Grocery bags a la chilena and gringo-style

Don’t worry, I am fully aware that you’re probably thinking “grocery bags, Emily? Scraping the bottom of the barrel much?” Promise it’s not quite as boring as it sounds.

I actually find it kind of amazing that something as seemingly basic as a plastic supermarket bag could be the source of a cultural difference. Rodolfo and I don’t use reusable bags because we use plastic bags as both trash can liners and Lola poop picker-uppers, so we obviously get quite a few bags every time we go to the store. As such, I’ve learned that there is a distinctly Chilean way of presenting the customer with these bags, and my gringa self happens to find it distinctly wrong.

See, this is what I expect when I think of a plastic bag full of groceries:

Bag, filled with contents, with convenient plastic handles available for me to slide my hand right on in, allowing for easy picking up of said bag and contents. See how easy?

(Yes, I know that photo is awful, but managing to take a picture of my own hand while keeping the camera far enough away to include the bag was no small feat, and I only remembered right this second while writing this that Rodolfo bought one of those little travel tripods, but I don’t know where it is, and frankly this picture is not important enough for me to redo even if I did know where it was. Sorry.)

Chileans, however, do not seem to appreciate this ease of handle grabbing. They prefer to tie a knot in the handles, like so:

This, to me, defeats the entire purpose to having handles in the first place. Trying to wedge my hand into the holes which have now been pulled shut by the knot is a pain, so the only remotely efficient way to pick up the bag is by grabbing it in my fist. And if I wanted to grab it in my fist, then I wouldn’t need handles with holes for my hands, now would I?

Rodolfo insists that this way is good, but I’m not sure why. I think he’s just used to the fist-grabbing method, and in that case then yes, it’s great that you have this knot bringing the two handles together. But the fist grabbing method sucks. It is stupid, and I hate it, and I wish the nice checkout boys and girls – who only work for tips, they don’t get a salary, clearly the supermarket is rife with cultural differences – wouldn’t waste their time making knots that I undo as soon as I get out to the car.

I’m curious – other Chile expats, have you noticed this? Does it bother you, or have you converted to the dark side? Has anyone not in Chile ever seen this or another plastic bag method? I really don’t think it has to be this complicated, just put my stuff in the bag and call it a day, no knot tying required.

58 Responses to “Grocery bags a la chilena and gringo-style”

  1. Kristi H. says:

    i have always hated this!! they think it keeps the groceries from falling out…but it is one of my expat peeves. when i am walking from a store, i always tell the bagger to not knot them, otherwise they are hard to carry – and hard to unknot! sometimes i have to take a scissors to cut them. grrrrrrr.

    • Emily says:

      I should start telling them, but I always forget until they’re halfway through. Rodolfo has tried the “keeps the groceries from falling out” argument with me, but I have never had a problem with my groceries falling out of an untied bag.

  2. pia says:

    cuando yo estaba en el colegio trabajé empaquetando en un supermercado, y te enseñan a hacerlo así.. todo esto tiene su raíz en la desconfianza de los chilenos… el niñito que te lleva el carro al auto podría agarrar mientras tu no miras un desodorante, un jamón serrano.. o cualquier cosa y echarsela al bolsillo.. o si no te lo lleva podrias ir a la farmacia afuera del supermercado y te podrian robar algo – o si tu eres el ladron hormiga podrias ir a la farmacia con tu carro y echar shampoos en las bolsas de supermercado demasiado facilmente!! (es como el autoadhesivo que le ponen a las bolsas de otro local, o a tu mochila antes de entrar al supermercado), aun así no veo la diferencia entre sujetarla abierta o amarrada, las manillas siempre quedan libres.. y si te das vuelta a mirar a un mino rico k paso, es mas dificil k te quiten algo si esta cerrada

    • Emily says:

      Jajaja, me gustó la ultima linea. Y si, demas que tiene que ver con lo que dices, no lo habia pensado.

      Pero te juro que hay una diferencia en meter la mano en las manillas abiertas…como están apuntando hacia arriba el hoyito está mas abierto, y metes la mano facilmente. Cuando están amarradas, como se ve en la foto las manillas están mas para los lados, y hay que fijarse bien para meter la mano. Tampoco es taaaan dificil, pero me quita un segundo extra por cada bolsa.

    • Alejandra says:

      Es verdad esto? Lo que quero decir, ellos que te enseñaron a empaquetar en el trabajo en el Super, decian esto?? Oh es como algo que todos “daben” pero nadie te dice? (Lo mas dificil de todo).

  3. Marmo says:

    In a supermarket the knot doesn´t seem to have any purpose, but it´s a different story if you have to go to a veggie market (feria) where your grapes, apples or pears may fall if you ride a bumpy micro back home. So, the tradition stayed with the arrival of mega super hiper markets, like Lider or Jumbo.
    At least here in the south makes sense also because the knot protects your groceries from the rain, and it´s always raining here.
    Finally, even with the knot, you can use the handles, but I must say that sometimes, those baggers knot the bags too hard, and twice, and in that moment I fully agree with you and Kristi xD

    • Emily says:

      At the feria I guess it matters less too how easy it is to grab the handles because people tend to have their carritos, so they’re not actually carrying the individual bags.

      And good point about how it might be more helpful in the south. I will agree that if it were always raining I could see the advantage of keeping groceries dry

  4. Angie says:

    I totally agree with you Emily… it’s waaay lame. In my limited experience here in Puerto Natales and in Punta Arenas, you have to bag your own groceries most of the time. On occasion when a bagger is there (1) you have to tip them, as noted by the “Propinas” badge on their shirts, and (2) they bag just as expected in the US… maybe that’s why they want tips???

    Good luck with sorting that out in Santiago. At least you have more than 1 big supermarket :)

    • Emily says:

      Well they want tips because that’s the only money they get. They’re not paid by the supermarket to be there. It’s like the parking attendants who don’t have a set fee but who expect something from you.

      In the Jumbo we go to, you have to ask if you want someone to bag your groceries for you, but in our Lider they’re always there to help.

  5. I seriously don’t even know what to write because I’m laughing so hard, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh because clearly you’re upset about this, but 1) you are so adorable when you’re being sarcastic and 2) I can’t believe you were able to write a post about grocery bags and keep my attention until the end.

    • Emily says:

      It’s alright, I’m not really that upset about :) I just have meant to bring it up for a while and finally remembered.

  6. Robin says:

    Do they give you the bags for free? Here in Mother Russia, they charge for the bags AND you have to bag yourself. I need to post about the stress I face everytime I go to the grocery store knowing that I have to bag my own groceries, and whip my money out in a timely fashion. Oh the anxiety.

    • Emily says:

      Oh yes, bags are free. I think in the UK they’re charging for bags now – maybe it’s a Euro thing? Do a lot of people use reusable bags then?

      I totally know what you mean about trying to both bag and pay quickly. I have no problem bagging my own groceries, but I do always feel like I’m making the people behind me wait too long.

  7. jade says:

    I completely agree with you- i’m laughing only because I wonder the exact same thing about people at our store. WHy would you do that?! My pinky finger always gets smashed!

  8. Eileen says:

    They don’t do this at my supermarket, any of them. Sometimes they do this weird twisty thing where they twist all the handles together on each side, when they are double bagged. I know that wasn’t a good explanation, but no bag tying at the santa isabel on huerfanos or grajales, I’m happy to report.

    • Emily says:

      You are a very lucky woman then! I hope you properly appreciate your lack of tied bags after reading this.

      • Eileen says:

        toe be honest, I hand’t even considered my good fortune. I shall now do the untied bag dance. And I do use cloth bags about half the time, but I also need trash bags sometimes!

  9. Stephanie says:

    I actually like tying the bags closed, at least loosely. It keeps the stuff from spilling out all over the floor of the car.

    • Emily says:

      See, again, I’ve never had a major spilling problem. The time it takes to occasionally pick up a bag of noodles off the floor of the car is far less than the time it takes me to untie 20 bags every time I go to the supermarket.

  10. Sarah says:

    I know exactly what you are saying! There are a few quirks like this that I encountered at the grocery stores and had to get use to! Like the ‘cuotas or sin cuotas(sp?)’

  11. Vincent says:

    You’re not going to like the answer to this one.
    All areas that have had An Inquisition will have something like this, and this goes double for the areas that were under Spain. Even in the protestant north you will find men using a wallet made of pigskin. This ‘making of ears’ on the bag is a variation of this very old tradition.
    That’s the historic explanation.
    The utilitarian one that I developed myself while living in London is that the plastic bag is to long when carried on the handlebars of a bicycle. the knot shortens the bag so it won’t be cut to ribbons by the spokes.

    • Emily says:

      Interesting! What’s the connection between bags with ears and the Inquisition? I tried to google and got nothing. I’m not sure if that would be where Chile got it, but either way I’m intrigued by the concept.

    • Marmo says:

      1st part: W H A T
      2nd part:Makes sense

    • Ana says:

      Is it because the Jewish who converted to Catholicism were called marranos? Anyway, I don’t see the connection. I’m from a previously Inquisition-ridden country and I’ve never seen anything like this!

  12. Rachel says:

    It looks like you have more than one item in there. Here in Antofagasta, that would definitely mean more than one bag. Or double bagging, at least. There seems to be a rule about giving as many bags as possible. Sometimes I repack my bags because honestly, for 10 things, I don’t need 5 bags!

    • Emily says:

      Good point. I used to notice that more, and I can’t quite decide if I’ve become desensitized or if they’ve actually started giving me fewer bags. I think it’s the latter because I feel like most of my bags now have a decent load.

  13. Sydney says:

    I think I know someone in the states that does this…not a place, but a person. Maybe my grandma? But, I never found that her knots prevented me from still putting my hands through the handles….good post :-)

  14. Heather says:

    I’ve also noticed the tying style, and the twisting style, as Eileen stated. The twisting is the best because it makes it really easy to grab the handles, because they stick straight up.

    I may be a nerd, but I was intrigued to find out what you possibly had to say about plastic grocery bags. haha.

  15. Tia says:

    LOL! My thoughts exactly! Grocery shopping is so weird in Chile.

    And why do they insist on only putting ONE item in each bag?!?! I mean, really. I think I was the only person in all of Chile using a reusable shopping bag. The baggers are always so confused when I’d ask them to put everything in my one bag.

    • Emily says:

      I really think that my Lider’s baggers must have gotten some kind of training on this because I know that the one item per bag thing happens everywhere, but I swear it doesn’t happen to me anymore.

  16. leigh says:

    YES!!! They did this at the supermarkets in Quito, too. I guess it might make sense to tie the bags up if you’re going to put them in the trunk of your car, but carrying tied-up bags long distances HURTS!

    Also, how messed up is it that the people who bag your groceries not only don’t get a salary but actually have to PAY the supermarket to let them work?!

    • Emily says:

      I wonder if it’s all of Latin America? We should investigate!

      And yes, a friend’s girlfriend worked as a bagger and was telling us that she had to pay, which I hadn’t known before. It seems like a pretty bad job to me, but part-time, student-type jobs in Chile pay so poorly anyway that I guess it’s just the norm.

  17. Abby says:

    I have so much to say about grocery stores here. I think I will write my own post. Thank you for the inspiration. And who ever thought I would be inspired by plastic grocery bags? And who ever thought it would generate so many comments? Haha :)

  18. fran says:

    I really don’t enjoy getting my fingers squished when they tie the handles.
    What I reallt can’t stand is how change is given. Piling cooins on top of the bills is not effective! If I don’t grab it with two hands, I usually drop a coin or two. That’s my “grocery store” pet peeve. Haha

  19. […] that plastic grocery bags could ignite so much discussion? If you don’t believe me, check out Emily’s post on the subject and see how many comments there […]

  20. Sarah says:

    I am intrigued by this post, Emily, and also by many of the comments about too few items per bag since I seem to have the complete opposite problem in NYC. Baggers here seem to take pride is how many items they can fit in one bag, especially if I bring a cloth bag with me. Seriously, I have to ask them to please not put the OJ, milk, and ten zillion canned goods all in the same bag (I’m little!). I think it’s because no one here drives to the store, so the fewer bags you have to lug home, the better. I am strangely envious of those of you who have groceries rolling around in the car – I’d rather reach under my car seats to retrieve a missing apple or two than walk 10 blocks home with insanely over-stuffed bags =P. Anyway, love the post, Em!

    • Emily says:

      Oh yeah, overpacking has its downsides too. I usually overpack my own bags and then regret it if I’m walking home.

      And thanks for coming over here and checking out the blog! Glad you liked it.

  21. kim says:

    Ha! I completely agree with you (and am totally convinced by your photos) I think this would bug me too, especially if I had to walk home carrying the grocery bags. I think my favorite part of your post though is when you say “But the fist grabbing method sucks. It is stupid, and I hate it…” Can’t argue with that! :-)

  22. ayngelina says:

    You should see their faces when I tell them I don’t want a bag, that I’ll just carry it. They cannot comprehend how someone would not want a bag.

    • Emily says:

      Kyle and I once refused a bag because we were buying one bottle of champagne at a store that was literally two buildings down from her apartment. The two guys working there were totally thrown until one said in an “ah ha!” tone “oh, son ecológicas!” as though not wanting to waste a bag made us total hippies defined by our love of the earth.

  23. Luisa says:

    OMG, you just reminded me an episode from my own childhood! My dad was Chilean, but we always lived in Spain, so there was always things we did the chilean way without even realizing it, and the bag-knotting habit was one of them. For years we tied the bags when we went shopping and I never saw it as a strange thing until I went to college and lived with my friends. I still remember their faces when I knotted the bags! I think it’s funny now, but I felt so embarrased!

    • Emily says:

      Luisa, that’s so funny how as kids we just do things our parents do without knowing why or knowing that they’re weird. Glad to give you a blast from the past.

  24. Ceri says:

    Aww, I hate it when people tie the two handles together. I’m all for the handle method. Though, saying that, here you don’t really see plastic carrier bags anymore. Everyone carries around their own ‘reusable’ shopping bags because most plastic carriers cost 5p each! And for a big shop load that’s just not worth it. :S

    • Emily says:

      My dad in England always has his reusable bags for the supermarket for just that reason. I remember even at the WH Smith in the airport I was asked if I wanted a bag for the magazine I’d just bought and was then told it would cost me – obviously I said no.

  25. Randall says:

    When I was in Singapore once and wandered over to “Little India”, if you carried a bag into the store they would put a “Zip Tie” on it. It was, I’m sure to prevent opportunists from adding additional items to the bag that they carried in!

    Not the same scenario I know but it may have something to do with once it is closed that nothing else goes in?

    • Emily says:

      It may be related to that. Other types of stores will close your bags with a sticker or piece of tape, and if you bring a different bag into the supermarket with you, the security guards will first close your bag. My husband however insists that it makes the bags easier to pick up.

  26. Alejandra says:

    What i find the hardest is the whole Bagger thing. There is no such thing here in Sweden. So even if you are buing groceries for an entire football team you have pack your groceries yourself. So me and my brother (in our teens) had some pretty embarrassing moments when we thought the “Bagger “ had mistaken and thought our items were his.
    Brother “esa son de nosotros”
    Bagger ”Si po”
    Brother ”no son de nosotros”
    Bagger ”SI PO”
    And so on….
    Another thing is the amount of bags you get even if you buy like 5 items. And that stuff is just througn in the bag. At least the cloro gets a separate bag (in another bag that’s in another bag). It’s nice to hear that there more out there like me. Locura de bolsas.

  27. Ana says:

    I’ve never seen anything like this bagging system :) It doesn’t seem very practical. Have you tried taking your own bags? I mean the old fashioned shopping totes.

    • Emily says:

      We don’t take cloth bags because we need the plastic ones for trash bags and Lola poop picker-uppers. I’ve heard from friends though that often the baggers still put your things in plastic bags and then just put the plastic in the reusable bags. The concept hasn’t quite sunk in yet here.

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