the 90th minute

Until September 2007, when my oldest daughter was born, this blog covered daily life and politics in Israel, as well as Hebrew-English linguistic issues, from the perspective of an American-raised journalist and translator living in Israel. Now it mostly serves as the SmunchMonk&Bear news agency, a portal into the bizarre universe of the little people. Read more at:

Monday, May 28, 2007

Forget retail therapy

Back in the old country, clothes shopping generally involved entering a store that was significantly larger than my living room and trying on clothes in a fitting room conveniently equipped with both a door and a mirror, so I could decide whether I wanted to purchase the clothing. And if I wasn't sure, I could always buy it and then return it if it didn't turn out to be what I wanted.

I'm not a huge shopper, but just thinking of such an idyllic scenario brings tears of longing to my eyes. That's because here in the Holy Land, if I don't time my shopping expeditions so they coincide with absolute wardrobe desperation, the only thing I end up getting is frustrated. Forget retail therapy - I need psychoanalysis just to recover from my shopping sprees, rare and often aborted though they are.

A couple of weeks ago, I was trying on some clothes in the designated fitting corner in the back of a store in downtown Jerusalem, which some depraved curtain-hanger had decided should pose as two dressing rooms - in much the same way that a tiny studio apartment I once saw in Nachlaot was being marketed as a 1.5-bedroom apartment because it had a bunk bed. (The reason should be obvious: the bottom bunk was the bedroom and the top bunk was the half a room.)

The two mini-cubicles of the dressing room in question, meanwhile, were more or less separated from the shopping area by two curtains, but were separated from each other by a curtain that ran only halfway down the changing area. As long as I didn't move around too much and practiced self-delusion really hard, I could almost sustain an illusion of privacy. On the plus side, I did not have to share arm space with a sink (definitely not something to be taken for granted). On the down side, there were, naturally, no mirrors on the inside of the fitting room.

I could not possibly overstate the degree to which I hate this absurd Israeli concept of walking out of the dressing room to parade around in an article of clothing that probably looks awful on you but you don't actually know because you can't see how awful it looks on you until you parade around in it in front of a whole buncha strangers, who - along with their husbands, children and pet rabbits - suddenly all seem to be staring at you.

In this case, though, I had an extra burden: Every time I stood in front of the mirror, I had to keep one eye on the clothing I had painstakingly picked out, in an effort to keep it from falling into the greedy hands of the hired harasser. Said harasser, who had the misleading title of saleslady, really, really doesn't like it when customers have the chutzpah to bring clothes into the dressing room to try them on, and was far more interested in putting away the clothes before I got a chance to figure out whether I wanted to buy them than in actually making a sale. It was like trying to eat at a restaurant when the waitress is standing with her hands on her hips in front of your table and snatching away your fork when you pause to take a sip of water. All in all, an experience I'm dying to repeat.

My sister tells me, though, that sometimes that much-desired mirror inside the fitting room can create more trouble than it's worth. She was once in a dressing room in a Jerusalem store that had a single mirror on the inside that was meant to serve two cubicles. Of course, the curtain separating the cubicles didn't quite reach the whole length between them, and to her surprise, when she looked in the mirror she found herself seeing the woman in the next cubicle undress.

But the highlight of my Israeli fitting room experience actually took place in the Malcha mall, not some hole in the wall in town. To my undying shock, a door at the back of the dressing room, which I hadn't noticed before, flew open without warning as I was changing, and a store employee strode through my cubicle and out the curtain before I could even comprehend what had just happened.

The obvious solution, of course, is to buy something without trying it on, see how it looks in the privacy of your own home, and return it if it doesn't fit right. The only problem with such a neat approach is that refunds are virtually unheard of in Israel. Most stores will, however, do you the favor of allowing you to exchange the item for something else in the same store - if, of course, you can be bothered to go looking.

And don't think it gets any better once you actually purchase something you like; the next hurdle is keeping your belongings both intact and looking new.

Take the purple flip-flops I bought Friday. It didn't take long for a bald spot to appear on the left shoe, as the decorative stripes under my big toe faded away after all of an hour or two of wearing them around the house.

I'm hoping my new flip-flops make it through the summer - but even if they don't, the good news is that at least I won't have to brave the dreaded dressing room to try on a new pair.



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