Thursday, 10 May 2007

Understanding Brazil: Shopping Centres

Possibly the most baffling aspect of Brazil for me is the incredibly high regard that every man, woman, child and dog has for shopping centres. Wow! Shopping! It‘s as if they are some kind of mythical, magical place like Oz, the Disney castle or The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. People always ask with eyes wide and shining ‘Quer ir ao Shopping?'

Now I thought a shopping centre was somewhere you went if you needed to buy clothes, shoes, something for the house, or a present, but it seems that I was wrong. Some serious marketing work has been done on this one. They have managed to convince people that a trip to a huge square building with exactly the same shops as every other Shopping, with piped chemical fragrances, playing piped chemical music, and all the happy atmosphere of a fog-bound airport departure lounge is a social occasion! Just by having air conditioning! Genius! Add a few twinkling lights, don‘t allow people in with holes in their shoes (even if they have enough money to buy new ones) and all of a sudden the place takes on a glamorous mystique akin to Paris in the 20‘s or Hollywood in the 40‘s.

Until you get inside. Perhaps I‘m not the ideal person to judge. Shopping might not be my favourite leisure time activity, but it‘s in the bottom one. And if you go there on Saturdays, generally with a hangover, they have all the things that you need least, all under one roof! The strong perfumes, the kids screaming, the irritating music, the people getting under your feet, and so many members of the public that you really don‘t want to deal with. I don‘t mind drinking a beer while waiting for somebody (for ten minutes), but the view of plastic signs, plastic ball-pools and plastic seating, all in the same primary colours, doesn‘t quite compare to watching the girls from Ipanema (or any other beach) walk by in bikinis, does it. And no amount of cooled air is going to change that.Shopping centres are the most sterile, classless places ever built for humans to pass the time. They lack anything and everything that can be called ‘culture‘ yet still Brazilians flock to them like moths heading for a lightbulb. The only difference is that I know exactly why moths head for the light.So I‘m going to put on my shades, let the ocean breeze and the ice in my caipirinha cool me down, and let the sound of the breaking waves massage my brain. Pick me up when you‘ve finished shopping, ok?

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