In the states everyone uses a car to get from place to place, and work, groceries, restaurants, and shopping are all housed–for the most part–in separate locations. A trip to the mall is therefore a conscious decision. Often comically likened to preparing for battle, American women at their American malls are experts in the art of “divide and conquer.” It’s as though I spend the 15-minute drive mentally prepping myself for what’s to come. I know what I’m essentially looking for and I know what to expect.
But be warned: you can’t transfer these carefully honed skills to the European stage. Any attempt will leave you exhausted, frustrated, and suddenly lacking in the money department (and, in my case, unnecessarily overflowing in the shoe department). Basically, in Paris you are constantly shopping. I live one block from the oldest department store in the city, Le Bon Marché in the 6th arrondissement. On just my walk to school pass at least 40 places to buy clothes, shoes, and jewelry, and at some of these stores you can get designer goods for 1/3 price…it’s clearly a problem. I mean, how do you find the best deals, and how do you avoid buying things and then realizing you could’ve purchased something infinitely cuter five blocks away?
The key is this: in Paris you are constantly shopping, but you’re not constantly buying. Unlike in the states, where you make a designated trip to the mall, here you pass the shopping every day… by your house, by your school, by your favorite crêpe stand, etc…so you have a lot of opportunities to make purchases. Instead of liking and then immediately buying, you like, keep looking, compare prices, let it marinate, and then purchase.
It’s taken me three months to figure out that it’s actually an immensely better and ultimately more satisfying way to shop. I’ve ended up spending my money more wisely on items that I really love. In fact, from what I’ve experienced this seems to be the French mantra: shop sparingly and buy well made clothing that will last you decades.
But this is all lucid and theoretical. If I can give you one solid piece of advice it would be this: allow extra space when you’re packing–the shopping here is out of this world.