Friday, August 1, 2008


Here's a funny negative to adopting green behaviors:  Being accused of shoplifting.

Yup, you heard me right.

Let me back up.  We live just outside the limits of Washington DC, very much inside the Beltway, in a 'hood that isn't exactly the 'hood, but is by no means upscale.  Our tiny enclave of townhomes is very nice.  But we're not the hippie chic quasi-commune rich with food co-ops and progressive recycling programs, not by a long shot.  That's fifteen miles - and tens of thousands of dollars in property values - farther up the road.

So it's somewhat unusual for a customer to walk into a store with her own bags.  Goya and Kashi compete for shelf space at our local grocery; brands like Cascadian Farms and Seventh Generation are only starting to make inroads.  Organic apples are not available - in fact, very little organic produce is available, save for the weekly farmer's market.

One of the first times I told a cashier that I had my own bag, she asked me, "Aren't you worried someone will think you stole this?"  And I replied, "But it's an Old Navy top, and you're giving me an Old Navy receipt, right?"  She shrugged.  Retail in poorer neighborhoods, apparently, presumes guilt.

But I shrugged it off.  I'm affluent; I'm honest; I'm friendly.  Hey, I'm married to a lawyer.  And what's more, since only buying what you can carry means shopping more often, well, I'm a regular at my local Target, Giant, CVS and Rite Aid.  The Target security guard has long since stopped checking my receipts.  (Another fixture of lower-income neighborhoods - security guards, and they're not there to protect the shoppers.)

Anyhow, basic green behavior is as follows:  
  1. Walk to the store.
  2. Make a small number of eco-savvy purchases, the amount you can carry home.
  3. Pay for them, and put them in your own bags.
If you have a stroller, of course, you can carry more, but you'll need to fit your purchases into the stroller basket.  

It just so happened that I went into Rite Aid this afternoon, about an hour after leaving Target.  We'd been to the library in between.  When I walked into Rite Aid to buy a bottle of Coke Zero (I know, not very Fern Greene of me), I forgot that Seventh Generation dishwashing liquid and Method Wood for Good were riding under my stroller basket, along with six library books.  In order to fit the books and the liquids, I'd taken them out of my reusable bag and positioned the bottles so they wouldn't tip.

After the Rite Aid cashier rang up my soda and I swiped my debit card, she said, horrified, "OH!  What about those things?" and pointed to my stroller basket.  Confused, I replied, "Oh, no ... they're mine.  I've already been to Target this morning."  

She huffed.  "You have to tell me that."

I blinked.  "Why?  You don't even sell these brands here."

But she was already calling over a manager to make sure it was okay.  The manager - a young girl with more tattoos than me - took one look at my "The Hell" expression and said, "It's fine, don't worry about it."

Had there not been a long line behind me, I might've gotten more worked up.  The cashier, too, was eager to make her case against me.  And if the manager hadn't been handy - and sane - it might've been worse.

After all, I also had a large tote bag on my shoulder.  Did she want me to dump it out and somehow prove that my Burt's Bees lip balm wasn't lifted?  That I hadn't been secreting ball point pens and post-it notes in my bag?  And what about my cheap sunglasses?  Should I have been sporting a "paid" sticker on the frames?  What about my refillable coffee cup?  Did she want proof that it wasn't somehow cleverly slipped into the back pocket of my jogging stroller whilst their cameras were directed elsewhere?

It irked me for a dozen reasons.  She's a cashier I see at least once a week; she's a cashier who watches me put my own things into my own bag every single trip.  Her line was miles long, and I'd already been waiting to check out for nearly ten minutes.  I'd spent twice as much time waiting to check out as I'd spent shopping.  My toddler son was fussing - he'd taken off his sandals and was trying, unsuccessfully, to re-insert his feet.  Some of that's not her problem.  Okay, the fact that we were late for our lunch and I was sweaty and annoyed at the wait?  Not at all her problem.

But the fact that a cashier can't distinguish between someone trying to cut down on the number of plastic bags she takes home and a shoplifter?  

Yeah.  That's her problem.  That's a problem for retail everywhere.

Because it's not a crime to bring your own shopping bag.

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