A grocery-store faux pas?

Help me, please, wise reading public…in my zeal to reduce, reuse and recycle I think I might be violating grocery store etiquette. I just can’t tell for sure.


I love shopping at Trader Joe’s, I really do. I love their products, and everyone is happy there – the clerks, the customers, the gal at the demo counter. But there is one thing I just can’t quite figure out.

Trader Joe’s, like other retailers, encourages customers to bring their own bags. At my local co-op this means you can bring your paper grocery sacks back in with you and they will refill them with your groceries. Unfortunately, the co-op’s bags are super-biodegradable, meaning they usually don’t even make it into the house before the handles fall off.

(Once I accidentally went to the co-op with Trader Joe’s bags. Trendy young checkout guy was so disgusted with me he wouldn’t even make eye contact.)

But Trader Joe’s bags are much sturdier. They can be used again and again, and I have a lot of them because I am feeding a hungry horde.

(“Did you know,” cute TJ checkout guy once asked, “That you buy two of everything? Is that on purpose?”)

Lately, however, I’ve noticed that when I bring my bags in I’m getting a less than warm reception. I thought it might be that I was presenting them with a minor inconvenience until the day I noticed one of the managers send a knowing glance at uncharacteristically-crabby TJ checkout gal as she walked by.

“Surely, that couldn’t be directed at me,” I thought. “I’m just standing here with my bags.”

On a subsequent visit, polite TJ checkout gal gently suggested, “These are really nice bags. You can use them for recycling, too. That’s what I do.” In case I didn’t know this because I had myself frozen in 1989 and am just coming around.

So now I’m leaving my paper bags at home. I’m afraid I’m breaking some unspoken bagging rule and everyone is too polite to tell me (although not too polite to drop a series of escalating hints).

So what do you think – have I become one of “those” people – the eccentric, bag-bringing, inconvenience-producing people soon to be hauling in my own handcart and using whole canisters of the disposable sanitary wipes at the entry? Could this be another strange manifestation of “Minnesota Nice”? Have I just missed the point?

Or maybe it’s all three. I think I’ll just have myself frozen.

24 thoughts on “A grocery-store faux pas?

  1. I took a Whole Foods cloth grocery sack into Trader Joe’s and started to apologize for it. The clerk said, “We notice you’re spending your money HERE — keep bringing those Whole Foods bags in!”


    1. Awesome! I grab bags at random, so mine seldom mirror the store I’m actually at. So far, this has earned me neither grumpiness nor complaint, no matter the make-up of the bag. 🙂


  2. You should support quality and innovation. They are the ones who should be taking the hint. Nobody should be social-conventioned into accepting sub-par goods and services when we could be making the world better instead.

    Well, like, unless it’s your mum, there are exceptions, but for this sort of thing? No.

    My idea: next time the girl says something like you can use them for recycling? counter with your own polite hint that they get their stuff together on bags.


    1. I may be reading the signals wrong. The tendency of people in this region to communicate in a passive-aggressive fashion can really bring out the ol’ paranoia.


  3. I wouldn’t worry too much about it! I always use bags from different stores. I agree with one of the other comments, where the store should just be happy you are spending your money there! Who cares where the bag is from?


  4. I always bring random cloth reusable bags into stores. No one has said anything about it, thought I get a ton of cashiers not knowing how to pack them. But that is a whole other issue.

    Maybe you are right, this was their passive-agressive way to get you to buy one of their cloth bags. I will tell you though, if you visit Los Angeles, they will happily use any paper bags you bring in the store so they do not need to charge you for new ones.


  5. As I discovered back on our initial trip to Bangkok, all the stores here are addicted to plastic bags and you can end up with an overflowing recycle bin from them in just two days. One of the best things I did was hunt down several of the cloth reusable bags at home (the tote style that fold up into their own small zipper bag) and bring them over here since they don’t exist in this country. I am the weirdo who unzips and unfolds her bags at the grocery each day and the checkout staff are starting to get used to me but they still have an odd smile on their face. I’m willing to bet they just chalk it up to “odd farang (foreigner) habits”.


  6. I have only purchased a couple of bags in my life. But, I do use reusable cloth bags – most of which were from veterinary trade shows (it is great carrying around food in an animal food manufacturer’s bag or something touting spay/neuter). In our town most of the stores actually pay you $0.05 for bringing your own bag (regardless of who made the bag). Apparently, this has become so common that one of the stores has now capped at paying you for using 5 reusable bags. I will take the $0.25!


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