Parlez vous Internet shopping? I may not be able to get to the Louvre this spring, but that won’t stop me from browsing its gift shop.
The dollar is down, or so they keep telling me. With a sour expression, the newscasters give me this information nightly. Okay, I get it! Cancel that trip to Belgium. Clearly my money won’t even buy me a waffle on the streets. Even the peso has become stronger compared to us, so that formerly cheap trip to Mexico has promptly become not-so-cheap. (Ay, caramba!) But just because I’m staying at home this spring doesn’t mean I can’t indulge in my favorite vacation pastime—international shopping—thanks to the miracle that is the World Wide Web. Hey, I get all the global goodies without the jet lag.
Shopping with a Je Ne Sais Quoi
One of the things I love about shopping in France is that it’s built for browsing. I don’t really shop in the hectic way I do at home (a.k.a diving into a store, buying a black skirt in my size, and then rushing back to work). No, in France it’s all about the stroll: wandering past the patisserie windows to marvel at the confections, lingering over the tulips at the corner florist, admiring the tiny dangling earrings at the little jewelry shop—it all feels restorative rather than exhausting. It’s hard for a Web site to deliver that, but the site Basic French is a good substitute. There’s an element of discovery still: Oh, look, tiny French licorice! Pressed bars of soap! And the categories are broad enough that you find yourself entering each tab as if it was a new boutique all along the same chic street. Now if only they had a corner bistro with a good café au lait.
Total Immersion Shopping
One of my favorite things to do when I’m abroad is completely pedestrian: I love to go into a typical grocery store. The food always stands apart from what you’d find in an American grocery store—what do the British have against salad dressing? And why do the Argentines love mayonnaise so much? Plus, you get a peek into the everyday lives of the locals. But the best thing is the packaging! Tins of almonds with bright red Japanese characters or jars of honey with looping French script: this is the stuff of really great souvenirs and it says so much more about the culture than a miniature Eiffel Tower. That’s why I love the Web site KIOSK. Every few weeks they sell daily goods from another country. Right now, they’re selling goods from Hong Kong. (In the past, they’ve featured Japan, Germany, Mexico, etc.) I have my eye on a square tin of bright yellow Almond Cakes that couldn’t be any more iconic and would make a cheerful knickknack in my kitchen next to the wooden spoons.
The Same, but Different
The last time I went to England, I spent a full day exploring Harrods, the UK version of Macy’s. It’s titanic and stuffed with miniature stores within the main department store—the basement is a sprawling food emporium, complete with a fishmonger—but the section I spent the most time in was the bookstore. Sure, many of these titles were familiar; it’s not like we don’t have the Harry Potter series or Bridget Jones’s Diary in my Barnes & Noble at home. But here they had their original covers, and their original language. (Yes, some of the overt Britishisms in these books get “translated” for the American audience, which takes the fun out of wondering what the hell “jacket potatoes” really are.) That’s why any Anglophile will find it a total delight to browse Amazon UK And, being a total BBC addict, I can also locate DVDs not for sale in the States. (Word of warning: you must have a region free DVD player to watch them.) I do have to pay for international shipping, but think of it this way: it costs less than shipping my luggage from Heathrow Airport.
How Do You Say “Yum” in Spanish?
The last time I was in Spain, I had a meal so good, my eyes rolled back in my head, and I actually said out loud, “How can I get this in my suitcase?” Except my mouth was full so it sounded more like “mow camf I gef thess in meh zuthcase.” My mother, who was my travel companion at the time, needed no subtitles to understand me because she was thinking the same thing. “Dear God! Can we put this paella in a Ziploc baggy and just take it back?” Then a very real, but very ridiculous, conversation ensued about how we’d have to check our luggage because it had liquid and how it would make our clothes smell like food (not altogether unpleasant—I think for some men it may be more fetching than Chanel No. 5). Needless to say, we only packed paella into our stomachs. So that’s why I was so thrilled when I found La Tienda. Everything that makes Spanish food so delicious—the olives, the ham, even the paella pans—are all for sale here, and the only thing missing is the threat that my favorite cardigan will smell like saffron.