Malls and America

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” –Miriam Beard

Three flights, multiple security check points, and two passport stamps later, I have returned to the land of snow.  And believe me, there’s a lot of it.  Though my fears of being delayed by yet another blizzard proved unfounded, the high winds of the northeast delayed my flight out of Chicago by an hour.  The next day my car decided to disregard my need to drive up to Massachusetts to apply for my visa and its transmission began to stick.  Despite her best efforts to prevent my trip, I conquered the car and we finally reached our final destination, my home for the next two weeks, and my visa-application is officially submitted.  Keep your fingers crossed that it will be accepted in time.

One of the aspects of America that always strikes me the most coming back into the country is the mall culture.  I had considered entitling this post “Ten Reasons Why Malls are Evil,” or even just simply, “The Evils of American Malls,” but decided that such a title would come across a little rant-ish.  Since my intention is the reflect on the culture phenomenon of the American mall rather than to use this blog entry to complain about the failings of my passport country’s culture, I will attempt to scale it back–but I offer up apologies to any who take offense and see this as a rant.  I must confess, though, that I am significantly harder on my passport country when it comes to parts of it that I don’t like than I am on my country of birth.  Go figure.  I have theories as to the reasons, but for now I will keep those to myself.

Nonetheless, if someone were to ask me what part of American culture is the weirdest to come back to, I would have to say that, besides the abnormal quantity of Caucasians, it would be American malls.  American mall are, in my mind, unique…and not always in a good way.  In fact, they can often be a bit overwhelming for the poor soul who has traveled from a land where people don’t have ten credit cards in their wallet and there are only a couple of choices of shampoos as opposed to twenty million.  Walking through a large, up-scale mall yesterday, I was strongly reminded about why I don’t like malls.

I do see that there can be some benefits to a mall.  Mostly those revolve around the social factor that they play in American life: they’re a place to hang out with friends, while at the same time getting some necessary (or not-so-necessary) shopping done.  And for that reason, I try to appreciate them.  I enjoyed the company of the people that I was with.  They were people I hadn’t seen in months, and it was fantastic spending time with them.  But that’s about where my appreciation for malls stops.

Because for me, malls serve as the epitome of the consumeristic American society.  Malls are a location where Americans are faced with far more choices then they need.  If you don’t like the style of clothing sold at this store, don’t worry, there are at least five more in this one mall–you don’t even have to go outside into the snow.  Moreover, they are full of things that, more often than not, you don’t actually need.  Many of the products sold in malls you can find in stores that are located outside of malls, from Walmart to more expensive department stores.  But when it’s set up on the display shelf and all that you’re in the mall to do is spend money, it is inevitable to buy something that you could really live without, thus feeding the consumeristic culture in which we live.  Such consumerism also feeds into the individualistic mindset that runs rampant in this culture.  If it’s not exactly the way a customer wants it, they throw a fit.

Yesterday I ordered a bagel at Dunkin Donuts.  As I stood there waiting, a woman spent all of five minutes complaining about the spiced vanilla chai that they had made for her.  “This is gross,” was her first complaint.  Her husband demanded that they make it again, then they both proceeded to tell the workers exactly how to make the drink.  After a remake, the women took a sip, and the look on her face grew more disgusted.  “This is still gross.  I want a refund.”  All I could think of was, Newsflash: the world does not revolve around you.  These people are just doing their jobs.  And so we enhance the idea that you are the most important person in the world.

Needless to say, malls are a facet of American culture that will not be going away any time soon…if ever.  The more I’m around them, the more I see how malls and consumeristic America mutually feed off each other.  While malls do exist in other countries, it seems as though they are not quite used with the same attitude.  A question that I’m still pondering is what makes American malls different from something like a Taiwanese night market?  They both sell products, they both attract throngs of people…the list goes on.  I think one of the differences, though, lies in the attitude inherent in these two phenomena.  People going to the mall often go with the attitude of spending money to get exactly the thing that they want because it’s on sale, and they need it now.  People going to a Taiwanese night market try to get good bargains, but it feels less selfish and more thrifty or frugal.

Again, this was not meant to be a rant on American malls.  But as I said, they are an aspect of American culture that I see as being overlooked by many Americans, when in fact they speak loads to what Americans value.

Stay tuned for updates on Italy preparations…12 days and counting…


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