With the notable exception of books, I hate shopping. There are few endeavors more painfully tedious to me than wandering through stores looking for clothes, tsotchkes, knick-knacks, bric-a-brac, widgets, or doo-dads. I do go shopping, in part because I like to eat, and in part because societal conventions require that I wear clothing (you’re welcome.)
Were I not married, I’d be a complete fashion nightmare because I have only three questions when shopping for clothes. 1.) Does it look like it fits? 2.) Does it look comfortable? 3.) Is the price reasonable? (i.e. given that I’m a cheapskate for which stylishness and/or trendiness mean diddlysquat.) If the price of two shirts of the same size is identical, I will buy the one that’s closest to the cash register–or which will otherwise get me out of the store the quickest.
You’ll note, I didn’t include the question: “Does it match?” Correct. I’m not even sure I know what that means. If it’s a shirt, it matches pants because you wear them together, right? A shirt would not match another shirt, unless one could wear one over the other? If you can’t wear the two items at the same time, they definitely don’t match, but that doesn’t come up often. (I know all the bits that need covering, ergo, I can succeed at picking a group of garments that covers all the essential anatomical area.)
I also didn’t include “Does it look good?” It had to look good to someone–they made the damn thing. Who am I to say my taste is better than theirs? I think we’ve already established that I know not thing-one about being fashionable. Now, if it has feathers or a cape, I wouldn’t buy it on the grounds of lack of functionality (have you ever gotten your cape caught in an elevator or escalator?), but I don’t judge on taste. There but for the grace of my wife, go I… looking like non-sparkly Elton John.
So where am I going with this, you may ask? What’s intriguing is that, despite the fact that I hate shopping, I get asked if I want to be taken to a market, mall, or commercial district about four times per day (fyi, that’s roughly the number of times I go shopping per annum.)
Imagine a white person walking down the sidewalk wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants, said person has a full duffle-bag on their shoulder that is long enough to accommodate a standard size yoga mat when rolled up. Where is this person going?
A.) He /she is going to the yoga studio.
B.) He /she is going to a gym.
C.) He / she is going to a martial arts studio.
D.) There isn’t enough information to determine between A,B, or C.
E.) He /she desperately wants to go shopping.
If you answered “D” you’re a keen and astute observer. If you answered A, B, or C, you have drawn a reasonable conclusion, but did so too quickly and without sufficient information for that degree of specificity. If you answered “E,” you drive an autorickshaw (tuk-tuk) for a living.
For a while, I thought that this was just blatant ignorance, as all forms of racism are. Could these drivers truly not fathom–despite all evidence to the contrary–that I (i.e. whitey) spent my time doing things other than shopping? Did they really think that my days were divided between counting infinite piles of cash and spending it on crap for which I had no real need?
Then I realized that it was tenacious hope that drove these inquiries, and not biases. I came to this conclusion as I was watching a few of the recent Superbowl ads. If I don’t get enraged at Madison Avenue, I can’t really get mad at the aforementioned driver. Advertisers and that driver are both just trying to persuade me that something that I don’t need and have no interest in is somehow pursuit-worthy.
The driver knows that I’m going to yoga or kalari or a funeral (or wherever the evidence might suggest I’m headed at the moment), but they’re just holding out the thin hope that I can be diverted from that funeral to go buy some gee-gaw from which they can obtain a commission. In a way, they’re like the guys (or girls, to be non-discriminatory) who hit on a person who is way out of their league. It takes a lot of confidence to suffer repeated crushing rejection with such low probability of success. There’s a guy in the building where I get both my haircuts and Tibetan thukpa, who invites me into his carpet shop every single time I enter the building–despite the fact that the first 100 times I’ve shown zero interest. As long as said persistent wooer doesn’t resort to stalking, it’s kind of endearing. (Of course, it’s a thin line into stalker territory, and then it becomes instantly intolerable.)
There’s another reason I’ve discovered I shouldn’t hold this persistence against the drivers. That’s that they’re stereotyping isn’t without basis. Most of my expat compatriots do love themselves some shopping. I’m very curious about the root of this behavior. I suspect that it’s the vestigial evolutionary programming of hunter/gatherer behavior carried over into people who don’t like to get their toes muddy, to have to touch anything “icky,” or–in general–to be outdoors.
However, I’m a little out of my league, because I only have this compulsion to shop for books. I’m sure that’s residual hunter / gather behavior, but there’s a goal that can be understood. Through book shopping, I’m searching for a kind of nourishment–not the kind that ends hunger pangs, but the kind that’s an assault on my stupidity. I still don’t have a theory for how this applies to Hello Kitty stickers, Chia Pets, a second (or 403rd) pair of sneakers, or any of the other inane crap the people really–but unbelievably–purchase.