When most people travel, they open their guidebook and visit the major tourist spots listed. In Paris, we go to the Louvre and the Eiffel tower. In Amsterdam, we see the Van Gogh museum. In New York, Times Square. In Sydney, the Opera House. In Peru, Machu Picchu. In Bangkok, the Grand Palace. You get the idea. Now, big destinations are big for a reason. They are fantastic. They are beautiful. They inspire. They may be touristy and expensive, but they are worth the visit.
Whenever I visit someplace new, I tend to walk around a lot. A real lot. I wander streets and alleys and turn myself all around because you never know what you will find just around the next corner. One recent walking adventure brought me little girls singing Abba on the streets of Stockholm. Aimless wandering is a wonderful way to see locals and their daily lives away from all those tourist destinations.
Two often overlooked places that tell us about the lives of locals are supermarkets and malls. These are where the locals go to shop, spend an afternoon, relax, and do errands. In short, it’s everyday life. And sadly, most travelers rarely go there. Yet I think they are two of the best places to get a real look at the lives of the locals.
It may be hard to think of a mall as a cultural place, but let’s think outside the box for a moment. For starters, there are no tourists. In malls I go to, I still never see them, especially if I visit a mall outside the city center. The only reason I usually end up there is because I accompany my local friends on their errands.
Roaming malls can tell you a lot about the place you are visiting. What type of stores do they like? What fashions? What kind of fast food do they prefer? Do they like big box stores or small boutiques? Malls also give you an idea of cost of living because you can see how much goods cost. Once in Italy, I saw a sign that read “XXL Available- American size.” That told me two things about Italy: there was a clear perception that Americans were very fat, and that in Italy, fat wasn’t considered an Italian thing. Go shopping in Stockholm, and you’ll see a lot of trendy, high-end fashion. In Paris, you don’t see big Gaps and Abecrombies- you see top of the line fashion like Hermes, Prada, Gucci, and small boutique shops.
Malls give you a window into material lives of people and the material stuff they value. What value people place on “stuff” is as cultural as seeing the type of architecture in their buildings they enjoy.
Supermarkets are another amazing place to spot culture. How people eat, what they eat, and what they don’t eat tells much about how they view food, life, and health. In America, our emphasis on big, quick, and easy shows that we aren’t foodies as a culture. Food isn’t as important as speed. We eat a lot of fast food, prepared meals, and on the go food. In France, however, food quality is important. French citizens living in Brussels drive back to France to get good French food. Every other street has small food shops – little stores for fish, pastries, fruits, and bread. Food is consumed for taste not convenience.
Going to the supermarket answers a lot of questions. What kind of food do people like? What are the local delicacies? You see a lot of fish in Scandinavia, lots of different meats in Austria, packed shelves of wine in France, and a wide vegetable and cured meat section in Italy. In Bangkok, you see a lot of prepared meals. All around the world, the emphasis on food is different.
Food is such an integral part of culture that no visit to any country should be without a visit to a supermarket. I’m always blown away when I go to them because I learn more about how people live their lives and what they value than I learn from any trip to a monument.
Travelers always hit the obvious destinations, but malls and supermarkets offer you something different, unique, and local. If travel is about getting to know the places you go to and peering into the lives of its citizens, then watching people go about their daily lives at malls and supermarkets is a great way to do just that.
My Visit to the Mall
Family outings, entertainment and leisure time, is gradually changing as a result of the construction malls all over the country. Such shopping malls and centers are progressively attempting to achieve more than goods distribution. Malls are becoming increasingly creative. They are using what we may consider a traditional retail space to create playhouses, trampoline places, gymnastic studios, supermarkets, entertainment places, restaurants, banks among other facilities. All these amenities are aimed at generating revenue. They hope to make individuals who visit the malls for different reasons to at least make purchases at the usual retail stores. Many people prefer malls as they offer convenience as a one-stop shop where you can access different facilities mainly, food, shopping, and entertainment. We take a look at an experience inside one of America’s most famous malls as a representation of the features and experiences that malls currently offer to their customers.
The Mall of America which is located in Minnesota in the United States is quite a popular place to visit. The mall has more than 500 stores and slightly more than 50 restaurants. My first visit to the mall was quite exciting from the beginning since there is no fee for parking and the place is easily accessible because of its convenient location. Moving around the various food courts to see what they offer was exciting, and it is impossible to decide what to eat since there are so many varieties to choose from. The eateries inside the mall catered to just about all tastes, ranging from the fast-food variety experiences to high-class and grand sit-down establishments. It is, without doubt, a place one should visit. I was particularly interested in the Cake Boss shop because I love the show and I wanted a taste of some cake. The mall is trendy therefore many events are held there occasionally. On the day of my visit, there was a wedding taking place at the chapel of love which is one the mall’s facilities. This chapel has apparently hosted more than 5,500 couples’ marriages from what I gathered.
Parents who visit with their children would particularly enjoy this place a lot since there are a lot of activities for kids like the aquarium, amusement park with different rides and roller coasters inside and various stores such as the LEGO store where I saw children playing in their play areas. Teenagers also have plenty to engage them at this mall including zip lines, crazy spinning machines, multiplex cinema theatre, comedy club and many others. The mall is also preferred because they do not tax their product which gives you a good deal in the various shops. Due to the size of the mall, there are kiosks that are quite handy as they show you how to get to whichever shop you might be trying to locate and how long it will take to get there from where you are. Just like any other mall, different stores located in one premises make it an ideal location for the family since each member has different interests and all these interests mean different shopping experiences and shops. The mall of America proved to be a worthwhile experience. Even though I had not gone there to shop, I ended up doing some impulse buying just from seeing all my ideal stores as well as their prices which I consider reasonable. Generally, the mall has all you would need, making it a perfect location for shopping, food, and entertainment.
Because of its large size, we were not able to finish our tour of the entire mall as it would take more than visit for one to explore all their facilities. Generally, this mall gives a representation of the feel in today’s malls whereby you get everything you require at one particular place as opposed to moving from one location to another to shop or engage in other activities. The mall visit was an awesome experience, and I would recommend it to anyone regardless of your reason for going there since there is something for everyone.