Buy Italian

15 Sep

Three months ago I wrote about our experiment in weaning ourselves from the habit of buying online from the U.S. You can read about it here, but in summary, we decided to try to confine our consumerism to Italy and not use the U.S. Diplomatic Post Office to ship in goods from Nordstrom, Amazon, Zappos, etc. So how did it go? It was a mixed success.

On the plus side

Always beautifully displayed merchandise. I think there's an Italian gene related to beautiful displays and wrapping packages.

Always beautifully displayed merchandise. I think there’s an Italian gene related to beautiful displays and wrapping packages.

We learned we can live in Italy, as Italians do, without buying a special brand from the U.S. We Americans can be addicted to our own brands of toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, lotion, etc., but Italians need that stuff too and the stores carry many fine international and European brands. We gave up 8 ½” x 11” paper for the common A4 size sold in Europe. It’s a setting on the printer so no big deal.

Some products are better than the U.S. equivalent. I found an amazing olive-oil based lotion, for example, and Janie, our senior cat who is picky about her treats has come to crave a treat we found as a sample inside a carton of her packaged food.

We found new stores and sources. We went on

A few of the brands I switched to as a result of our experiment.

A few of the brands I switched to as a result of our experiment.

forays into stores we’d not entered prior, neighborhoods we’d passed through but not really shopped in. We discovered you can go looking and not find, but you have to be ready to buy when you pass a shop with promising merchandise. One Saturday we spent 4 hours looking for a dress for me. I tried on 8 or 10 at various stores. Niente! But the next day, walking to a museum, I spied a dress in the window of a tiny little boutique, walked in and 5 minutes later walked out with the dress.  You have to be opportunistic.

We bought less because it took more time to go looking the old-fashioned way, in stores. Oh Zappos, how easy it is to find black heels, size 7.5 with a 1” heel and ship three pair overnight! But try to find a pair going shop to shop. It takes hours! Days, even!

In July and August "i saldi" are everywhere. And prices get lower as the weeks go by....

In July and August “i saldi” are everywhere. And prices get lower as the weeks go by….

The July/August saldi (sales) offer some good buys and even the opportunity to bargain, something I’d not done before. One day on the way home from work we popped into a boutique because I saw a lovely dress in the window. I slipped it on and it fit like a dream, but I nearly fainted when they told me the price! “But signora, it is on sale,” and she quoted me a price about 30% less. Still high, so I started to walk out shaking my head. “Signora,” she called, “Wait. It’s specially tailored… but I can sell it for €XXX,” and she knocked another 15% off. Score!

I practiced my Italian. Always a vocabulary builder and an opportunity to tune my ear. I can talk about the features of our new food processor and of our new Italian iron, purchased to replace the one clogged up with calcium after a year of ironing with this hard water.

On the other hand…

EurosThings cost un’occhio della testa (an “eye of the head,” or as we’d say “an arm and a leg”). VAT (a tax) is 21%, driving already high prices up significantly. And the exchange rate makes everything 30-35% higher in dollars. So a €100 item is $132.00 plus-or-minus U.S. The amount we spent on shorts and hiking shoes we bought up in the mountains in July could have clothed a small child for the school year if you shopped at Walmart.  

It takes a lot of time to shop in stores, especially when you don’t know brands, you don’t know sizes, and boutiques are small with limited selection. I am a size 10 U.S., but a 42 or 44 Italian and a 3 French.  Everything has to be tried on.

Customer service is…different. Sometimes we are warmly greeted and professionally served. This is especially true upon return visits (regulars!) or once they realize we are not tourists. Sometimes we are totally ignored until we ask for help and then it is given begrudgingly. Also, this is not a culture in which returns are gladly accepted, so do not have buyer’s remorse unless you shopped at IKEA.Color coordinated

You have to run around to buy some items. For example, you cannot buy cardio (baby) aspirin at the grocery store. You have to go to a farmacia and ask the druggist for it.  Thread? Not in a fabric store, but only in a special sewing notions store.  Tell me, who would think it is not a good idea to sell thread where you buy fabric?

Some American things are better than Italian equivalents. American plastic bags, whether for lining your trashcan or wrapping up leftovers, are far better in size, durability and functionality. Give me my Ziplocs! There’s huge problem with calcium in Rome and everything gets clogged and spotted. But good old CLR declogs a shower head better than anything I’ve found in Rome.

 Will we continue to buy Italian? Absolutely, but not exclusively. Food is no-brainer. Other than peanut butter and white vinegar (Which is hard to find here. We are awash in fine balsamico, but plain white distilled? Not available at the supermercato.), we buy all of our food in Italian markets. But then most of our food is fresh. Ric has been buying Italian clothes since we arrived and has some go-to places, but even he turned to Lands’ End online for his fall shirts and to

Ric and I at Piazza Navona. Photo by Derek

Ric and I at Piazza Navona. Photo by Derek

Zappos for some walking shoes. It’s just easier to buy online at 3:00PM on a hot afternoon than to walk all over Rome looking for shoes. But if we didn’t have the Diplomatic Post Office, we’d not be able to buy this way.

I am still searching for go-to shops for myself. But I’ll return to shopping a piede (on foot) as the cooler weather hits for some Italian fall fashions. And when we are in Venice this week, I’ll stop in at my favorite glass-maker and pick up some new jewelry. 

16 Responses to “Buy Italian”

  1. ckleonard October 16, 2013 at 04:08 #

    This is indeed a fun post to read (you can see I am a tad behind on reading). Some of what you have pointed out about shopping there, I try to fit into my habits here at home – find small locally owned stores. Not as easily done as said, however.


  2. Rachel September 16, 2013 at 19:54 #

    What a fun post! Thanks for sharing your adventures with us!


    • gooddayrome September 18, 2013 at 19:35 #

      Thanks Rachel! You shoudl come and have some adventures of your own!


  3. joyce weeks September 16, 2013 at 01:42 #

    This was pretty interestig so thought I’d pass it on.



    • gooddayrome September 16, 2013 at 13:21 #

      Hi Joyce! Glad to know you are out there keeping an eye on me!


  4. Michael Horne September 16, 2013 at 01:05 #

    Ciao Laurel — yep, gotta agree with you on the cost and ease of buying in the US versus Italy, but then there are wonderful Italian items you simply can’t (practically) get in the States. I’m a BIG fan of, the Italian version of, and I use them often. They ship just about anything to the States at a great price! I don’t know how they do it.

    I’d be curious to see if ships directly to you in Rome for as cheap as the folks ship to me here in California and Oregon.



    • gooddayrome September 16, 2013 at 13:38 #

      Hi Michael. Haven’t used yet, but ships to our DPO, courtesy of Amazon Prime.


  5. Anita HIlmoe September 15, 2013 at 22:01 #

    Love the pic of you two, ya’ll look great! 🙂 Maybe I should try the practice of shopping at small shops here just to curb my spending… 🙂


    • gooddayrome September 16, 2013 at 13:33 #

      Thanks, Anita! Derek is visiting so we have someone to take our picture together. Got to say, it’s fun to shop as a smaller person!


  6. Susan September 15, 2013 at 21:31 #

    Agreed – you two look great! And I’m looking forward to shopping i saldi with you next summer when we visit ; )!


    • gooddayrome September 16, 2013 at 13:31 #

      Yes! We’ll leave the kids with Ric and John and go shopping in a cool morning!


  7. Terah September 15, 2013 at 15:30 #

    YOUUUUU LOOOK MAAAARVELOUS, (or is that Marvioso?) Italy is definitely agreeing with both of you. You are so trim. Keep it coming.


    • gooddayrome September 16, 2013 at 13:28 #

      Thank you Terah! We feel as good as we look, maybe better!


  8. Janet Tabbal September 15, 2013 at 08:41 #

    Once again, thoroughly entertaining! It rings lots of bells…presentation is everything and time is not of the essence when shopping abroad! Still, there is a beauty about it…you and Ric look FANTASTIC by the way! Miss you…


    • gooddayrome September 16, 2013 at 13:27 #

      Ciao Janet! Yes it is good…and inconvenient. 🙂 I do feel like we need to consume locally in consideration for our most nation and also for the eco.logical impact. But it can be a high price to pay in money and time. Still, it is good to slow down and enjoy the process. Miss you too!


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