Sunday, August 03, 2008

Shopping à la parisienne

I woke up this morning with a purpose. I had a mission to go shopping downtown one last time before leaving on our upcoming three week vacation.

I'll let you in on a secret: I may live in the world's fashion mecca and earn my salary in Euros, but I still hate shopping. I love the finding and the buying, but the going and the searching are painful, and nowhere more so than in the grands magasins, the giant downtown Paris department stores. Whenever I make my way to Printemps or Galeries Lafayette along the boulevard Haussman I think I know exactly what I'm after, but I'm soon dazed and lost amidst the designer clothes and perfume stands, or I find myself staring uselessly at a handbag with too many buckles and a price tag equal to a month of my salary.

I always end up feeling vaguely uncool. A fake. The polar opposite of chic. It's unnervingly like being back in high school.

I still insist on going from time to time, even though I never find clothes that suit me or are within my budget, because I'm drawn by the faded promise of one-stop shopping, a rarity in Paris. I'll have to admit that I have found plenty of things to purchase over the years despite myself: cosmetics, cookware, jewelry, even a couple of remarkably uncomfortable (but oh so cute!) pairs of shoes.

Today Paris was in the doldrums of August and the only folks downtown were a few stranded foreigners. As tourists wandered around the first floor of Galeries Lafayette with their cameras, I felt almost authentic. I certainly looked less goofy than the man filming his wife trying on hats or the guy leaning backwards in the middle of the cosmetics department to snap a photo of the gilded cupola five floors above.

After a horrified browse through the accessories department at Printemps (50+ Euros for a belt? A casual belt that you're supposed to wear with jeans?), I wound up two doors away in the H&M. But once I'd crossed a few items off the me-list, I continued on to the Galeries. I was in the children's department culling the last good deals from the stale July sales when my husband called. He and le Petit were in the Jardin du Palais Royal, apparently chasing pigeons.

"Are you almost done over there?" he asked.

"Umm... well, that depends," I answered reluctantly while sorting through a rack of overalls and looking for le Petit's size.

"Things are going okay, but he's starting to get hungry. And I can't feed him here by myself."

"Mmmm-hmmm. Then maybe you guys can head home and I'll grab the Métro," I said without much sympathy. "Is he unhappy?"

"No, il est très content, all excited to be here. But I'm getting sick of trying to keep him from eating dirt, and crawling on the ground, and chasing the trash that's blowing around in the wind, and..."

Never was a conversation so perfectly calculated to make me abandon my retail aspirations for the day. Soon I was running down avenue de l'Opéra and hoping I wouldn't arrive too late, looking thoroughly uncool and no longer caring in the slightest.

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