Thursday, September 8, 2011

WWW: Piquancy

Whenever I write a description of myself, like the little blurb in the 'About Me' section (which I deleted, hah.), or if I find myself filling out one of those generic questionnaires (in which I could never tell the difference between 'Hobbies' and 'Past times'), or maybe I'm writing out an imaginary letter to an imaginary pen Italian.

So, whenever I'm drumming my brain for things I actually like to do as opposed to things I just do...  I always put 'shopping'.

Mi piace fare lo shopping (qualche volte con gli amici).*

Yes, the Italian word for shopping is the same as the English.  No, that is not because Italians were not innovative enough to come up with their own word.  No, that is not because Italians don't even like to shop, and hence why have their own word for it?  No.

There are actually several Italian translations of our English verb 'shop' (because, in reality, Italians are some of the best shoppers in the world.  Oh yeah.)  It all depends on what type of shopping you are doing, what your looking for how, how driven you are going to be, and how much yelling at store keepers you are going to do.  But that's another post.

I have a theory as to why the English word 'shopping' stays the English word 'shopping' in languages other than English.  It's a baby word.  

Stay with me.

I'm currently reading the introduction of a book called Just Looking.  It's about consumerism and culture and all kinds of juicy things that concern every human being within 1000 kilometres of this blog.

Le Bon Marche in Paris 1867
The emergence of the department store in the 1800s is something interesting, since it actually changed the way we buy things.  I would never have known that if I hadn't read it.  I possibly would have assumed that people have always sauntered out to the shops on weekend just to find something worthwhile to spend their money on.

Well no.  If I lived before the department store I would have had to negotiate a price, barter it down, trade something for something else, order what I needed, and basically just avoid the horrible task of 'shopping' like the plague.

Piquancy {n} /ˈpēkənsē/  The quality of being pleasantly stimulating or exciting

When the department store (aka 'palace of consumption' according to Just Looking) made its entrance, we had ourselves the beginning of shopping as we know it today.  Oh yessss.

Wanamakers Department Store, US.

The whole philosophy behind a department store is quite sneaky.  Excuse me while I look at Just Looking again.

- 'grandiose architecture' and 'theatrical forms of lighting and display' there to confuse you on function and finance.
- the inclusion of almost every type of object just to boggle your mind
- the clever strategic location of departments, attracting you to things you didn't plan on buying (ouch, yes).
- hence the phenomena of 'impulse buying' replacing planned buying

Oh, and the snazziest point?
'People could now come and go, to look and dream, perchance to buy, and shopping became a new bourgeois leisure activity - a way of pleasantly passing the time, like going to a play or visiting a museum.'

Okay, I surrender. It's the piquancy of shopping that gets me every time!

But I'm pretty sure if I went to Paris, and someone offered to take me to either the Notre Dame or the nearest department store... the cathedral would win hands down.  And the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower, and the river Seine, and the Arc de Triomphe... and just the generally overwhelming piquancy of Paris.

Le Bon Marche today. 

Just Looking: consumer culture in Dreiser, Gissing & Zola is by Rachel Bowlby, and was published in 1985.

*For your information, I did not have to run this sentence through a translator - I know how to speak and write Italian (after years of study I assure you).  'I like to shop/go shopping (sometimes with friends)'.

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