Paper or Plastic? 我不要纸袋

As many would probably know, Singaporean Mandarin is quite distinct from its counterparts in Mainland China and Taiwan. This is not anything surprising. Language is something created collectively, so it naturally takes on distinct flavours of different regions.

Nevertheless, I’ve been wanting to start a series of articles on the common mistakes we often hear. So here’s the first one!

I remember when I was young, my aunt who used to take us on shopping trips would tell me to ask for “纸袋zhǐdài”(paper bag). And the carriers those days were truly made from paper.

I don’t know when paper bags started to become plastic bags. But amazingly, although in English, people seem to differentiate quite well between paper and plastic bags, but in Mandarin, we’re stuck with paper bags. When we go shopping and want to be environmentally friendly, we’d tell the cashier, “我不要纸袋wǒ búyào zhǐdài” (I don’t want any paper bags). Or when we cannot be environmentally friendly (at that point in time anyway), we’d say, “请给我纸袋qǐng gěi wǒ zhǐdài” (Please give me a paper bag). But the thing is, nowadays we hardly get any paper bags from cahiers, more often than not they hand out plastic bags, even though the typical customer asks for paper bags!

The funny thing is, I’ve noticed that some Mainland Chinese have actually assimilated quite well into this ‘new culture’. Before handing out plastic bags to customers, they might ask, “要纸袋吗yào zhǐdài ma?”(Would you like a paper bag?). And at the same time, they would place one hand on a stack of plastic bags waiting to dish out one for the customer.

Ok, so what should the proper term for plastic bags be? It’s “塑料袋sùliàodài”.

I hardly use this term either though. Because I would usually say, “我不需要袋子wǒ bù xūyào dàizi”, meaning, I don’t need any carriers.

So here’s a summary:

袋子dàizi:bag/ carrier
01 daizi

塑料袋sùliàodài:plastic bag
02 suliaodai

纸袋zhǐdài:paper bag
03 zhidai

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