Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sewing Machines—2, Trailing Spouse—0

 am destined to be without a sewing machine on my ex-pat adventure.  I have killed another one.  You will remember that I blew up the first one that I sent over with all of my other stuff on the shipping container.  One day, I forgot to plug it into the transformer before plugging it into the adapter before plugging it into the wall.  Apparently that was just one too many electrical gizmos for my brain to remember that morning.  TRANSFORMER, ADAPTER, WALL.  I bypassed transformer altogether.  KABOOM!

Any sane person would have then gone out to the local Swiss sewing machine store and bought a Swiss machine with a Swiss plug and Swiss innards and called it a day.  That would be what any filthy rich, sane person would do.  Being neither filthy rich nor entirely sane, I opted to try and save Mr. Big a couple of thousand dollars by waiting and just buying a new machine in the US the next time we went back, just because I am a nice, thrifty person like that.  Ahem.

So, you will remember, last November when we were in the US for Thanksgiving, I bought a beautiful, new Husqvarna sewing machine and schlepped it all the way back home as a carry-on item.  This was not a cheap machine, y’all.  It was a lovely, heavy duty machine that would have risen to the challenge of all of my lovely, heavy duty upholstery projects.

The mayhem that is the holidays kept me from using my new machine, but a few weeks ago things finally slowed down and I trotted out the new machine in all its’ splendiferousness to reupholster a leather chair cushion.  I was OH SO CAREFUL to get all my electrical ducks in a row.  Transformer, adapter, wall.  Check.  Begin sewing.

ME:  Mr. Big, can you come here for a minute?  There’s something wrong with this machine.

MR. BIG:  Huh?

ME:  Listen.  It doesn’t sound right.

MR. BIG:  (after listening for about 8 nanoseconds) It sounds fine to me.

ME:  No, really.  I’ve been sewing for 30 years and I’m telling you, it sounds funny.

MR. BIG:  You’re just paranoid because you blew up the last one.  It sounds--   

(Machine dies as he is speaking.)

MR.  BIG:  %#&^!!!!   @&^*(%#@!!!!!  You have done it again!!!

ME:  WAAAH!  I want my mother!!!!

Y’all!  It was so not my fault!  It turns out it was HIS stupid transformer that screwed up my beautiful new toy.  Ergo, I made him carry the broken, dead carcass all the way back across the ocean because he is under the misguided impression that the store where we bought it in the US is going to give him a new one.  Really?  I was just going to put it in the bottom of the closet with the other one as part of my new collection:  THINGS I HAVE RUINED IN SWITZERLAND THAT I CAN’T AFFORD TO REPLACE.

Mr. Big seems pretty confident that INADVERTENT FRYING will be covered under the warranty.  I’m pretty sure it says somewhere down in the fine print of that warranty that if a purchaser uses a piece-o-shit-made-in-China transformer and fries their own machine. . .well, let’s just say I’m not holding my breath in anticipation of Mr. Big coming out of Joanne’s Fabrics with a shiny, new Husqvarna any time soon.

I have to tell you, I did try to get it fixed in Switzerland at the Husqvarna dealer.  That didn’t go so well.  First of all, I had to study all morning to find out how to say “transformer”, “slow, painful death” and “it was not my fault” in French before I could go to the store and make myself understood.  

I know this woman in the store wasn’t actually laughing at me because the Swiss don’t laugh, as a general rule.  But it was darn close.  Her lips were quivering and it was warm in her store.  Basically, I had Mr. Big on my right spouting English at me, me and the broken machine in the middle trying to translate, and this poor Swiss-woman-Husqvarna-dealer on my left who thought we were raging maniacs.  She was a hair’s breadth away from running for her bomb shelter.

It is really hard for me to speak French when I have a crazy husband yelling in my ear.  TELL HER ABOUT THE ELECTRICITY ISSUE!  ASK HER IF SHE CAN FIX IT!  ASK HER HOW MUCH MONEY IT WILL COST!  ASK HER IF SHE HAS A SCREWDRIVER AND I WILL SHOW HER THE PART TO ORDER!  Wait.  Screwdriver?  I don’t know the word for screwdriver, AND WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT UP FOR ONE MINUTE so I can speak to this woman?

It was not pretty.  Needless to say, she called three days later and told us to come pick up our still-very-much-dead machine and never, ever darken her doorstep again.

This whole ordeal has just been too much stress for Mr. Big and so I think I am going to get a new Swiss sewing machine.  O Happy Day!  Unfortunately, because it will cost about as much as a CAR, the whole Swiss watch purchase that I had been toying with in the back of my brain where women toy with these ideas has been tabled.  For now.  Although the July sales are just around the bend. . .

Friday, February 11, 2011

Shopping “The Sales” in Europe

Gosh, I am having a really hard time writing this one.  This is my fifth draft, no lie!  Every time I start, it always comes out like I am America-bashing, so I start over.  Let’s see if the 5th time is the charm.

As I have told you, America and Europe are much more different than people initially assume.  Nowhere is this more apparent than their approach to clothes shopping.  As a matter of fact, there is not even a word in French for clothes shopping.  They have a phrase for the act of shopping, it is “faire du course”.  But, in  translation, this really refers to the daily chore of “doing the circuit”, i.e. the daily chore of going into town to buy, mainly, food and/or various other sundries on your To Do list.  So, the French-speakers say one of two things if they are going ONLY clothes shopping:  1) They “faire du course des vetements” which is a mouthful which means to go shopping for clothes, or 2) They steal our word and say “shopping”, which is understood to mean American-style shopping.

What, pray tell, is American-style shopping?  Well, duh, it means going to the mall.  All day.  It means comparing prices, looking for bargains and trying to get exactly what you want for the lowest possible price.  It means picking and choosing between all of the thousands and thousands of choices that you have.   You see why they don’t have a word for it?  Europeans don’t have thousands and thousands of choices of anything.  They have, like, six.  And none are on sale.

In the French language, there is no word for mall.  There is “Centre Commerciale”, which can mean anything from a grocery store surrounded by a few smaller barnacle-type hangers-on, to a quasi-strip shopping center consisting of maybe 6 medium-sized shops to a European “mall” which is like, 15 stores.  Or, it can just be one big ol’ IKEA sitting there on the side of the motorway.

OK, I’ll grant you, the bigger cities try.  When anyone, other than an American, walks into a big city European “mall”, they are like, WOW (in whatever language they speak).  An American walks in and says “Um, good try.  It’s close.  Sort of.”

Here’s the problem.  When Europeans visit America, they all go to the same place—New York City.  Is there a mall in Manhattan?  No.  Are there any Europeans booking tickets to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania or South Park Mall in Charlotte?  No.  When they visit LA, do they venture down the highway to South Coast Plaza in Ocean County?  No, they go to Rodeo Drive in Hollywood.  Have they ever even seen the glory that is a Restoration Hardware located directly adjacent to a Cheesecake Factory nestled right up against an Anthropologie?  No.  If they only knew.

Instead, they stick to Fifth Avenue in NYC and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.  And they are secretly appalled.  Appalled because they were led to believe that everything in America is cheap and they thought they were going to go back home with a Cartier watch and a Burberry trench coat for pennies on the dollar.  For whatever reason, they were under the impression that they would waltz into the Ralph Lauren flagship store in Manhattan and scoop up a bunch of polo shirts for like, 10.99 US each.  What?

No, Mr. and Mrs. Europe.  You are in tourist Mecca.  No AMERICANS actually go shopping on Fifth Avenue.  Those stores are strictly for tourists and the Sex and the City Girls.  Not real people.   You want some bargains?  You need to hop on a bus and get yourself across the bridge to New Jersey and go to a mall.

Here is where I have been running into trouble in my four previous drafts.  I am going to describe shopping for clothes, shoes and handbags in Europe, WITHOUT making it seem like Americans are a bunch of penny-pinching, discount-loving, perfectly-happy-with-fake-Chinese-crap, people.  Wish me luck.

Take, for example, my town.  Lausanne, Switzerland.  Population 126K people.  By any definition, that is little more than a large village.  By comparison, it has the same population as Waco, Texas; Coral Springs, Florida or Bellevue, Washington.

In my town, we have, ALL FREESTANDING, a Hermes store, a Louis Vuitton store, a Bally, a Cartier and a Maserati dealer.  On one street.  Do you think they have a Hermes store in Coral Springs, Florida?  Of course not.  I googled it.  They have a Gap and an Old Navy, as well they should.  Herein lies the problem.  In Europe, you have high-end designer stuff.  Then, you have the crappy stuff, like H & M and C & A.  The low-end stuff here is like the equivalent of Sears or JCPenney. . .or worse.  THERE IS NO IN BETWEEN.  No equivalent of Talbots or J. Crew or Banana Republic or whatever.  For example, Tommy Hilfiger (who, inexplicably, is all the rage here) is considered high design a la Michael Kors.  I needed a new white button-down shirt.  Nothing fancy, just basic.  The plain white button-down Tommy Hilfiger shirts were 210 USD.  Really.  

So, when your only choices are really good stuff that will last for years and years and, what I call throw-away clothes, i.e. clothes that will last through only two or three wash cycles before they 1) fall apart or 2)shrink/stretch out of shape, what do you choose?  Let me give you another piece of information to help you decide.  Those clothes in H & M?  Those down-market clothes?  A t-shirt, A T-SHIRT!!, cannot be had for less than 39.90.  Seriously.  You think I’m kidding.  I’m not.  Yesterday, to research this, I went shopping IN THE GROCERY STORE at the Coop for a tan sweater.

I actually need a tan sweater to go with a skirt that I have.  Now, Coop is a generic, run of the mill, one-in-every-town kind of store, equivalent to Target in America.  Smaller than Target, but similar.  Coop has groceries, toiletries, clothes, jammies, etc.  I find a tan sweater.  Plain, v-neck, long-sleeve tan sweater.  Y’all.  149.90.  IN THE GROCERY STORE.  What is a European girl to do?  Save her centimes and wait until she can afford the nice wool peacoat that costs 600 dollars from the designer?  Or, buy the piece-‘o-crap one in the grocery store that costs 300 dollars?  You see?  You see the problem?

Fast forward to the real topic of this blog post.  The sales.  Twice a year, the stores have sales to unload the end-of-the-season merchandise that did not sell.  This is really excellent stuff that is marked down 50-60%.  Everybody, and I mean everybody, goes shopping during these three weeks in January and July.  (Not in Switzerland.  Switzerland doesn’t get it.  The stores here have like one little measly rack marked down 30%.  Hello, Switzerland, that is not a sale.  That is just a tease.)

BUT!  France, Spain, Italy.  No joke, the sales are awesome on high-end designer stuff.  This year, Mr. Big and I hit the sales in Lyon and Paris.  I was prepared.  I knew my “retail prices”.  I was ready.  I GOT MY BURBERRY TRENCH PEOPLE and it is friggin’ marvelous.  Mr. Big got two pairs of dress shoes.  (Please note that Mr. Big has been, before this, completely allergic to paying Euro-prices).   Y’all just don’t realize what it feels like to get a bargain over here.  You know how good it feels in the US to find something on sale for a really cheap price and you find yourself skipping around for the rest of the day on a shopping high?  Well, multiply that by seven million and you will know how much I love January and July.

This was really hard to write and, it turns out, it’s not very funny, either.  Sorry.  It needed to be said, if for no other reason than to lift the veil over shopping on either side of the pond.  A lot of misconceptions out there.  Next time, I’ll go back to crazy food or arcane Swiss rules.