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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Mall Wars

For only about the third time during my years here in Valencia I ventured to one of the shopping malls. This one is called Centro Comercial El Saler and is a short bike ride from where I live. I had been there maybe once before but I don’t remember why I went. This time I was out to buy a toaster as a birthday present and I figured I’d save a few euros if I bought it at Carrefour, a big discount store like Target or whatever. I rarely went to malls in the US and I had forgotten how much I hate them, if “hate” is a strong enough word for my feelings. I thought that I would be in and out in a few minutes. Hell, I can hold my breath for a few minutes so this wouldn’t be too bad.

As soon as I walked in I passed a shoe store which made me realize that I could use a decent pair of sandals for the summer instead of wearing the cheap pair of flip-flops I bought last summer at one of the local “chinos” or variety stores. I stopped in and looked around and saw a pair I liked, but I almost never buy anything without giving it at least a second look. I left the shoe store and continued on to Carrefour. Once inside Carrefour I passed the book section and I spent a few minutes looking for anything that might be interesting. From there I seem to have lost control of my consumer impulses and like a riderless horse I simply galloped through the orgy of consumerism around me, dreaming of all of the new shit I was going to buy. From these happy thoughts my mind was reaching for a solution of how I would transport these wonderful new products to my home. I had a picture of myself on my bike loaded down with bags and boxes and possibly wearing several layers of new clothing—definitely a new pair of sandals or two. I was even browsing the food section. They say you shouldn’t shop for food when you are hungry—sage advice that should be expanded to say that you shouldn’t shop for anything if you feel too much in the way of need.

After about 45 minutes of coveting I came to my senses and found the toasters. I picked one out and went to the cash register. They don’t give out plastic bags at Carrefour so you have to bring your own bags or buy a reusable bag there for .50€. These reusable shopping bags are the reason I came to Carrefour in the first place. I had seen someone else with one of these bags at my supermarket. As it turns out the bags are too big for my needs as they don’t fit in the basket of my bike. There is some sort of message in this about being disappointed in your material longings. I had spent weeks thinking how great this bag was going to be and now I realize that I don’t like it. This disappointment only cost me half a euro. The toaster isn’t my problem to worry about since it’s a gift. Someone else will have to decide if it satisfies or disappoints.

It was a pretty traumatic experience and one I’m not looking to duplicate any time soon. I just think people are better off getting their consumerism in little doses rather than binging at places created specifically to inspire greed, consumption, envy, elitism, and class-consciousness. I went in to buy a toaster and I left wanting about 50 different items that I don’t need and didn’t know existed before walking through the front door. The one thing that I did buy—the shopping bag—I don’t even want.

I guess that is what I like about my life in the neighborhood: you aren’t buried under an avalanche of choice for every stupid accessory in your life. In the US we have perfected the craft of making everything we buy something that separates us from one another. We are class-conscious down to the flip-flops we wear. After more than three years here I think that I just fall into the mold of most other Spanish people who buy their clothes on the cheap and who buy their summer footwear at the local dime store.

Speaking of mindless consumerism, I saw that they made another Sex and the City movie. I’m sure it’s playing in the mall theater. They should just play it right in the damn mall in the spirit of life imitating art, although I am being almost criminally generous with the word “art” in this context.

2 comments:

  1. I love malls, I guess because it reminds me of my life back in the USA. The smell, the atmosphere, transports me almost back in time to my other "youth". As time passes I do agree with you it is a place "created specifically to inspire greed, consumption, envy, elitism, and class-consciousness", but with a good solid head and cold mind a day at the mall can also serve as a lesson to children. Your blog entry has been a discussion at our dinner table several nights. I agree partly, and control my buying here in Spain, actually always have, I just don't think most Spanish people buy their clothes on the cheap and buy their summer footwear at the local dime store...too many brand names floating around my neighborhood!

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  2. My neighborhood is fairly free of outward symbols of status except maybe the type of dog you have. It is definitely more of a chino neighborhood rather than Corte Inglés and if there are any brand names they are all counterfeit.

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