Monday, June 04, 2007

S is for Shopping

Most of those who know me, know that I love to go shopping. I love to go to Target, Old Navy, Sephora, the grocery store, the mall, outlet centers, art supply stores, etc. I don’t have to buy things to make my trip worthwhile; I mainly look, try on random outfits I would never buy (like the super short dress and pants combo) and most importantly, have fun with friends.

I think one of the reasons I like to go shopping, is all in the word, go. I get out of the house and go somewhere, do something, occupy my time. Not that I have a lot of free time, but weekends can get a bit long after I finish teaching English and Sunday mass is over. Also in the word go, is that I am (or better put, was) able to drive to the location I wanted to go. Let’s say, I want to go to the mall. I simply get into the trusty old SAAB and in twenty minutes, I am in shopper’s paradise, the mall. Yet, shopping in Chile is different. I plan my trip carefully on the subway and bus system; I know exactly where I am going and what I am shopping for. Not to mention the fact that I am living on a small stipend, not my debit card I was once used to. It is a different experience, yet it is one that I have grown to love and hate.

There are many different types of shopping here in Chile. You can go to the feria (a farmer’s market mixed with the world’s largest garage sale), the supermarket, the mall, craft fairs and a plethora of other random small stores. Being the shopper that I am, I have made sure to cross each of these places off of my list, slowly but surely.

Every week, my housemates and I go to the feria. We have a set list of the fruits and veggies that we buy and since they are so inexpensive, we load up. It is a crazy walk through hundreds of stalls all selling the same things, while the vendors are shouting, “tomatoes, avocado, my Queen, tomatoes!” thinking that by calling you a queen, you will of course buy from them.

Every third Wednesday’s I take my hiking backpack and head towards the feria. List in hand, I carefully select tomatoes, potatoes, avocados, apples, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, oranges, lemons, onions, garlic, bananas and any other fruit or vegetable that catches my eye. I buy around two pounds of each item, sometimes more. When you do the math, I carry home around 25 pounds. Thank goodness for the hip-strap on my backpack, or else I think I might keel over on the twenty minute walk home. There is a change, I don’t drive home. How many times I have wished for a car to make my shopping experience easier, yet at the same time, I enjoy the walk home and the pride I take in the produce I have picked out and carried home.

If you go to the feria on a Saturday or Sunday, you can find anything your heart desires. Pirated movies and music, clothes, tools, yarn, art supplies, scrap wood, underwear, socks, have you gotten the picture yet? It is the world’s largest garage sale. All I have to do to sell things is artfully set my crap out on a sheet or plastic tarp. I have yet to try it, but one day I would love to shout, “My queen, buy from me!”

Chileans love the idea of shopping malls. They combine their biggest outlet stores, grocery stores and many other small shops into one giant shopping mecca. It can be quite over-whelming, especially if you make the dim-witted decision to go on a Saturday, like I did.

Michelle (my housemate) was looking for jeans and I really wanted a new messenger bag, since the one I brought down with me, is now ripped apart and dirty. I asked all of my Chilean friends, where is the best mall to go to, that is easy to find with lots of shops and variety. Simon (a seminarian who I tutor in English) told me about this place only 7 metro stops from my house. We set off and what I found was The United States. Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Adidas, Rockport, Dockers, all US brands that have stores here in Santiago, Chile. I walked around for most of the afternoon shocked, my mouth agape.

The Chilean department stores, Paris, Falabella, Hites, Johnson’s and Ripley’s are Dillard’s, Macy’s and JC Penny counterparts. Michelle and I happened to go shopping while giant sales were going on, making simple living slightly easier, yet at the same time difficult. You know you are living on a limited budget when you are willing to dig through piles of jeans until you find your size because the jeans are only $8 a pair. We both ended up finding the items that we wanted, but after a significant amount of time was devoted to the search.

Once a month, my housemates and I head to the local grocery store to make our purchases. Much like the feria we have a set list, which Ryan has carefully set up in an Excel spread sheet, going as far as dividing the items by aisle. We budget carefully so that we can get all of the items that we need and sometimes the things that we want, like instant coffee and granola.

June was my month to do the grocery shopping. The only afternoon I have free is Sunday, so after mass I headed to Lider (the Wal-Mart of Chile). I must have been out of my mind to go shopping on a Sunday afternoon. I forgot that everyone and their mother’s are shopping on Sundays, what a fool. With list in hand, I marched up and down the aisles, adding up our total in my notebook, so as not to go over budget. After about an hour, I walked out of Lider, basket full of groceries. I stood in line to take a taxi back to the apartment and dreaded the fact that I would have to go up and down the stairs about twenty times to get all of our stuff in the house. Much to my surprise, the doorman (he watches the gate) pushed a shopping cart my way, and up the elevator I went with all of my groceries, happy as a clam, stair climbing avoided. I pushed the cart right into the apartment and unloaded the abundance of goodies, the whole time laughing to myself that we have a shopping cart in our apartment.

Shopping in Chile has taught me to shop on a budget. I always looked for the best sale and the best price, but then I would buy two or three of that item, with the excuse, it’s on sale. I have a set budget while living down here, and when it is gone, tough luck. I am more mindful of my purchases; I buy with a purpose, well, most of the time. There are still the times that I buy things just because, but those times are far and few between. Shopping in Chile has shown me to keep looking until you find exactly what you want, in terms of larger items like the jeans and bag. I no longer buy things just because it sort of fits the bill, I wait until I have found exactly what I want. Perhaps it is the language barrier, but in Chile I shop slower. I talk to the shop owners and the vendors in the feria, with the taxi driver on the way home from the grocery store. I tell them why I am in Chile and that I of course love this country (the required answer and also the truth). I am not rushed to make my purchases and run. On the weekends, I am free to shop leisurely. Walk around; escape the cold inside the shopping mall or grocery store.

If someone had told me that I would have learned such lessons from shopping in Chile, I would have laughed. Before Chile, I went shopping for every need, every want, and every thing. Simple living lesson learned, but my delight in shopping has not dwindled. I am the same Natalie who will accompany you to Target at 8pm, just to see what’s there.