Philadelphia Metropolis


Why I Don't Bag My Groceries

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By Roz Warren

Bagging your own groceries didn't even used to be an option. The cashier did it. Or a bagger, whose entire job consisted of filling up grocery bags without breaking the eggs. That was fine with me. I was no more eager to do their work for them than the patrons at the library that employs me are itching to answer their own reference questions. But nowadays, I usually have the option to bag. In fact, I'm starting to feel a subtle pressure to do so. Don't just stand idly by while the cashier scans your yogurt and weighs your apples -- start bagging!

The cashier no longer grabs a bag as soon as she's checked out enough items to fill one up. She holds back, waiting to see what I'll do. Only if my hands remain at my sides will she do it herself. I've begun to avoid one particular cashier at the Acme, even when her line is short, because if I don't bag, she glares at me. (Maybe her line is short because others have noticed this and are avoiding her too?)

grocery.jpgI don't bag my groceries because I don't like doing it. And because I don't see why a task that the supermarket handled for decades should be transferred to me. And because I still have a choice in the matter. So far, nobody is making me bag.

And yet, when a cashier guilt-trips me with a glare, it works. Not enough to actually make me pick up a bag and start tossing in tofu. But enough to ruin the pleasure I would otherwise get from taking a small break from the cares of the day to chat with the next shopper in line, or scan the tabloid headlines. Why won't Oprah marry Stedman? Is Tom Cruise gay? Or just crazy? And what's a Kardashian? I'd rather be mulling that over than fitting the bananas in between the Oreos and the Cheerios.

Should I feel bad about failing to bag?

I don't and here is why. "Bag your own groceries" as just one part of an overall trend toward "Customer Disservice." Like having to pump your own gas. Or paying to use a pillow on an overnight flight. Or getting a phone tree instead of a person when you make a business call. "How can I help you?" is rapidly being replaced with "How can I save a buck by not helping you?" They are defining good service down.

The more we give into this, the worse it's going to get. How long before, if you're rushed to the hospital, instead of getting to see a doctor, you'll be handed a pair of latex gloves and an instructional DVD on "How To Perform Your Own Emergency Appendectomy"?

You laugh now. But it won't be so funny when you're trying to locate and remove your own appendix.

Recently, I undertook an experiment. Just to see what it felt like, I bagged my own groceries. As the cashier scanned my purchases, I unfolded a paper bag and started filling it. I wasn't particularly good at it. I'm sure I used up more bags than strictly necessary, and took far longer than a real bagger would have. I didn't enjoy the experience either, although when I was done, the cashier did smile and thank me. That felt good. But not as good as I would have felt if I'd spent that time just standing there, daydreaming about vacationing in Aruba. Or getting to the bottom of that Kardashian thing.

I know that if I continue to bag, I'll get better at it. But I'm not going to continue. As long as I still have a choice, I'll chose to grab that moment for myself rather than helping move the transaction along a little faster. We're clearly on our way to a world where "How can I help you?" is replaced with "Sorry, pal, you're on your own!" I'm in no particular hurry to get there.

Do you bag? Or, like me, do you stand idly by while somebody else bags for you? Is it a matter of principle? Or laziness? Or perhaps, a little of both?


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