Guilty Noodles mentioned the other day an idea I knew I once had, that Europe is a wonderland of shopping. I can't speak for the whole of Europe anymore because now it's been TWO FUCKING YEARS in Belgium (having a hard time getting over the enormity of that, especially as after frank talks at home and at work we're aware there'll be another year now - three years of my life in Belgium - fuck - but it's all good, I'm happier than I've been since Christmas), and after all this time in Belgium, shopping has become less of an activity I do to satisfy my physical needs or material desires, and more an odyssey. A quest. 'Fucking mess' is another descriptor that springs to mind.
The pricing is all over the place, for one. Dessicated coconut, for example, is half to a third of the price at the otherwise ridiculously overpriced organic/hippie shop in the Parvis than it is non-organic in any of the grandes surfaces. Bulk shopping ('vrac') is something you do at more upscale shops (fruit and veg aside, mercifully), BUT the quality tends to be better, and even though it's only something in more upscale shops, you get substantial savings on half the wares relative to normal shops - a big fat ripoff on the other. The consequence is that you can't do all your shopping in one place if you don't want to pay more than twice as much as necessary, or want to get the best value for your euro. Now that I'm used to it, I don't mind. I might mind more if we didn't live in Saint Gilles, close to a daily market, a couple of weekly markets, a grande surface, and a bunch of Portuguese, wop and Turk shops.*
The unpredictability extends into all areas of shopping and it's here I still run into troubles. The big, obvious complaint in Belgium is that everything that isn't food (or cars, bizarrely) is incredibly expensive and the sales period, like in other weirdo frog countries, is limited to two specific weeks a year when the citizenry transform into voracious, feral beasts who tackle each other for the last 3 euro cotton print dresses at H&M whilst finding a way to work a shrieked 'putain de ??' into every other sentence. I'm not a recreational shopper so that only annoys me incidentally, like when I have to walk through a shopping district during the sales and everybody is acting like a fucking werewolf.
The thing is, the incredible non-sales expensiveness extends beyond recreational shops and into the shops that I love: first the DIY shops, and most devastating of all, the incredibly fucking expensive fabric and sewing shops. And heaping insult onto injury, Brussels is absolutely execrable in terms of the selection available in the incredibly expensive fabric stores. Nothing fun, first of all. No dragons or shit like that. But of more concern to me is the paucity of natural fabrics. I just don't do polyester. It gave me a yeast infection ten years ago and I'll never fucking forgive it. And the natural fibre fabrics here are even extra expensive. Cotton flannelette for diapers costs Euro 24 a metre at the largest fabric store I've found so far - that's six times as much as it costs in Canada. Cotton thread, until I stumbled on a weekly market stall stocked with sewing supplies that seem to have fallen off the back of a truck heading towards an Italian shop, was something I just could not find. They're also very poor in terms of incidental craft materials - batting being something I've never seen here.
I don't know why all this is - I think this place has its own special import tax thing that they're maintaining in defiance of EU regulations - that's the rumour floating around. A bunch of laws forever on the books trying to maintain a manufacturing industry that died out in this little island of nonsense thirty years ago or more by taxing anything that looks like a consumer-direct raw material to hell and gone.
*The Australian word for all the brownish Mediterranean types, BTW, is 'wog'. If we move there, I get to be a wog. Sweet, eh? But I'm also half 'pom', so I guess that will make me a pog. And I guess now I can start saying "when we move there" instead of "if". And I guess instead of saying "when we move there", I can start writing "next September." With the understanding, of course, that nothing is certain under the sun - but I'm happier than I've been since Christmas.