Shopping with my step dad was a hasty affair, kind of like The Amazing Race but in Foodland. Shopping with my mom was an all day excursion, requiring a lot of looking, touching, poking, prodding of products and a lot of trying on of clothes.
My worst experience was with my brother. Here’s a man who knows how to break your spirit. Here’s a man who was raised by his mother and older sister. He’d put any woman looking for a bathing suit or a bra to utter shame. I thought I was going to have a seizure watching him shop for jeans, the perfect jeans, the right color jeans, the right fit jeans, the jeans that would show all other jeans what a jean should be.
My mom was like the patron saint of shopping. She didn’t seem perturbed at all. There were a few cracks or moments where I thought she’s ready to throw in the towel but she kept encouraging him so I looked like the moron who couldn’t get it together. The good news is he found his jeans and I can now shop with anyone.
Shopping was how my family bonded. Some families go hiking or do puzzles together, read, cook, play games, we shopped. We didn’t have a lot of money so we didn’t buy all the time but we went around looking and talking, eating and sometimes watching other shoppers.
I grew up shopping in Hawaii’s Chinatown so when I got to Thailand it was an easy transition. I thought, now I get it. Immigrants just took what they knew from the Motherland and brought it over here. A-duhhh. I remember my high school boyfriend told me he thought Chinatown was dirty and I was offended. This was where my family shopped for food…butthole.
So I think for most foreigners open markets in Thailand can be an interesting challenge in cleanliness and culture. Markets have produce and meats sitting outside basking in the various scents of sewage and sunlight and other pungent foods. There are insects, rats, sometimes roach repellent and dust wafting through the air. (Yes, the rats waft through the market air.) It’s definitely a cornucopia for the good senses and I hope I never stop delighting in the wonderment of the people and foods.
Shopping in malls and “walking street” markets offer a different experience. The most prominent being sellers who stand by your side ready to help with anything you are remotely taking interest on. I can’t think of a single Westerner who isn’t put off by this “don’t stand so close to me” dance of perusing and purchasing.
My friend Yuko and I have been living here long enough to know what to expect but even in the shopping mall looking for sunglasses, we left a store because the sales ladies were all over us like a bow is on a Thai girl’s blouse. This cultural conundrum is a repeat offense that I find fascinating because with CM being such a tourist capital I can’t understand why the differences have been shaken out.
Of course, I’m assuming they, the Thais should make the change and well, why should they change, it’s their country. On the other side of the wat, why not? I mean sellers want to make a sale, chai mai? I think they want to be attentive but I’m much more likely to buy when I’m left to look first in the privacy of my own body odor space.
Ironically in the States, you have to chase down sales people to pay attention to you. I wonder why we shop the way that we do? I suppose it just echoes our independent-mindedness. I’m sure there have been many folks from other countries who arrive in these United States wondering, “What do I got to do to get some fricken service around here?”