Saturday, April 22, 2006

Whatcha gonna do with all those bags?

While comparisons of French and American culture provide endless conversation (and blogger) fodder, this is one strange phenomenon that I have yet to understand. In America, when we go grocery shopping, we are accustomed to not only bag boys, but also an endless supply of plastic (or paper!) bags, often double-bagged without even requesting it. It goes without saying that this is all free. Before we know it, these bags accumulate - under the sink, in the broom closet - and because we have no use for them we are forced to think of unique ways to get rid of them. The local library has kleenex boxes full of them as a kind of do-it-yourself bagging system; some grocery stores even have used bag collection boxes set up; and a few rare ones (Whole Foods) have a strange bag repayment plan where you get 1 cent back for every bag you re-use. Basically, we have way too many bags and we just don't know what to do with them.

Not so in France. The French are STINGY when it comes to bags! I can understand the no-bagboy phenomenon; it was already so in the UK. The cashiers just throw your items your way and you scramble, trying to get them all and pay without pissing off the people behind you. But the worst is their attitude towards bags. First of all, many of the bags are such crappy quality that a normally benign item can rip them to shreds. But this is in those stores where the bags are free (gasp). Even in the free bag stores, quality of bags nonwithstanding, the cashiers scrutinize the number of items and throw you about 1 bag per 5 items. If you dare ask for more (or even, horror of horrors, want to doublebag the glass or heavy stuff) you will be the lucky recepient of a look to kill and enough scorn to keep you away for a few months. At these stores you can buy decent quality plastic or paper bags, often at a reasonable price (heavy duty plastic ones for 10 cents, the serious shopping bags for 75 cents).

But the worst is the bagless stores, like Auchan at Porte de Bagnolet. I hate them, but I hate even more their pretext of doing it for environmental reasons. Yeah right you just wanna save money! So before, Auchan used to have "green" checkouts for people that don't need plastic bags (those with caddies, mostly). But then they changed, and now the only bags are the paying ones (or as some people do, just take loads and loads of the bags in the fruit & vegetable aisles).

This sucks, not only for the inconvenience of shopping but also for those customers (like myself) who have dogs and use all these bags to clean up after them. Simple, you say, there's this big campaign about cleaning the streets, I love my neighborhood, and now doggie bags are available in most public establishments. Ok, sounds great. So I go to my local city hall, one of the official distributers of doggy sacs (for some reason my neighborhood doesn't have any of those stands) and ask. They're all out and tell me to come back. Repeat every week. Finally I get exasperated and ask what's up. Check this out: they get a shipment of bags every 2 months, this is how long this quantity is supposed to last. Guess how long it takes for them to run out. 2 DAYS. This has been this way since last fall. I get a number to call and complain; some other dog owners on my street do the same. Does anything change? Heck no. Now the dog owners on my street are defiant and refuse to pick up the crap (not me). I don't even want to imagine what it's going to be like when all the stores go bag-free (I think there it's going to be required in a few years).

Saving the environment's great. But how about starting with crap-free streets?

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future parisienne said...

Have you tried taking one of your own bags/baskets to the stores to put your groceries in, instead of using each store's bags? Isn't that what the French do?

Anonymous said...

yes, take your own bag...and find a funky one while you are at it!