Drinking From A Bag

When you move abroad you expect to run into things that are different from what you’re accustomed to.  Things like the types of food you’ll find, the language, the customs, and the way people dress.

One thing I didn’t expect however is that “to go” drinks are usually given out in plastic bags.  The first time I saw this was in the Philippines in March of 2008, when I was visiting Margee’s family.  I thought it was really amusing.  The bags are mass produced and shops buy them to put the drinks in.  When you buy a drink, and say you want it “to go” they will open it and pour it into a bag, along with some ice.  Then they’ll drop a straw in, pull the drawstring tight and pass it over to you.

I asked my wife about this and she said it’s because it’s cheaper.  I didn’t get it.  I asked her, “In what way is it cheaper for them to have to hand out an additional plastic bag?”  So she told me that there are deposits on the bottles and cans.  If you get a drink and take the bottle or can with you, you have to pay for the deposit as well as the drink, and it’s inconvenient, or sometimes not possible, to return the container to get the deposit.  So, to avoid that, the stores pour the drinks in bags and handle the return of the containers themselves.

I later found the same to be true in Singapore at hawker centers.  When you get a drink to go, it’s most often poured into a plastic bag.  The hawker centers use the bags not only for drinks from cans or containers, but for the drinks they make themselves, like the local iced Kopi.  I imagine it’s cheaper for them to use the bags than to use paper cups.  I also imagine it’s more about being able to put ice in the drink than having something to do with a deposit in Singapore.

I’ve seen people carrying everything in these little bags: juice, soda, coffee, and even beer (in the Philippines).  It took a while to get used to, and it was a bit strange to carry one around myself, but I’ve become accustomed to it.

Oh, and one other thing about “to go” orders.  Here in Singapore it’s referred to as “take-away.”  When I first got here I would sometimes ask for something “to go” and the person taking my order would just give me a blank look and ask again if I wanted my order “for here” or “take-away.”  In the Philippines, it’s referred to as “take-out.”

Sometimes it’s small things like that, that remind you of how far from home you are.

2 thoughts on “Drinking From A Bag”

  1. Haha… Great post! Tell you, I had the same experience when I first went to Singapore in january 2005. It wasn't only a huge climate shock coming from icy winter to a hot tropical climate, it was also these things like drinks in bags. I never so this before. A guy strolling down the street and carrying coffe in a bag. I had to snap a photo and later I told everyone here, because it was such a new experience. Sure, now I can understand why people do that, but 1st time is a bit of a surprise, especially because we have a sort of a coffee culture here, which includes coffee in a cup and a friend to chat with. Carrying in a bag made coffee look so like nothing special. Those unique English expressions like 'take away' come because the translated the Chinese phrase literarly. Have you noticed how Singaporeas sometimes say 'Can or cannot?' Or they add 'la' at the end, which is from Chinese and has the function of stressing the word. So you'll hear 'Can la', 'Cannot la'… Funny. You can google 'Singlish' or 'Manglish' or go to Wikipedia, there's even dictionaries. I think you should learn some, since you're in Singapore 🙂


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