Monday, April 14, 2008

Blink. Everything's different now.

Did you ever have one of those moments when you look up all of a sudden and it’s obvious that everyone in the whole world got a memo that you missed? This happened to me a few years back with cell phones. I didn’t have one, wasn’t worried about it, blithely living my heedlessly anachronistic and old-fashioned life and then WHAM! All of a sudden I realized that EVERYONE, including young children, had one and that without one I was like a telegraph in an internet world. Also as soon as I got one I found out that without one I had been missing out on a basic fact of modern life: I *need* to talk on the phone all the time. Why hadn’t I realized it before?! Those leisurely 8 minutes walks I used to take from the grocery store to my house in the evenings after work, lugging my milk and cat food, listening to the tweetlings of birds and the screech of the basketball coach’s whistle in the nearby school gym – no more. I still do that about half the time but I’ve also discovered those walks can be prime phone time.

My mother lives in Australia and comes up to visit about once a year. Because of these frequent but widely spaced visits, she’s a very good source for insight into the types of differences and the rate of change in American pop culture. One year at Christmas she pointed out what we all knew but hadn’t seen: all gifts from everyone and to everyone came from Target. If you mentioned ‘Target’ to anyone between the ages of 15 and 65 they were all “I LOVE Target!” in the dreamy cooing voices formerly used only for high school crushes. Another year there were sunflowers everywhere. (Blech. Really? You like them? They give me the icky-shimmies for some reason. But I do like their seeds. Yum.)

The reason I bring this up is that suddenly, in just exactly the way Malcolm Gladwell describes it in his book The Tipping Point, what used to be a sort of now-and-then in my experience has become everywhere, all the time, by EVERYONE. Until a few weeks ago it was EVERYONE BUT ME, but I did get the memo, however belatedly, and now I’m one of them too. Here it is: Everyone here carries their own shopping bags. Everywhere. I keep a couple folded into the carry-all I take with me to work every day, just in case I stop by a store on my way home. Suddenly, we’re all green and eco-friendly and carrying canvas/linen/polyester reusable bags.

We haven’t yet gotten to the my-bag’s-better-than-your-bag phase (or if we have I’ve missed the memo YET AGAIN) but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned up at some point.

Being me, I’ve approached this new trend in two ways. First, I’ve started a collection. (Hey, I’m a museum person.) I think about it as a collection, and I try to rotate the bags I use so that the entire collection wears at the same rate, and no one bag suffers from overuse. I now have reusable shopping bags from Trader Joe’s (both with Hawaiian themes for some reason – also the straps are too long for me and I don’t like them as much but they do hold more than any other bag), a green one from Shaw’s supermarket, and a black-and-white one from Fairway Market in Manhattan. Naturally, I will soon add soft red compact ones from Target - they come in their own pouches! For the collection's sake I need bags of varying colors, textures, sizes and weights, but I’m already well on my way to total usefulness. Second, I’ve done some research. I looked online. These are the bags I’ll be adding to my collection soon, Envirosax and Reisenthels. Aren't they pretty? These will be the pretty, girly, boutique shopping bags I'll carry with me. The others are sort of the fashion equivalent of denim overalls - useful, but no one's every gonna say, "Ooooo, pretty" while you're wearing them.

Maybe this is a phenomenon only in the Northeast, but you should keep an eye on the mailbox. Your memo will probably turn up sooner or later.


Big Kitty Fun said...

Much as I love you, I'm sad to report that you did indeed miss the memo. The "my bag is cooler than your bag" thing was HUGE here in 2006 before everyone was all eco-friendly.

You COULD NOT FIND the Anya Hindmarch bag here in NYC, and it was selling for zillions online. Which I think is stupid, because it's ugly. So there.

And, for the record, much as I love all of my other bags, I think my purple Riesenthal is becoming my fave. Kind of bulky for everyday carrying, but really cute for schlepping. And, it fits over my shoulder comfortably. SCORE!

L-bean said...

We're big into carrying our own shopping bags here, too. I think that a lot of that has recently popped up because Whole Foods (we're the world headquarters, here) stopped using plastic bags. And, if you bring in your own shopping bags...they'll credit you 10 cents! I love it.

My collection of bags include some that came with my husband (Kroger bags from, I swear, 1989), whole foods bags (they're colorful), and bags that I've acquired from conferences. My favorite? A Department of Defense Environmental Conservation conference. (Seems like an oxymoron to me.)

Annette Piper said...

As your mum has no doubt told you, we're getting better here in Australia taking our shopping bags with us. There are a couple of fancy looking ones just starting to get around, but most of us use our enviro-friendly recycled bags for groceries (but they don't fold up very small). Most of these come in green, although you can get red and black and blue depending on the store where they are bought, and I saw a cool purple one the other day! So we're only up to colour envy here rather than whole BAG envy ;)