Tag Archives: style

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, Drugstore.com. 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!

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