The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

January 5, 2009

Do you ever get embarrassed?

On Friday, I was happy to hang out with a journalist who is writing a book on plastic and wanted to know what it’s like to try and live plastic-free. So we had lunch together and chatted, and then she followed me to the butcher shop where I take my stainless steel pot to buy chicken for my cats. At some point after I’d handed the butcher my container, she asked if I ever get embarrassed. I guess she was referring to my being the only customer bringing my own container and asking for this kind of special service.

My flippant answer was, “No. Once I turned 40, I stopped being embarrassed.” And while I do believe that with age and experience many of us give up worrying so much about the opinions of strangers, there is always a certain amount of discomfort inherent in being the first to do anything. We want to know we’re not alone. We want to feel assured that someone else has had the same or similar ideas as us and that while our choices may seem odd or eccentric to some, there is a community of others who will support us.

So I put the question to you all. Do you ever get embarrassed? How concerned are you about raised eyebrows or a possible joke at your expense? Do you take it personally? What does your reaction say about you and how you feel about yourself in the world? These are general questions, not necessarily related to plastic or bringing your own bags or containers while shopping. They apply to all social aspects of life. I’d love to know what you think.

Recently, I’ve begun a project, which I’ll write about later, that is thrilling and also the scariest thing I have ever done. And the scary part is all about worrying what others will think. Judgment. Criticism. Fear of failure. And what I realize is that while I don’t get embarrassed about bringing my own containers to stores or carrying a huge box of packing peanuts across town on my bike for recycling or even dressing up as a Brita filter, there are certainly cases in which I fear others’ opinions.

Note: I’ve got simultaneous projects going on and haven’t had time to post here. Hoping to get back in the swing tonight or tomorrow. If you are a Skoy cloth winner, I have your address and will be mailing the cloths tomorrow. Thank to everyone who shared their plastic-free resolutions for the coming year. Kudos to all of you!

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13 years ago

I remember bringing a cloth bag grocery shopping and the bagger not knowing what to do. it’s not that hard. that was back in the day when using cloth was completely unknown. i was self-conscious but not embarrassed. but when at first you’re embarrassed or self-conscious but later people come to see/be your way you feel empowered. so the next time you feel self-conscious you don’t let it stop you because you know the reward of doing the right thing, and that maybe, eventually others will come around to seeing what you see.

and i hate when baggers use your cloth bag(s) and don’t pack it well and then try to pack the rest in a plastic bag. it gets annoying. i’m not embarrassed to just butt in and bag my own stuff now. they don’t seem to get the point about reusable bags…

14 years ago

Heh – I have found that now that I feel the embarassment but am more easily able to let it roll off my back with the hopes that maybe one in ten people out there will say hey… that’s a good idea… I’ll have to try that.

I use cloth diapers on my daughter and I have had other mom’s scoff “oh – you are crazy using those” but I have gotten used to it. In general, most people will ask more questions. I actually know of one couple I have inspired to use cloth diapers who had started out by calling me “crazy!”

Also, I am an avid coupon clipper, however I can’t bring myself to get the Sunday paper… so I dig in the recycling bin. I can get multiple coupon inserts this way. The transfer station guys don’t mind at all.

14 years ago

I swear that I hadn’t read you post before I wrote my ‘then they laugh at you’ post.

I would have to say that I do get embarrassed fairly often, but I am only 39 and 3/4 years old :)

I recently decided to do regular beach surveys combined with a bit of volunteer cleanup. My first photo session there was no embarrassment because there were no onlookers.

14 years ago

I actually got to talk to my mother about this. I personally have never had the nerve to bring my own container for meat, or other stuff. My mom gave me a look, “not to long ago, like about 30, I never used a plastic bag. I’d take my bottle to get soy sauce, vinegar or sugar.” My mother grew up in a different culture and it seemed perfectly normal for people to bring their own containers to store, though she shops just like everyone else these days. Perhaps it is because she has lived many years when BYOC was just a part of everyone’s life.

I am trying to not care about what other people think of me :)

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Clif — love the photo!

Steph @ Greening Families
14 years ago

I’ve found the internet so helpful in this regard. Whether it is living below my means or greening my life, the internet has allowed me to discover others who have come to the same conclusions I have.

I’ve found this enormously comforting. When I feel like I am “the only one,” I keep running through my decision making to make sure I haven’t missed or misinterpreted something. Once I know that others have reached similar conclusions, I don’t have a problem being the only one in an area because I know there is a community out there, just not where I am at the moment.

Tanya Seaman
14 years ago

I do get embarrassed when I do things like ask for a real glass or real silverware because essentially I’m pointing out to the other person that they are wasteful and not very conscious when they provide throwaway stuff. I wish to find a more comfortable way to ask so that I don’t seem like an annoyance.

Your blog helps me express myself so that it’s about ME, not them, while still encouraging others to internalize what I’M doing. Thanks!

14 years ago

This is a test to see if HTML can be inserted for links so people don’t have to cut and paste.

bike air bag

14 years ago

You are not alone in transporting shipping popcorn by bike. Please view this example of my doing the same. If folks ask what I am doing, I tell them it is an airbag for a bike.

The Minimalist
14 years ago

I would think stores would embrace people using their own containers as it would save them money. The cloth bag thing is so weird because I have had other customers give me a smug look or comment like, “Soon the green police will be after us all.” I was embarrassed but then the checker said, “Wow, what’s her problem, we want you to use our reusable store bags!”

John Costigane
14 years ago

Hi again Beth,

Indiebird raises a good point about containers. These should really only be used with unpackaged items.

Meat/fish is available at local butcher/fishmonger outlets. Superstores also offer fresh food counters where containers are applicable.

The process is easy for staff too, as they do not have to package these loose items.

Opening pre-packed is inadvisable with hand cleaning necessary for staff, as well as the time lost opening and disposing of plastic waste.

I assume the US has similar arrangements in superstores. Is this the case?

14 years ago

Hi and nice blog. Anyway, on the topic of embarrasment, I think that as you get older it becomes easier. However, I find there is a fine line between pointing out that I don’t want a little plastic bag for my meat (already packaged!!) before it can go into a reusable carrier bag and turning into a screaming angry person who may also burst into tears if she has to explain again. I also, would love to think that I would go and hand the packaging for products into customer services at the supermarket, but I’m worried about that angry screaming person appearing as I do so, so haven’t quite plucked up the courage yet…

Lara S.
14 years ago

I do get embarrassed quite a lot, but I try for others not to notice and if I get them to understand my reasons or at least do what I ask them (like put the cheese in my own container), then I feel great and that compensates the unpleasant moment.
I think it’s good, to some extent, because it motivates me to find better ways to explain things to others. It also represents a challenge sometimes: yesterday I walked by a clothes shop and I bought a shirt that was on sale, and since I hadn’t planned to buy anything I had no reusable bag. I considered accepting a plastic bag. But I just grabbed the shirt, refused the bag and walked like 7 crowded blocks like that. Probably nobody realized this, but I felt uncomfortable. When I got home I felt happy about it.

Please don’t let me wait, I want to know what your project is about! ^^

knutty knitter
14 years ago

Embarrassment definitely decreases with age. 50 plus and grey hair gives you at least a vestige of perceived wisdom so let it all hang out. Mind you, this is a greenish place to live so I don’t stand out too much if at all.

viv in nz

Carol in Seattle
14 years ago

No, I don’t get embarrassed anymore. I’m with you, Beth, age gives me a lot of freedom in that area. Now I just leave the embarrassment to my twenty-two year old daughter who thinks that I am just getting weirder and weirder.

On Sunday, as I was carting my stash of plastic bags (I found a bunch in my Christmas bins from my pre-green life) into the grocery store, I informed her that she was free to walk in on her own, so I wouldn’t embarrass her.

Since my local QFC sells the reusable bags, they are always happy to use them for me. My only problem is that because they actually hold way more than the plastic bags, the sometimes overload them.

I haven’t tried to use my own containers at the local QFC, but the Winco and Food Co-op both have large bulk food departments and encourage people to bring their own containers. Mainly I still use a plastic bag, but then re-cycle it. One of my 2009 goals is to buy more bulk and use my own bags.

Beth, keep up the good work and thanks for helping to educate me!!

14 years ago

I guess I forgot to add that I am lucky that free-trade, organic and other such products are common place in my multi-millionaire school.
One of my friend’s parents own the White Sox and the Bulls, another’s father wrote and had one of the main parts in GhostBusters (Harold Ramis)…
And living in five, six million-dollar houses like we do is not uncommon. We are Chicago, a democratic, “green” city…so I get the benefit of the doubt with my environmentally concious actions.
Actually, while typing this while I am supposed to be researching stuff in class, a friend leaned over and asked me what the…err…”frick” I was doing.
And after explaning it and pointing out the fact that I always used the re-usable silverware and never bought drinks, she was kind enough to say “Wow…your a freak. But maybe, if, like, the whole world were like you, we wouldn’t have a problem”
Of course, I am often told affectionatly that I am “such a freak”…but thats just me and my freak friends^^

Cheap Like Me
14 years ago

We held my daughter’s birthday party outside last spring, and it was my ONLY day to do laundry, so we had a load of clothes on the line. She goes to a semi-posh private school (and because of her friends’ schools, I refer to our home in loving comparison as “the hovel”). One dad gaped at our laundry and said, “Wow … that reminds me of the old days, growing up” — he didn’t add when I was poor, but that was the implication — and I was a little embarrassed. But after all, it was a conscious choice.

In general, I’m trying to give up unjustified embarrassment before I turn 40.

Village Green
14 years ago

Never embarrassed, because I am a theatre artist and I look upon these public actions as performance art for a cause.

At the Acme this past weekend, I noticed — finally — other shoppers using their own bags! I’ve felt like the only person in Akron doing this for the past three years, and at last others are joining it — yay!

14 years ago

My dad bought my kids some things clothes as Christmas presents this year. They were the wrong sizes, and we all went to the store to exchange them. When all was done and we were “checking out” I hand the bags the clerk, and my dad was actually embarassed of me. Of course he never would have said so, but his explantion to the check out guy about me “having to us the cloth bags” said it all. Even though he states he’s going green in 2009, I’m afraid his actions if any, will be private.
Oh and the check out boy, could have cared less.

14 years ago

I don’t really get embarrassed, not with my environmental choices, anyway. For some strange reason, I like being the weirdo. I like when people look at me strange, because then they might make a change themselves. (But being a science nerd, I’ve always been a little different…)

I think it’s the rest of the world that doesn’t make changes that should be embarrassed. But they don’t even know it.

14 years ago

Beth, you’re right. Turning 40 makes one feel more empowered, like we earned the right to do/say/request things from our hearts and consciences that we never felt we could before. I use every opportunity I can to make sure those in the store around me know that I care about the planet. That is, if a clerk tries to put my stuff in a bag, I say, “I have my own bag, thanks,” then usually add something like, “I’m trying to do my bit for the environment,” so that others know my motivation. I don’t care if they roll they eyes or turn up their noses. I just keep smiling. If someone gives me a hard time about it, I just say something like “Is it wrong for me to care enough about the planet that I’m willing to make sacrifices for your children’s future?” That usually shuts them up!

14 years ago

I agree with what a couple others have said about feeling more uncomfortable or embarrassed around people I know. A common occurrence is for me to have a run-in with a store clerk about some false local food advertising and then go to work and vent to my co-workers. I don’t bat an eye at the store but when my co-workers look at me like I’m crazy I feel a little embarrassed. Actually, I think blogging has made embarrassing situations more common in my life because online I’m so used to all this green stuff being the norm, then here in Hicktown I sound like a really loony bin talking about fair trade… I think some of my co-workers are starting to see the light though, or else they are just used to me being crazy. ;)

14 years ago

We just spent the holidays in Arkansas, where styrofoam is still prolific. Our family members were using styrofoam cups (huge 24 oz sized) and plates to save dish washing, and I must say, we both felt shy and embarrassed to request glasses and ceramic plates instead of using the styrofoam option offered to us. We live in Portland, Oregon, and are already viewed as the strange elite for that choice. And we didn’t want our family to feel embarrassed about their choice to use a cheap throwaway. What a bind. (Our families are not the sort to accept “teachable moments” and would simply feel ashamed because of our request.) I only have this problem with family–in any other setting, I will ask for the sustainable choice.

14 years ago

Did you just ask a thirteen-year-old if she got /embarrassed/?
Ah well, I suppose, in fairness, this was most likely directed towards the environmental aspects…
As a thirteen-year-old, there isn’t that much I can do…or maybe its just that much that I will do, I don’t know, but anyways, there isn’t that much I do that is particularly flashy. I bike to school when possible, skip the plastic bottles, use re-usable silverware…
The only truly conspicuous thing is my bringing back the plastic bags to be re-used at the grocery store. And that never makes me embarrassed. That nearly always makes me furious. When I sit and watch them double bag all of my perfectly good old bags makes me mad, not embarrassed. There are plenty of things that make me embarrassed, but I can’t say that being green is one of them.

Chiot's Run
14 years ago

I don’t get embarrassed when it’s something that’s good for me or the planet. I agree with you, age really helps.

14 years ago

My skirt once dropped off of me in the subway during the height of rush hour.
I stopped being embarrassed of ANYTHING after that.

14 years ago

I am embarrassed talking about moon cloths(instead of disposable feminine pads) and cloth wipes (instead of disposable toilet paper). It depends on who I am talking with about it though.

I am embarrassed when my partner calls me out about something ungreen that I have done. (Example: get a to go coffee at Starshmucks in a disposable cup, note I rarely do this ) It is good natured but still embarrassing.

I am mildly embarrassed at how little I know. I am constantly learning, especially about gardening and growing food. It’s humbling, exciting, terrifying and a smidge embarrassing all mushed together.

Very interesting thought exercise. Thanks for posing the question! :)

Erin aka Conscious Shopper
14 years ago

I don’t get embarrassed around strangers – like Green Bean said, it makes me feel proud to be doing those things. I feel more self-conscious when I’ve forgotten to take my reusable bags or stainless steel water bottle with me because I might run into someone I know and then they’ll think I’m a hypocrite!

I do feel embarrassed around my family, though, because I know they are more likely to tease me relentlessly.

Green Bean
14 years ago

Dunno. I don’t get embarassed with my own bags or those types of green things. It’s kind of like a badge of honor and I think enough people do them that it’s not freakish.

I did used to get embarassed over hanging clothes out to dry or silly stuff like that. Not really any more. I’m not the one wasting tons of plastic and polluting everything and I think there is so much awareness now that doing these kinds of things just gives people an idea, rather than makes them turn up their nose.

Good post.

Green Resolutions
14 years ago

Oh, yes, I’m easily embarrassed and very self-conscious. I think In terms of green, for example, I was so self-conscious the first time I took my own to-go container to a restaurant that I quickly hid it in the diaper bag… and consequently forgot to put it in the fridge when I got home.

Anarres Natural Health
14 years ago

The short answer is that I get embarrassed about everything. I'm proud, too proud of my enviro ethics, but at the same time I'm ashamed when I inconvenience people.

I was truly mortified when the manager of the deli counter came running up yelling at the staff to not fill my reused container. That kind of humiliation is the freaking limit. Just use butcher paper, people, or at least admit that using 3 sheets of plastic per order is antiquated. I felt criminalized.

I feel better praising stores for offering options and pointing out how happy I am to see less packaged and bulk goods.

Embarrassed or not, it is worse for me to be unethical just to save face.

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

14 years ago

I agree that with age you become less concerned about the judgement of others. Or, maybe you have embarassed yourself so often that the emotion loses its sting.

I’ve lived through breastmilk leaks in the midst of business meetings, calling respected colleagues the wrong name, even enduring a meeting with (all male) lawmakers where I was promoting a policy while drenched from a freak rainstorm and not noticing that my shirt had unbuttoned over my breast line and my bra was playing peek-a-boo the whole time. (and that’s the extremely abbreviated bio of blunders.)

Now, I just embrace the fact that I am a bit of a buffoon. Smile. Laugh. And, mostly, carry on doing the best I can.

14 years ago

I don’t get embarrassed bringing my reusable things out in public. I do feel a certain amount of angst when I recall what I’ve said to explain my green behavior — as in, was I being too hoity toity? Too in your face? Was there a way to say it that didn’t make the other person feel bad? That’s what gets me every time.

John Costigane
14 years ago

Hi Beth,

A belated Happy New Year to you.

I also do the container as an individual but staff are used to me by now. As long as you explain your reasons staff are very cooperative. The truth is containers have so many uses from food to toiletries. Think of the packaging avoided.

Occasionally I see the occasional plastic-loving staffer who says “plastic is essential to keep food fresh and avoid wastage”. My reply is to state my non-use of plastic packaging waste and also my lack of food waste. Having the last word is ace in these situations.

14 years ago

I get embarrassed when I forget my reusable bag at the farmers market but refuse to take a plastic bag to carry my apples and then fill up my purse and carry the rest in my hands but drop them as I’m trying to unlock the car.

14 years ago

Sometimes even when you bring in a reusable shopping bag, the bagger places a plastic bag WITHIN your reusable canvas bag, or if you tell them that you don’t need a plastic bag, simply throws the plastic bag away. It’s fairly embarrassing to try and explain your efforts and why you desperately yelped NO WAIT when they tossed the bag in the trash.

14 years ago

I get embarrased quite easily. Never for bringing my own containers or forks or even plate (to potlucks at work)Let them eat on those crappy styrofoam things with crappy plastic forks and knives- I expect better and I am worth it. I get embarrased for other reasons- although they are pretty silly when I think about it.
Example- the guys at work were taloing about cars, and mine is usually pretty messy. So i stay out of it. When pushed though, they talk about their cars and trucks with their V-10 triton engines and make note of my subcompact that I have been driving since 1995. I am just happy when my radio works! But I take a moment to breath and remind myself the satisfaction I Had when driving to the gas pump, when gas was over $2.50 A GALLON. That usually cures my embaressment.

14 years ago

I get embarrassed at some things, but not with others. I get embarrassed (or maybe not embarrassed, but I feel bad)when I go to use my reusable bags and the bagger is unable to understand how to pack it as quickly as with the plastic store bags. My husband is hard to deal with sometimes because he thinks I can go over the top with things (like plastic bags). So yes, in general I do get embarrassed, but I think I have found a nice balance of helping the earth without looking like a crazy and when I do look like a crazy I try to just grin and continue on :-/

Lisa Sharp
14 years ago

Truth is I get embarrassed when I do non-green things. I feel like a hypocrite.