Bag Boys

The bag boys at Wong, one of the largest supermarket chains in Lima, are unlike anything I have ever seen before. And they are just boys. For some reason, Wong has distributed its employees into very specific roles based on their gender. All cashiers are female and all baggers are male.

Wong prides itself on its superior customer service. In fact, their motto is “Where shopping is a pleasure.” Sound familiar to anyone? Like its American cousin, Wong employees are there to serve your every need. They go to great lengths to direct you towards the product you are looking for and are always willing to answer your most absurd questions.

At the checkout line, a female cashier wearing an ensemble consisting of red and white (which happen to be the colors of the Peruvian flag), scans the items. What I find most interesting about the cashiers’ outfits is that it immediately tell their position within the company. Cashiers wear white shirts with a red collar and black pants. Their hair is slicked back into a ballerina bun and wrapped around the bun is a red knit scrunchie, circa 1994. In addition to the cashiers, there are other women walking around in slightly different uniforms. They wear red shirts with a grey collar, black pants and the same ballerina hairdo but with a grey knit scrunchie. These women, from what I can gather, hold a title similar to supervisor because if there ever is a problem, they come over to fix it. Alvaro has been shopping at Wong since his was a bebé and claims that he never noticed the difference in the womens’ uniforms. I think four years of retail work is to blame for my overly observant eye for clothing.

Eleven months out of the year, the bag boys wear a very simple red, button down shirt and a red hat. In July, however, they wear a fabulous outfit to commemorate Peru’s independence, celebrated every year on July 28th. The picture above was taken on my trip in July and the bag boy is wearing a traditional Peruvian poncho and hat, a style typically found in the Peruvian highlands. For the whole month of July, the bag boys wear this ensemble in an obvious display of Peruvian pride. I absolutely love it.

What makes these baggers different from those of Publix, is that at Wong they will take your groceries all the way to your home. Most costumers walk to the supermarket and the bag boys will then walk home with the client, even going up the elevator and into the customer’s apartment. While driving through Lima, I have seen these bag boys in their bright red uniform, pushing their iconic grey cart walking down the street and sometimes they are eight, nine or even ten blocks from the closest Wong. This is why I think that the separation of the genders into pre-prescribed roles is more of an issue of safety rather than discrimination. It simply wouldn’t be wise for a woman to be in that sort of role.

It makes me wonder: Do the bag boys at Wong take a detour on their way back to the store? In my days at Banana Republic, when my friend Megan and I needed to run an errand within the mall, we almost always grabbed our debit cards for a stop at Starbucks on the way back. After all, happy employees means happy customers.