, as the customer starts bagging own groceries.
  4. "I have my own bags." Non-responsive: many people want me to bag their groceries in their reusable canvas tote bags.
  5. "I have a special way." Whatever!
Then there's a surprisingly high percentage of people who treat the question "would you like me to bag your groceries?" as though I were the Keeper of the Bridge of Death in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
  1. "Um, I don't know. I guess you can... if you want to." Well, do YOU want to? Or do you want ME to?
  2. "Umm... ummm ... umm... I think I can handle it myself." What is the capital of Assyria?
  3. "Umm... okay. Well, no, actually, I'd rather do it myslef." What is your favorite color? Blue--. NO-- yellow!
And my very least favorite reply of all: "Sure, we'll both do it."

It turns out, when it comes to replying to "would you like me to bag your groceries?" in the negative, there's a special way: it's "No, thanks."

Facts of the Day, Saturday, August 27:

Best celebrity sighting: Wayne, the mailman.

Best line by co-op employee: This dialogue between the two women working at the juice bar, explaining why they felt a popular neighborhood bar-restaurant was "pretentious."
Barista #1: "They're just so in your face with their sexuality."
Barista #2: "Yeah, they blatantly flirt with you, and it's just because they're blatantly trying for bigger tips."

dearest oscar,

you can bag me anytime! (wink wink)
Hmmm, I wonder if asking the question in different ways would lend itself to a study of the percentage of various responses?

For example, would the responses be any different if you said, "May I bag your groceries?"
Don't be offended if some customers want to do their own bagging.

For some of us, especially co-op oldtimers, doing your own bagging is part of the co-op experience. My wife is like that (though she does accept help, if offered). She also insists on writing down the PLUs for the produce we buy, using those little clipboards they keep at the entrance -- even though the cashiers all seem to have the numbers memorized.

It's a cultural thing, and pretty benign, I think.
At Whole Foods, one isn't presented with a choice. They simply ask "Do you want paper or plastic?"

I think I'd have to wrestle the bagger to the ground in order to bag my own groceries.
Hey there! I'm out blogging and found yours! I have to admit, you seem to have a very well put together blog here!

Camouflage Laundry Bag
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