Ready, set, consume!

People slurping slushies, devouring pizza, picking on boxed sushi, clamping down on sandwiches. All of this while sitting on the steps around a huge watering hole, with fountains, light shows, the whole shebang. Above us is a great glass cupola, through which you can see a medium-sized skyscraper, and from which are hanging dazzling wreaths, baubles and sparkly lights. Where are we?

Let me give you some more hints. Around us is a sprawling anthill of shoppers, scurrying from one store to the next, carrying multicolored bags that prove to the world which stores they can afford and which they cannot. All you can hear is the buzz of overlaid voices, along with the faint bubbling of the fountain below and the washed out tunes of Christmas songs. Sound familiar?

But of course, we’re in a mall, somewhere in consumerist America during the busiest shopping season of the year, the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Wrong!

Yes, we’re in a mall. Yes, it’s December. No, we’re not in the United States. To be precise, we’re in Part-Dieu shopping center, right next to the Part-Dieu train station in Lyon, France.

Never before had I fathomed this sort of consumerist culture in France. I had participated in the soldes, always keeping my distance so as to resist my innate super-spending impulses. As a member of this consumerist trap of a society, I control these artificially, commercially imposed instincts with the utmost discipline, but they are still unequivocally there. It seemed like the French had some sort of gene that made them more immune to the spending disease. The soldes drew a large crowd, but it never seemed as strong a pull as in the United States, where any sale is a pretext to buy, buy, buy.

Here, I’m tempted to retract that statement. I had never been to a French mall like this before. This is what this mob of French citizens has chosen to do with their Saturday. Shop. In a big heaping mess of holiday spending spirit. I thought I had escaped it to some extent by moving here, but clearly I have not. Not that it’s completely negative. I feel like I’m back in Westfarms Mall in West Hartford, CT, or maybe in the St. Cloud Mall, in MN, browsing for last-minute Christmas gifts with my mom or my cousin Emily. Consumerist culture does indeed bring back some good memories with people, and I cannot deny I don’t enjoy that tingling feeling that a fresh purchase can provide.

About a week ago, I taught a class on American consumerist culture and showed videos of Black Friday and news reports on this year’s holiday spending trends. The senior class concluded that this specific phenomenon, this out-of-control shopping frenzy, pertains specifically to the United States. But now I’m having my doubts. If the French have come so far as to emulate an American mall, as to pack all of their chain stores into one multi-layered building, conceived to play on their innermost shopping impulse, with food courts, water fountains and the works…will they someday reach the Black Friday extreme? Methinks, eventually, yes.

Granted, people tend to be dressed more classily (stereotype, yet real), the men seem to enjoy shopping much more (stereotype, yet hilariously true), the restaurants in the food court are classier (stereotype, yet real), their fast food sandwiches are crispy baguettes stuffed with delicious meats and fresh salad and greens (stereotype, yet wow this is delicious), but still…If the French are moving towards the American spending model, what sort of changes are they capable of? What American cultural element will invade them next? What will they let in despite their strong national pride and refusal of Americanization? Are the Americans invading the French or are the French letting themselves be invaded?

Thoughts on that?

5 Comments »

  1. Giovanni Ciriani Said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

    IMHO the French and all other developed countries are moving closer to the American spending model, but not for sake of emulation. The reason has more to do with the convergence of socio-economical factors: a certain level of disposable income, and the information exchange between people. In the past the level of information exchange between people depended by living in proximity of each other, and urban concentration was the only factor speeding it up; then traditional median accelerated information exchange. In the last several years information technology has taken that role of multiplying this exchange. So in a sense American culture is at the forefront of this evolution, but France and all other (OECD) countries are moving in the same direction and closer to the leader than ever.

  2. Alicia Nielson Said,

    January 3, 2013 @ 8:07 am

    WOW! Very interesting. Thank you for this blog posting.

  3. etienne Said,

    August 20, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

    I think these super malls have existed for some time now in non US countries. The Romans were first. The Marché des Enfants-Rouges in Paris opened in 1628. Downtown malls started when cars were invented. American shopping malls started in 1928 in Ohio.

    In the UK Brent Cross started in 1976. The largest mall is in China.
    There are vertical malls like the one in the article in Hong Kong and Bangkok.

    I suspect America may be following rather than leading.

  4. Anna Said,

    August 21, 2013 @ 3:44 am

    Interesting. Of course it has to have come from somewhere else. The US didn’t invent the concept of a market, nor of a cluster of markets in one same place. However, I would say that the idea that intense consumer culture is an American phenomenon that has been catching on relatively recently in Europe (I cannot speak for Asia). Maybe shopping centers originated outside of the US because of how young the country is, but I’d say they’ve been appropriated and transformed into an American concept. I would definitely argue that consumerism and malls exist to a greater extent in America than in other countries and are ingrained in American culture in a way that other countries are emulating more and more. I’d say the US took consumerism and shopping to another level, and that now it’s being redistributed.

  5. cheapest auto insurance Said,

    September 14, 2013 @ 9:02 am

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