Thursday, February 04, 2010

The … Planet Nazi?! …

Tonight, at Walgreens, the pharmacy, all-and-everything store chain, I have encountered a rare experience. At least in America. At least as much as I have traveled…

This very handsome young man behind the counter took some chances I rarely come across with. The person in front of me, a father with three little girls, was buying three pieces of candy – one for each of them. I was not paying attention to the conversation, but I heard the dad starting to laugh as a response to the attendant’s question (which I did not hear) and answer with an annoyed shake of a head and a shrug: “Yeah, OF COURSE I want a bag! Geez!”.

Didn’t think much of it but I wondered why the attitude in the dad. After all, three pieces of candy that would probably be consumed by the little girls the minute they hit the car seats hardly seems like enough trouble for a bag.

My turn comes. And I buy three loose items which weigh a total of probably a pound. The attendant goes: “Would you like a bag, ma’am?!”

But before I could answer, he continues: “…Uuummm… hopefully NOT!” And stares intently these big, pitch black, eyes at me …

I am so shocked, I can’t answer. I am used to “do you need a bag?” question for maybe a pack of chewing gum, or a lipstick, but I have a couple of things tonight, and am definitely not used to being suggested that I do not in fact need a bag. So this comes as a surprise! Before I knew it, he is putting my things on the counter in front of me, and goes on: “You see, I am trying to promote clean living and the environment”, and makes a wide gesture with his hands, as if to suggest The Earth.

I started laughing awkwardly and told him “Good for you!”. Picked up my stuff and started off to the car.

What shocked me more, though, was not his professed care for the environment, so much as his courage. In America, we like our bags! We expect our bags! As a mainstream, unfortunately, people mock the environmentalists. In Canada, they pay for their bags, if they need them, not only at Ikea, but also at the Pharmacy, convenience stores, the mall, and even at the most common grocery stores. In Germany, you pay a fine if they find one item in the wrong bin: recyclables go to recyclables and trash goes to trash. You put one bottle in the trash, you get a ticket from the City.

But in America, we love customer service, and we love to be pampered, and we love the freedom to do whatever we want with our stuff! Even the freedom to litter: if it’s convenient for us, who cares about the planet, right?! It’s part of the package, it seems, of instant gratification, consumerism, high expectations and taking for granted – all, sadly, very American traits.

Now, I realize the response of the dad is more like : “Do not touch my right to a bag, a**h*le!”. And I tell you, I salute that man behind the counter, that faces the American consumer, probably the most spoiled on Earth, to refuse their right to a bag! I hope his spirit will outlive the carelessness of most people and will not jade. After all, all it takes is one small step!

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