I dislike malls for many reasons. First of all, they’re too large and crowded with shops and people. The design causes sounds to mount and rise and echo through the large spaces, with occasional wafts of pop music from each store. Typically, the layout of the stores is generally incomprehensible to me. The food courts are electric with fryers and MSG. But more than the vastness, the terrible music, and the fried food, it is an alter to materialism. When I walk through a mall I feel oppressed by the environment in which everyone is trying to fill themselves with the latest fashions or looks, and entertain themselves to death at an overpriced theatre while stuffing their mouths with “food” that will give no nutritional sustenance.
Here in Ostrava, Forum Nová Karolína opened at the end of March. It is a large, impressive mall-much larger than most malls in the States. For you Minnesotans, it’s probably about the size of Rosedale or bigger, and a bit more labyrinthine. It had opened with fanfare—concerts, tight-rope walkers, photos. I heard the stories, and thought I ought to see it (forgetting how malls make me feel).
My first impression of the mall was that it was beautifully designed. The exterior of the building is boxy with lots of windows. Surrounding are some grassy areas as well as some square-like sections with some children’s equipment. A modern pedestrian suspension bridge crosses to the mall over a highway. Once inside, you see grand staircases and high ceilings. There are spider-web-esque sculpture/play objects scattered about, and the food court has large lighting fixtures shaped like calla lilies. Actually needing to spy out some silver shoes for an upcoming wedding, I was thankful for the many shoe stores about. Some Americans here had raved about the presence of Starbucks, Burger King, and . . . Subway.
I waited near the Starbucks for the arrival of some American friends, and in the few minutes of down time, my heart plummeted. I looked around and saw the vanity and superficiality of it all. People pranced around, doe-eyed, spending money they didn’t have on things they didn’t need. They carried bags filled with things to make them feel stylish or attractive, and which would waste away their wallets but not their sense of emptiness. Perhaps I’m getting a bit melodramatic. I was there too, and I had no intention of charging through my pocketbook. Yet, as I spent minutes and then a couple hours with my friends wandering through the floors, the atmosphere became suffocating.
When lunchtime hit, we went to the food court. I tried to find something that would resemble a nutritious meal. I joined two queues, anxiety mounting, before I decided it wasn’t possible and went to resign myself to a table with my companions. As I went to notify them of this, they were in the Subway line. And like a good American, I joined them, resigning myself to a vegetable patty sub on multigrain.
I won’t continue to drag you through the borderline anxiety attacks that plagued me in that place, but I did end up finding some silver shoes for the wedding. After that, there was nothing holding me—aside from perhaps my companions—and I made a quick escape. Never to return?
Yesterday, I brought the said shoes back to the mall. I was unconvinced by their fit and wanted to return the material filth. Up and down stairs till I found the store, and then a bee-line for the counter. There in Czech and “English” I found out that returns could only be made within 5 days of purchase, and exchanges could be made within one month. It had taken me 12 days to get the nerve up to go back. I wandered around the store, frugality not wanting to exchange these shoes for some that wouldn’t fit my original purpose. The Czech workers were helpful, though hard lined about their policy. Unwilling to sacrifice my thriftiness to superficiality or to my loathing of malls, I left the way I entered. A return is inevitable.
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After my first excursion, I met with a Czech and shared my reflections (perhaps I toned down the sickness I felt a bit), and she shared that this region has the highest concentration of shopping areas in the country. Apparently within it’s history it also has some statistic of something like 75% of a given person’s paycheck being spent within one week of receiving it. So apparently my inner groaning wasn’t entirely off.