I can tell a lot about a city simply by going into a store, purchasing an item and saying that I don't need a bag. There are levels of responses that range anywhere from "thank you for sparing a bag" to "there is no way in hell you are leaving this store without a bag even if I have to tie it around your lifeless neck." Some will choose less aggressive approaches--my favorite is when, after their insisting that I take the bag and my insisting that my pack of gum doesn't require a bag, they then mention that the bag is free. They perk up as they think of it as if they have finally come to understand why I have been so resistant to their offer. They must be imagining that I come from somewhere less luxurious where people can't afford cars, or TV's and where stores charge a bag tax to their customers because otherwise customers would just keep coming in for the free bags and sew them into clothing, roofing for their huts and blankets in which to swaddle their young. When I still refuse the bag they figure I must have misunderstood them. Seeing only my vague and ambiguous racial features and ignoring my plain, grammatically correct English, they continue to bag the item and in that moment I must make a snap decision to pursue their refusal or to just take the damn bag.
When I lived in the SF Bay Area, I don't remember this being an issue. I remember being thanked for my environmental consciousness, maybe even rewarded with five cents off my order. When I moved back to the Philadelphia area though, things were clearly different. At the now-folded Tower Records in on Broad Street, they flat out refused to let me leave without a bag for my CD. Something about store policy says that every customer must have a bag. Once I encountered a generous employee who let me get away bagless if I would go through the routine of him handing me a bag and me handing it back to him. I even shook my head for emphasis and mouthed, "no, thank you" in case the store policy moguls were watching.
In Austin I was able to purchase a bottle of vitamins at a local GNC and not have to take a bag. No questions asked. I need to do some further research on this but I’m thinking that, given the struggles I have had living in Philadelphia and the ease of life in the Bay Area and in Austin, I need to live in a bagless city. A place where you can buy a pack of gum or a bottle of vitamins or a pen or a comb and not have to take a bag.