There is a smidgen of mania attached to the shopping I do when I return to the States. I prepare by buying very little at home for months prior so I can carry on guilt free once I arrive. This sometimes means my children are still wearing corduroy trousers in June or shorts in November but it’s always worth it. Once it’s time to go, I pack light. I allow my husband to pack very little so he can fit an empty travel bag in his case. This is when the fact that he is not that bothered about clothes and fashion really works to my advantage. Once there, I am ready. My mother often accompanies me and she takes it quite seriously. She is always telling me that Atlanta (the city they live in and where I grew up) is a shopping town and if you see something you like you need to get it because it will be gone tomorrow. It gives that trip to TJ Max that extra bit of intrigue and excitement. And of course I buy more. The choice is bottomless. And the deals – oh Lord the deals! Shops like TK Max (the UK version of TJ Max) are a dime a dozen stateside. There are Marshals, Kohles, Burlington and Stein Mart to name a few and they are everywhere. No need to travel far (unless you live in England that is). The competition is fierce which keeps the price right and the value high. Even the big department stores run sales on designer items that the UK market can’t compete with. This is why shipping to the UK from the US is so expensive. If it weren’t the UK would have very little retail business. However, by the time you pay to have it sent and pay the tax, the deal has disappeared. You may as well go to John Lewis and buy that similar looking sofa at more than double the US cost. And that is exactly what people do. There is no other choice.
A couple of Christmas’s back when the pound was two to the dollar some people cottoned on that it was actually cheaper to fly to New York, do all their Christmas shopping, and fly back again, than it was to shop in the UK. Customs announced on the 10 o’clock news that they knew what people were up to but were not searching bags. Here in lies the mania. How could you not get excited about a completely justified shopping trip to NYC? On my most recent trip home I received a text from a UK friend. There was a sale on at Bloomingdales for a Juicy Couture sweater she desperately wanted. Would I please, please get it for her?! Would I please bring it back to her in poor deprived England with no Bloomies? Yes. Of course I would. Because I understand. I also brought home a cable for another friend of ours. It was something simple, something that seemed you should be able to get anywhere but evidently you cannot. Things aren’t always that simple over here. Finding specific, needed items can be challenging. My husband marvels at Home Depot where you could literally buy everything you need to build a house from scratch under one roof. B&Q, the UK version doesn’t even come close.
As caught up in all the shopping as I get when I visit I can’t help but notice there seems to be little else around anymore except stores to buy stuff in. There are big malls, fancy malls, strip malls and stand alone super stores like Target (one of my personal favorites). The tiny four way stop down the road from my parents house that used to hold a little shack and a vegetable stall is now a six lane major intersection that holds every amenity you could ever possibly need. Convenient, but also a little soulless. Many of the newer developments are certainly nicer than the seventies inspired ones I remember driving by as a kid but no matter how much you spruce it up I don’t think I could describe any of them as beautiful. Shopping areas in the UK can be just as soulless, and in many cases much worse, but there are less of them and they mainly exist in city centres or especially designated areas, which makes a huge difference to the overall scenery.
It’s no surprise that with all these shops about in the States that people shop. A lot. The stores are packed, bad economy and all. It’s not always just about the shopping as a US shopping mall often becomes a community center of the American suburb. The local mall houses not only shops but food courts, proper restaurants, movie theaters, and children’s play areas. This is a somewhat new concept to the UK and it’s seems to be spreading but I’m not sure it’s such a grand plan. You may only go to the mall to meet a girlfriend for lunch or get kids together for a play date but chances are you aren’t getting out of there without a quick nip into a certain shop. The shopping culture is born and passed on.
I love American Consumerism, conspicuous as it is. I’d be a big fat hypocrite if claimed otherwise. However, there are times when all that choice makes my head spin and I have to ask, ‘Is all of this really necessary?’ On a trip to Publix, my parent’s grocery store of choice, I found myself stuck in the famed American cereal aisle. I walked up and down the additive/preservative mile for what seemed ages, hunting for Cheerios to no avail. Time was passing and I was wasting it – shopping. I do shop at home just not nearly as much. It’s rare I come home having bought something I didn’t plan on getting. I do my grocery shopping online, I stick to a strict list at Costco and when I go clothes shopping I usually know what I’m after. There are a couple of beautiful new clothes boutiques in Ampthill which have sucked me in a few times but for the most part, the opportunity to ‘binge shop’ doesn’t seem to come up. Me thinks this might be a very good thing.