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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.