Tuesday, 10 April 2012
Years ago I did a theatre tour around England and it dawned on me then that every High Street in the country was the same - we used to forget where we were if we went exploring the shops because nothing was very different from place to place.
The shift in our shopping choices from independent retailers to a majority of predictable chains means our experience of shopping has given us a new set of expectations. We are used to speed and consistency and the stock will be virtually the same in High Wycome as it is in Edinburgh. It may be served up with a highly perceived level of skill but try asking staff about fine detail and things often get a bit trickier.
Who wouldn't choose to go to a Corseteria, piled high with tempting boxes and packets where you can be measured properly and take some time to consider your purchase rather than charging through a department store trying to get the whole thing over and done with as quickly and invisibly as possible?
It's not only the variety of the stock and the personality of the old shops that we've lost, it's the way things are done; knowledgeably and with care.
There is also occasionally the possibility of finding something unexpected hidden away from sight which only the shopkeeper knows about and will offer up after conversation with you. That's how I've found most of the dead stock from the seventies I've bought here in Madrid.
I've even started to enjoy waiting in the queues.
In London I find myself hopping from foot to foot if I need to wait two minutes in a shop but here, when it's my turn, I am not expected by the person behind me to rush so I take my time and allow the process to be an enjoyable and thorough one.
The thing that's most interesting about this experience for me is Madrid is a busy city; I'm not sightseeing in a country village enjoying the novelty, I am working at the same pace I always do and achieving the same amount in a day. Proof that it's not our contemporary lifestyle which demands high speed chain stores, it's just that we've bought into the idea of needing them.