American Bubble

29 Jun
Typical Roman clothier - very small store. This is the entire store, not a section. Well organized, beautifully displayed merchandise. But you have to visit a dozen stores to see a broad selection. Success is happenstance.
Typical Roman clothier – very small store. This is the entire store, not a section. Well organized, beautifully displayed merchandise. But you have to visit a dozen stores to see a broad selection. Success is happenstance.

We live in an American Bubble. Yes, it’s a lovely bubble, totally surrounded by this great Italian city, but we do not live completely on the Italian economy. We can buy peanut butter (Skippy or JIF) for a reasonable price at the Naval Exchange commissary at the embassy. In fact, we can buy many many products commonly found in the U.S. at the commissary: smoked bacon, American cheese, cleaning products, Advil, frozen dinners (yuck!), squishy white bread (double-yuck), canned baked beans, taco shells. We only buy the peanut butter, BTW. We do not buy any of the other crap items America exports and calls food. 

We can order almost anything we want from the U.S. Thanks to the wonderful U.S. Postal Service Diplomatic Post Office, customs isn’t really a problem and everything we order online is shipped to New York for forwarding. (We cannot order nail polish, perfume, or certain other combustibles.)  If we have trouble finding the right cat treats for our 17-year-old cat Janie  — and we have been unable to find “her brand” in Rome — I can order them online. Need a new dress for the Marine Corps Ball? Nordstrom is a click away. 

On June 1, Ric and I decided to embark on what we now call The Great Experiment. We are not buying anything from the U.S. for two months, June and July. No more Zappos (sniff!), Nordstrom, Talbot’s, Lands’ End, No more online shopping to speak of. Back to shopping the old-fashioned way: we hit the streets. 

We are four weeks into The Great Experiment. What’s happened so far? The constant stream of packages delivered to the DPO has stopped. It was a rare week we didn’t receive a shipment…or two…or three.  We are seldom seen in the embassy commissary anymore and I walk home “lighter” because I am no longer serving as a pack animal, ferrying stuff we ordered online. (All of our mail comes to the DPO.) On Gmail, my deleted folder is full of unopened promotional email from American clothiers. 

What we are doing is increasing our shopping time in the streets of Rome. This is time-consuming. I need some summer clothes and a new pair of hiking boots for an upcoming hiking trip. Rome is a boutique-shopping kind of city: the largest department store is not of the size seen in an American city of >3 million people. So one wanders a neighborhood, and explores new neighborhoods, checking out stores, hoping to find a place or two that can become “your” clothier. (Ric has three clothiers now; he started early in adopting Italian fashion.) But you have to look at a lot of places – a lot of very small stores. You would not believe the number of shoe stores in Rome! There are more shoe stores in Rome than Starbucks in Seattle.

The upside is that this approach to shopping makes us slow down. We may go out on a shopping mission (Laurel needs a black dress!) or we may walk to the museum a little slower, noticing what is in the windows we pass and stopping in when we see something of interest. Shopping is work — and exercise — when you don’t have a car. It is also good together-time, wandering hand-in-hand, helping each other with fashion decisions, which is very important because the culture is not one where buyer’s remorse is honored with an easy refund the next day. 

There are malls, but they are the suburban soul-less wonders one finds in the U.S., and an hour each way by bus. We’d prefer to spend that time on foot, exploring.

We have allowed ourselves a couple of exceptions. Peanut butter from the commissary is one, because although it is available in some Italian stores, it is crazily expensive. If Janie runs out of “her” cat treats we will order them online. At 17 she deserves to eat her preferred brand. Ironically, our Italian housekeeper has specifically requested some cleaning products from the store at the embassy: She loves Easy-Off oven cleaner, and she also favors a floor product from there. So we will indulge her. We still buy Kindle books from Amazon. We don’t really consider that cheating since no package hits the DPO. We still receive Netflix (can’t stop a subscription we’ve had for 15 years). But that’s about it. 

Today I finally found “the” little black dress at the store pictured above. I have to continue the search. I saldi (the sales) start in Rome on July 5, so maybe there will be some bargains to be had. If I can stand trying on clothes in 95 degree heat!

10 Responses to “American Bubble”

  1. Sharon July 4, 2013 at 10:29 #

    Hi Laurel,
    Your escapades are so entertaining!! I look forward to each new installment!
    I love that you are immersing yourself in the Italian culture and lifestyle! Can’t wait to see a pic of you in your little black dress and Ric in his Italian attire.
    It has rained – no POURED – in NJ every day in June. We are in the low 90’s AND have HUMIDITY. YUK! I miss the PNW and all my friends back there.
    I am getting ready for the 4th of July parade and some fireworks later tonight.
    Happy Independence Day!!


    • gooddayrome July 4, 2013 at 19:41 #

      Thanks, Sharon. Will upload a picture from a big festa last night as soon as I have time.. We are on another adventure, this time in Abruzzo, Bellissima!

      *Laurel L. Barton* *Roma, Italia*


  2. Veronics Molony July 1, 2013 at 19:59 #

    I know how you hate shopping…i.e. my line of business…shopping centers, but that small shop experience, is so wonderful. I encourage my small tenants to focus on…”shop locally” get to know “your customers”. Not every store owner buys at the same market and their customer base is often extremely varied. Shopping of any kind is a true addiction for me and hopefully it never goes away!


    • gooddayrome July 2, 2013 at 03:55 #

      Ciao V!
      Actually I love shopping: I just hate how much time it takes. The Internet turned buying into less of a chore, but we are embracing this new-old-way of consuming. I am pretty sure we will buy less overall, too, since the hunt takes longer.


  3. R. July 1, 2013 at 08:37 #

    What a wonderful experiment and a great post! Have a great hiking trip 🙂


  4. Anita HIlmoe July 1, 2013 at 05:38 #

    I think I would love that. I get overwhelmed sometimes in the big shops here like Macy’s. I would probably end up buying less stuff overall, which would be good. 🙂


    • gooddayrome July 1, 2013 at 05:47 #

      Yes, that’s true! I am buying less overall. The internet has made buying too easy. This is better, but sometimes frustrating when you *really need *something. I did get a really cute dress though. 🙂 And it’s fun to have Ric along giving his opinion.

      *Laurel L. Barton* *Roma, Italia*


  5. Carolyn July 1, 2013 at 00:22 #


    I love your experiment (that is after I read that Janie is excluded)! Maybe, this is something you will continue. The picture of the little shop is exactly of the kind of place I love to browse. Have to admit, I am an online shopper too. I am afraid I would be passing up the Skippy and JIF! I have become addicted to the New Seasons peanut and almond butters that come served out of a machine – only downside is that they are smooth and not crunchy!

    As Gayle mentioned, it is HOT here and will be for several more days. I’m not complaining tho, I could be living in Arizona or Texas still!!! I worked the Vancouver Upcycled Arts Festival all day yesterday – yes, I did come home a tad over heated. But, it was lots of fun.

    How will you celebrate the 4th of July? I’ll be having a quiet one at home with my cats. Thinking this may be a nosier year than the past. We have had a few families move in with kids of the age that fireworks should be on their agenda. Yeah from me. Boo from Shadow, Shasta and probably Keeper Gym (this will be his first experience).

    Take care! Stay cool.

    Love ya, Carolyn


    • gooddayrome July 1, 2013 at 03:48 #

      Ciao Carolyn! Thanks for your comments! I will update everyone as the experiment progresses., So far so good. Was delighted to find a black dress at last. 🙂 We will attend the Ambassador’s party on July 3: about 3000 people are expected. On the 4th we head to Abruzzo for a long weekend. Take care of the kitties and stay cool. It is warmer in Portland than in Rome this week!

      *Laurel L. Barton* *Roma, Italia*


  6. Gayle Seely June 29, 2013 at 16:00 #

    I love hearing about this, Laurel, as I begin my trek to get some hiking boots. I, too, have
    become a devotee of online shopping, but when it comes to my feet hurting, I am willing to hike until I can find the fit. On the other hand, I have LOVED shopping in Rome, but I agree
    it is a much slower process – but AHHHH, so deliciously fun. We are in the 90’s here in Portland. Needless to say, we are going to the beach!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: