Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Consumerism for the Fittest: in Paris, shopping isn’t an art…it’s war

A wise Paris-based travel writer once said that if your day’s to-do list boasts five errands to complete in the City of Light, expect to accomplish no more than two.

Despite its geographic density and efficient train system, Paris isn’t always the easiest city when it comes to getting things done. Between the crowds, (in some businesses) lunchtime closings and (in many cases) unhelpful sales staff, doing one’s errands often requires the perseverance of an athlete training for a world-class sporting event…or a soldier preparing for conflict.

This is especially true in the springtime, when the city’s feminine contingent – emerging with relief and a newborn energy from the doldrums of winter – march down to the grands magasins (department stores) to stock up on bathing suits, leisure wear and beach supplies in anticipation of the long-awaited summer break. Cutting through the throngs of tourists that ooh and ahh over the racks of celebrated French couture, these seasoned veterans know that shopping à la parisienne has little to do with starry-eyed admiration and everything to do with elbows. Leave the ooh-ing and ahh-ing to the foreigners, their rigid, purposeful demeanors seem to be saying. We’re here to get things done.

And they have a point, these beautiful – if not always courteous – specimens of understated chic: with millions of likeminded citadines all hitting the stores around the same time, finding that flattering bikini in one’s size isn’t a matter to be left to chance. All may be fair in love and war, and when it comes to shopping in the City of Light, one must be prepared for battle.

Which is why, one supposes, that Galeries Lafayette and Printemps – two of the city’s most frequented grands magasins – conveniently house their own bars. After slugging it out on the sales floor, what's more civilized than recharging over a glass of champagne?