Sun Mar 25th, 2007 at 05:28:56 AM EST
A British friend called to go to lunch and shop for clothes out of town on Saturday and I decided to go because a meal with a friend and a ride in the countryside is an enjoyable day. We had met teaching English to management types in a global consulting firm and even if we have very different views, we became friends as two outsiders looking in: As recent arrivals observing Spain, as ex-corporates peeking into a super-corporate, etc. (Their 30-story building burned down and neither of us was questioned by the police, but we have our own theories.)
Although I grow more shopping-averse every week, I enjoy looking and watching without feeling any compulsion. We drove SW, out of town and passed the windowless, industrial block, shopping malls to get to a place that could have been an ecovillage, if the parking lot had been 1% of its size and had some windows facing it. At least in its south side.
From the diaries -- whataboutbob
I was almost homesick when I saw it because it was a carbon copy of a factory outlet center in Castle Rock, Colorado! A parking lot circling cutesy buildings in a loop, nice walkways with baby trees, only one set of bathrooms and no place to sit unless you were consuming. Once inside, you cannot see any motor vehicle, which helps people focus only on the merchandise. We discussed all the unused second story spaces that would make perfect, small apartments in this carless world, but they are only cathedral ceilings with prettyfied windows.
There was only one place for lunch in that complex and it was a chain, but turned out to be really good. I don´t want to make simplistic deductions, but I noticed that the space was well thought out for the public, the menu was very varied and trendy, the quality of the food was good and all the employees were South American. I got a sense that employees were treated reasonably well there because they had good attitudes, even in a noisy Spanish crowd, and that´s not usually the case for food service employees.
My friend still believes that "factory outlet" implies saving money, but I have found that 95% of the merchandise in these places is not discounted at all and it takes hours of digging to find value. Most of the shops were clothing with global brand names and it is really difficult to know which represent quality and durability anymore. Another invasive detail that has become accepted, is the English naming on the centers, on the shops and many items that have an easy translation. The old "foreign is good" is alive and well in Spain.
People seemed to concentrate very hard, to find and fit into the most copied, poor quality, uninventive, sometimes hideous clothes. In a setting micro-designed just to sell, it is easy to forget about value or appropriateness. Almost as if leaving the place without a new outfit, would have been a personal failure. (What´s wrong with me that the more clothes I see, the more I like what I have?) In a bubbling economy with a blaring media, Spain now includes plastic surgery in the consumer price index. (Heard this month...)
My addictive streak came out when I saw a V & B china shop and I got the "I must have one stunning, new dish", but like most times, nothing stunned me. I went to an old, Spanish brand, sock shop that used to stand for quality and I was really disappointed that they carry the lowest standard, undifferentiated stuff from any euro shop.
We stayed away from clothes designers and places with pounding music, but I did fall for a few things: A couple of small dishes from a renowned, French cookery shop, a pair of winter leotards and a cushion cover for the shredded one on my desk chair. These are things I would have never missed if I had not gone there, but I chose them because I liked them, they were very good values and will give me pleasure. My friend, who actually "needed" clothes, found nothing and probably didn´t really need them, either.
I politely refused the branded shopping bags and carried the stuff in my folding, reusable one because I will not provide free publicity, or bring more useless stuff home. For decades now, I have had this aversion to wearing somebody else´s name on my person, and so far no brand has offered to pay me to wear it, either.
If I don´t see a pair of jeans in the next year, it will be soon enough. I could use a second pair, but they may not make what I call jeans anymore. The look and feel of those I saw, with their questionable, fabric-percentage and origin tags, could almost drive me .... back to polyester knit.
We walked around for about three hours after lunch and ended up missing the chocolate factory, a cooking utensil shop, the fancy underwear shops and the perfume maker. By that time, the sensory overload had done its damage and I felt stressed, cranky, unable to focus, dazed and tired. I will avoid any non-essential shopping for at least six months.
Nobody here will admit giving up on the ideal of the small shop, but in practice these mega malls located on all corners of cities, have accomplished their goals. There isn´t a train, nor a bus in sight, because the public transit crowd would probably search for value.... They obviously know that most people have a car and they will shop wherever they can park! The false claim of "one-stop shopping".
Another goal seems to be to create the perception of a country outing for city dwellers, especially those with small children. The fact that shopping is not a childhood activity is considered irrelevant and now parents allow 4-year olds to act as uneducated consumers on a regular basis.
I hope these dazing-and-dozing centers will disappear in the EU´s next quarter century.
So getting down to personal policy we can control: Is your shopping car-driven? Where do you shop for occasional items? Where do you not? How often do you buy items that you find are poor quality and have to buy again? How much e-shopping do you do? Comparisons, ideas, improvements, solutions, ...revolutions?