I can now give a whole new meaning to “shop till you drop.” I am recovering from an eight-hour shopping excursion in the nearby town of Brest.
“Tomorrow you will go shopping in Brest with my mother,” Marc said.
“Good luck,” his brother warned. “You have about 120 shops and three hours. You are going to do a lot of walking.”
He was wrong. We did have 120 shops, but we had the whole day.
This was my first shopping excursion in France. Actually, it was my first one in Europe. I was in awe with what I saw. The French gave a whole new meaning to the word ‘fashion’.
Rue de Siam is a street where the local tram runs. It is lined with shops, stores, cafes, boutiques and big labels. The road stretches roughly 2km from the castle to the up towards the centre of Brest. We parked somewhere in the middle (for practical reasons) then we set off. Rue de Siam is much like Oxford Street in London. It was intoxicating.
Everywhere I looked I was dazzled with labels. colours, designers I couldn’t pronounce and jewellery. I brushed my fingers along foreign fabrics, from cashmere to velvet and fur. They had everything in a kaleidoscope of colours.
We started with the boutique stores first, which in hindsight was a great idea. I was in shock from the price tags but tried the items on anyway with an air of cool confidence. “Oh no, this is too loose. It wrinkles too easily. Why can’t they get the cut right?”
I was surprised to hear myself let out a sigh of relief when I walked into Zara’s and Pimkie, which are exuberant by South African standards.
Everyone else was buying left, right and centre. Every time I looked, people were swiping with a satisfied smirk on their faces. I knew I couldn’t leave empty handed. I had spotted a chic black jumpsuit at the first store we visited. Although it sat at a staggering €71.
We took a break at lunch. In France most stores are closed between 12:30 and 2:3o, so we used this time to indulge in sushi. After eating so much sushi that I felt like a sushi roll myself, we set off again, climbing steadily up the incline. One store we visited was filled with golden mannequins dressed to the nines. Inside was a massive chandelier, dangling like a piano from the roof. Massive draped hung from the walls, and rainbow coloured dresses skirted the rails.
After window shopping for some time, we circled back to that store where I saw the jumpsuit. I was a bit hesitant, but after slipping into it and pulling on my new silver-studded belt, it just felt right. I handed my card to the grinning store manager and felt a tug at my soul as she swiped it.
“Don’t worry, €105 cheaper than it was,” Martina, Marc’s mom, tried to reassure me.
I gulped and forced a grin. You can always return it, I thought to myself in a desperate means to seek consolation.
After that deduction, my card was hungry for more. A few shops further up I found a birthday gift for Marc. Life is just so different here. Things are purchased at whim. Normally I would suffer the silence of indecision of a simple Woolworths jersey back home. But here there was no time for doubt. Martina was well trained in the art of shopping. She would whisk into a store, immediately select the items she wanted, and could decide on the spot whether to take it or not.
Victoria also had a method of beating the indecision. “If I can’t picture myself with it and another item in my wardrobe, I won’t buy it.” I hope to follow her advice.
I attacked Zara’s with ferocity, glad to finally recognise a brand. But alas, my quest for a good pair of jeans remains unsuccessful. “Look, there’s a Levi store. Let’s go check there,” Martina said. I instantly regretted it. After I tried on a pair of €99 skinny jeans, I quietly folded it, excusing that they were too long. I wasn’t quite prepared to swipe my card for that.
We concluded our chopping excursion after 7 hours 49 minutes, according to the parking meter (which cost R200). We all left with our car a little heavier, and our bank accounts a lot lighter.