Paper Bag or Plastic Bag?

by M. Lizabeth Currain

It’s funny how such a simple question like, “Would you like a paper bag or a plastic bag?” would incite a small scale panic attack within a customer. Most of my day is spent at a cash register, ringing people up, explaining why I can’t sell something without a tag/price, explaining why I can’t sell it for cheaper/give them a discount, explaining why I can’t take something out of the auction case for them to look at, or reassuring them that we are not “closing this location”. In order to save myself some time, I generally like to ask people if they want a paper or plastic bag–only because I hate having already put something in a plastic bag and then they tell me they want paper or vice versa.

Just as a side note, our plastic bags are those of the lovely “I ‘heart’ NY” nature, and the paper are the inconspicuous brown kind that come in not one, but two different sizes; slightly less than medium and large. The paper bags aren’t the strongest, but we double them up for good measure for the heavier items. The “I ‘heart’ NY” bag is the Earth’s nemesis, but I think the actual plastic/carbon(?) content in those bags has gone down, because they seem awfully thin now as compared to when I started working at the thrift store back in February.

So back to me asking a customer if they want a paper or plastic bag. Almost every time I ask someone this question, their eyes sort of glaze over and their face slumps like they have bells palsy–I chose this image only because I enjoy the small illustration of him attempting to make a phone call. Also, they are the most trusted name in medical illustrations, who knew?! Their breathing becomes erratic, they start sweating, clutching their right arm, etc. It is as though I have asked them what the square root of 44937574 is; it’s 6703.549358362329, in case you were wondering; and if they don’t answer they will be forced to suffer a slow and painful death. I don’t understand why this question is so hard! Make a decision! Either you want a paper bag or you want a plastic bag, it is not that serious. Both are probably equally bad for the environment, unless the paper bags happen to be made from some percentage of post-consumer waste. Oddly enough, this is the reason why customers think I am asking them to choose. A good number of them always give a shameful laugh when they choose plastic and promise me that they will “reuse it”. Why they feel the need to tell me this, is beyond me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Earth as much as the next person, but nothing about me screams “raging environmentalist”–except when I see someone litter I say, “I hope you get squashed litterbug”, because it seems appropro.

Another problem with the asking of this question, is invariably 3 out of 5 customers is going to say something along the lines of, “Ok.” “Sure, yes.” “Okay, bag.” “Hmmm, yes please.” This would all be well and good if the question was strictly, “Would you like a bag?”, but it’s not. I am giving them a choice! Let your voice be heard, people! Them saying, “Okay”, in response to me saying, “Would you like a paper or plastic bag?” gets us nowhere. NOWHERE. It only lengthens their stay in front of me. Which is not what I want at all. I want them out of my face. Because if they stay in front of me for 1 second longer, after they’ve asked 3.7 annoying questions, I will snap. I will put that plastic bag over their head and send them on their way. It just shows me that people don’t listen. They are either talking on their cell phone, or staring off into space. We as a society are not actively engaged in the present, in what is currently going on or what we are currently doing. It irritates me, because I have to repeat myself. Sometimes as often as 3 times. Which is pathetic.

Another favorite of mine in this little predicament, that I have unwittingly cooked up for myself at work is when when they ask if the paper bag has handles. Of course it has handles! I’m wondering if they ask this question at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. I doubt it. Or maybe they do. Because maybe they are that annoying.

As you can see, I’m getting irate–and we are only now getting to my favorite part of this whole scenario. So picture this: I’m at the cash register, ringing someone up. I ask them if they want a paper or a plastic bag. They have their mini-stroke, and then finally decide on a paper bag, after I’ve listed their options and given them a visual. I put their items in a paper bag and hand it to them. They look at me, as if they know what they are doing–because they live to irritate–and say, “Wait, can I have a plastic bag instead, this I’m going to be walking around and it will be easier for me to carry.” That statement right their, is the bane of my working in retail existence. At this point, I start giving dirty looks and just toss a plastic bag at them, because really, after I bag it once and hand it to them, it’s left my jurisdiction–I no longer care about that customer. They are dead to me.

I honestly don’t know why I continue to ask. It’s because I enjoy being punished for trying to be a good person–for caring about the items that these people purchased at thrift store and then want treated as though they just bought the Hope Diamond.

How am I not Employee of the Month, Year, or Decade?!