Friday, April 18, 2008

Bag Lady

At the end of the cashier counter in any Southern Swedish grocery, home improvement or hardware store, there might be a roll of thin, plastic bags like one might use in the produce department for a small amount of any fruit or vegetable. If thicker, more durable paper or plastic bags are not added to the conveyor belt of purchases, thin bags are for the taking.

No one is at the end of the counter, keeping up with the conveyor belt, packing up your groceries and putting them back in a cart for you. You must pack and be ready to pay at once, and, oftentimes, you’re not to have a cart with you. Even if you’ve not finished packing up your groceries, your purchases continue to pile up and smash your bread/tomatoes/lettuce/birthday card. The cashier simply slides a dividing board toward your items so that the next person’s groceries may easily slide past yours to do the same pile up. That sets two people to packing groceries at the end of the counter, their children and yours bumping into each other as other people move through this rapid-paced line, pay and press past those who were unlucky enough to need so many groceries at once.

If you purchase three items at a time, there is no problem. But if you get all of the groceries for a pay period, bagging is a matter of serious stress. When I mentioned the bag problem (the bigger, more expensive, sturdy bags ease the pressure at packing time) to my Swedish friends, one of them said, “That’s right. I just read in this morning’s paper that the bags for purchase are at a 200 percent markup.”

“200 percent?” I asked incredulously, deciding to continue my vigilance against buying the better bags.

“Yes,” she continued, “but we pay less for our groceries, that way…” (Groceries which are much more expensive than in the U.S., unless things have changed since I’ve been gone).

Not knowing, yet, how best to deal with huge markups, a cart-load of groceries and inadequate carrying bags, I asked, “What do people do when they don’t want to pay the 200 %?”

“They bring their own bags!” was the chorus, as another friend chimed in.

On that day, I became a bona fide (sp?) Bag Lady.

I went home after that conversation, gathered up every bag from other purchases (where someone graciously packed our items in an adequate bag, smiled sweetly, knowing that I had already paid for the nice bag with my purchase), I think I found three, and put them in the back of the car. From then on, I have tried to remember to carry my bags with me into the store. If I have already gone in, put a few things in my cart, and realized I didn’t have my bags, I unloaded the cart and went back to the car to fetch them. It’s that big of a deal for me.

I have to admit to buying a nice, new, 200% marked up bag now and then, but not very often. If someone gives me something for Hunter or for our rental in one of the nice, big, sturdy bags, it is carefully folded up and placed with the others in the back of the car. If I see Phil stealthily trying to roll up an old bag and throwing it in the trash, I practically pounce on him.

It’s not as if Phil has not understood the problem of bagging groceries. Since my earlier attempts at getting groceries with a rambunctious child and inadequate bagging resources, Phil has been going with me to shop. That way we can divide the list and fill the cart before Hunter has hidden on the far side of the store or caused a multi-cart pile up in an aisle. When it comes time to bag, one bags and one pays then helps finish bagging. If the bags are forgotten in the car, another is there to run out and get them. One time, Hunter was behaving so badly that I had to get out of line and take him to the car. That left Phil alone to pay and bag. As I left, I could see Phil freeze up with the stress of having to bag everything on his own. He was visibly shaken when he got back to the car, if not furious with me. Since then, we have made an effort to get to a store with child care in time to shop quickly before the child care closes at 7 pm. This has proven to be the very best scenario for us.

Another method we have found effective if we have left our bags in the car or our items are piling into each other so quickly that even two of us are not keeping up, is to simply put everything back in the cart. We bag everything at the back of the car (for the ease of carrying it into the house in the rain, because it rains often). No one asks us if we have purchased the goods, because this is Socialist Sweden—you can’t get out of the store without purchasing.

We are not the only people to bring our own bags. We see others draw wads of bags out of their purses and pockets just before bagging their goods.

You see, Sweden has gone green. I don’t mean ideologically, either. There are machines in the entrances to their stores where you can have your cans (in one machine) and plastic bottles (in another machine) sucked in, the label read (there must be no crease or missing label), and a credit slip spit out to you before you shop. It’s quite handy and motivating, too. If there are beer cans on the side of the road, most often only those which do not have a recycling value are to be found. Those with value have already been recycled.

I’ve seen old men getting a big kick out of putting their glass recycling in a big container, one at a time, and waiting between reloads to hear the enormous crash. There is no cash value for this recycling activity. Swedes don’t smile very often, but they almost do at the end of each one of these crashes—entertainment value.

You rarely see plastic bags clinging for dear life to a fence or tree branch in the wind. People are hoarding their plastic bags!

If your child has a mishap and you need a plastic bag, nearly anyone can whip one out of somewhere and hand it to you in the blink of an eye.

This Swedish green-ness is carried into transportation. Walking and Bicycling are the most common form of transportation coupled with riding the bus, ferry or train. There are bus stops in the country across from farmhouses miles apart. There is very little traffic in Sweden (we haven’t been here in the summer, when it is supposedly much worse, but I doubt the roads get anywhere close to roads in most other parts of the world).

The most common vehicle parked for the day, rain or shine, at a ferry terminal, bus or train station is a bicycle. These bikes are the Cadillac in bicycle design, not because of any bells and whistles (though every bike does have a bell), but because it rides smoothly, even on cobblestones, is not built for speed as much as sturdy, shock-absorbent-comfort. Each bike inevitably has one or more of these things: a basket on the front and/or back, a rack on the back (with a plastic bag tucked under the clamp), a skirt-guard on women’s bikes, and a child seat. (The Bicycle Cadillac in our rented garage is too tall for me, so I’ve had to borrow a rust-bucket with no Cadillac features other than the back rack—and the right pedal hits the chain guard on every rotation. It’s an attention-getter, that’s for sure. I’m simply grateful to my friends for lending it to me.)

Sweden is so green that you can ask for bubble wrap for packaging and you will inevitably be told, “Bubble wrap is so terrible for the environment that we only use corrugated cardboard.” There is very little “over packaging,” such that, sometimes you wonder how anything is shipped without serious damage.

The seashores are inevitably littered with plastic bottle caps, baggies, plastic ware, and paper cups (nowhere near as badly as in Central America or along many of the city U.S. shores. But you won’t see plastic six-pack rings. There are just too many shorebirds thriving in Southern Sweden to risk such potential traps. Your drinks are shrink-wrapped together, instead, so that you have to practically shred the shrink-wrap to get the drinks out.

The last time we went grocery shopping, and had put nearly everything away, I folded up the bags and gave them to Phil as he headed outside to take out the garbage (he’s an amazing man, isn’t he?!!!). I noticed he carried the bags under his arm. “What are you going to do with those bags?” I asked, worried that he might accidentally toss them in with the rest of the garbage.

“I’m going to throw them away,” he said, walking away from me so I couldn’t see his facetious grin. I knew he wouldn’t. He’s become a bag-hoarder, too.

1 comment:

LannaM said...

"Bag-hoarder" Heehee, that just makes me giggle. Sounds a bit like Winco down in Moscow though - Tom and I have bagged our own groceries on and off for years. :)
I'll have to come back later and read more - we're heading outside to attempt gardening. Attempt being the key word. ;)
Hey, remind me again, when were you guys heading back this way?