May 21, 2011

Expat Joys - The Neighborhood Shopping Center

Valley Shopping Centre in Dainfern, Johannesburg
Shopping doesn't typically come to mind as a particular joy, if you ask the average expat. On the contrary, having to find your new go-to places, hunting for certain foods your host country doesn't seem to manufacture, and in general spending way too  much time on errands you had down pat in your previous life - all these are the more stressful parts of becoming an expat. Plus, I admit, I am not a shopping aficionado in any way, shape, or form. That is why until now you haven't yet seen a post on shopping on this blog.

But once you've gotten to know your new home you will discover shopping joys previously unknown to you. For me, that joy is the presence of little neighborhood shopping centers (I am torn whether to spell it "center" or "centre" as my audience seems to be divided just about evenly between South Africa/UK English readers versus American ones) all over Johannesburg. Just about every neighborhood comes with its own shopping center. They're typically not very big yet include all the necessities from grocery store to cafe, dry cleaning, pet store, hairdresser, post office, gym, video rental, and restaurant.

I've come to love our own Valley Shopping Centre, right at the confluence of Dainfern College and a number of different neighborhoods. It's so close that people go shopping there with their golf carts. At the beginning it was a life saver for me, when buying a car took a little longer than anticipated and I could walk up there and buy food, toting my bags like my grandma did in the olden days in Germany. There is something special about buying food on foot that I can't quite explain. Makes you feel more alive and less rushed - of course, because it's impossible to rush with two heavy bags on either side!

Having to get your mail at a PO Box admittedly can't be called an actual joy, but at
 least they are conveniently located in almost every neighborhood shopping center

After moving here, I had the ambition of replicating my U.S.-based lifestyle and getting back into the same routine as quickly as possible. I had plans of making a Macro (the South African equivalent to Walmart or Sam's Club) run every few weeks to stock up on big bulk items and hit a large grocery store once a week for the rest. But our rather small refrigerator and the fact that South African milk only lasts a few days (probably due to it being spiked with less preservatives) quickly made me reconsider. Also, why subject yourself to Joburg Traffic if you can avoid it? Any savings the big discount stores might offer (as a matter of fact, Macro doesn't even offer them) are easily countered by not having to crawl through traffic for hours to realize them.

In fact, that is one lesson most expats learn (or should learn): embrace the luxuries of expat life, because you will surely miss them later and regret not taking advantage of them more. I vividly remember Richard from our life in Singapore 1998-2000. Richard showed up the very day after we had moved into our townhouse in Holland Grove View. Did we want to order any groceries? He had come with a little delivery truck and an order pad, and we soon learned that this kind of service was very common in Singapore. Suspicious as I was, I only haltingly came to use his services, and only when I couldn't get to Cold Storage that day. In my mind, Richard's service was so convenient that it was bound to be way too expensive, his only marginally higher prices notwithstanding. Instead, I'd wedge Jabulani's infant carrier into the car and thread my way around three stories worth of winding ramp in the supermarket's garage, where tell-tale paint marks on the walls bore witness of prior unsuccessful attempts to get through unscathed, only to find out that the long-promised container shipment of Nutella was still somewhere on the high seas. Richard, on the other hand, always found everything. And delivered it right to our door. Why didn't I outsource all my shopping to Richard? I have no idea.

Here in South Africa I now happily do most of my grocery shopping at Woolworths one minute from our house in the Valley Shopping Centre. (Click here for a review of grocery shopping in Joburg). I meet my friends for coffee at Cafe Frappe, the kids get movies at Chaplin's Video, we get our mail at the PO box there (if indeed we DO get our mail, but that's another story), we have the occasional dinner at Johnny's, and I get my hair styled at Fashion Squared. There is also a gym offering shadow boxing, two ATMs, a spa, a toy store, and even a sushi restaurant (though I have to admit that one looks a bit suspicious).

Fashion Squared

I love being able to get almost everything I need so close to home. It saves me time and money, and the environment gets spared just a tiny bit too.

Entire Expat Joys series:


Valentinoafricanfood said...

Very informative. Thumb up!

W. A. Jeffrey said...

To me shopping is an adventure. How in the world you could consider that a stressful part of being a new expat is beyond me. That is what I am looking forward to the most. And why would you want to limit yourself to an established routine? I would want to experiment and try all sorts of places because you never know what you might find.

Granted I have never lived in a foreign country but back here in the USA, whenever I have moved to a new town one of my most favorite things is to go around and see what different places there are to shop at versus my previous town. Sadly, with fewer and fewer regional chains, new experiences don't pop up like they used to but there is still alot of fun to be had.

I wouldn't worry about the environment. It will be humming along just fine long after we have departed this world.

Sine said...

Haha! You know the difference between you and me? You don't have four kids (i assume:-) who constantly need something that needs to be procured, food, clothes, school supplies, Christmas presents. I used to enjoy shopping when it was just me, and I'm totally not opposed to finding new places and trying new things. I just wished I had time for it. Carving out time to write and do the things that I love has become more and more important to me, and shopping totally eats into that. So that's why I'm such an efficiency hog. I envision a retirement one day where I can do just that, stroll leisurely in some market in an exotic location and take in the smells and sights:-)