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Outside the city, in the land of almost-no-tourists and where KFC is a thing here, there is a shopping mall like any shopping mall anywhere – complete with an early Santa nestled somewhere in the depths of the place – somewhere far past where we made it to today. My in-laws took me shopping for my upcoming birthday, and because of ridiculous schedules, this was the best time to do it. Sunday afternoon, at the beginning of the holiday season, on the precise day when there’s a marathon snaking through the city of Florence and all locals want OUT. We found them all, and everyone else in Tuscany, in the chaos that was I Gigli today.

As we rounded the corner, the enormous signs loomed in the distance, and the cars started to appear. Here, if there’s no parking, you are apparently free to make your own as long as your car can make the curb. On grass-covered islands in the parking lot? No prob. On the outskirts of the rotary where there’s a bit of room? Just fold the mirrors in and you’re good. If you park somewhere someone else can’t get around, you’ll be promptly beeped and cursed out of the way by the caravan winding through the lot behind you. Cars were stalking shoppers carry bags away from the entrance. My mother-in-law bailed on the fourth turn, urging me out of the car and letting my father-in-law find a spot…somewhere.

The entrance of the mall was a whirlwind of Italians in winter gear – blacks, deep browns, grays, the outwear is almost a drab color-schemed outfit. We both had navy blue coats – fitting right into the mix. Shoppers sat outside the entrance, some standing in circles with cigarettes, others leaning on the walls, bags, and bags at their feet, hoping someday their ride will get to the front of the line. Kids skip into the store giggling as they spot the Christmas lights strung up on the ceilings. Revolving doors wouldn’t be fast enough for this amount of people. Inside, the place echoed with chatter, babies crying. A stand at the door offers poop bags for people bringing their dogs in, and there were plenty. At one point Luna was bouncing around with another Frenchie that looked like Stitch in the middle of the mall. People stopped to take pictures in the middle of their chaotic crossings from one store to the other. Carts full to the brim were pushed by dads with toddlers in tow. From the cafe in the corner, the loud clinking of espresso after espresso kept the tempo in the background.┬áInside the stores, there was a body in almost every open space between the racks of clothes. My mother and I maneuvered through to the sweaters while my father-in-law tried to find a safe place to stand with Luna in the hall. I had wished him good luck before we dove through the first store.

Now, I am not a shopper. I love clothes that are comfortable, that make me look nice. Finding those clothes is not easy for me, and when there’s added pressure of Italian shopping rules (or lack thereof) it makes this more difficult. But we were in this together so I powered through. You might not belive there are rules to shopping, I certainly didn’t think so, till I got here. Want to know if you have any? Answer this question:

If a stranger is standing in front of a rack of clothes in a store, and this person has slid the clothing over and is going through each piece one by one so they can see what’s in there and what they like, and you, from afar, see something that you like on that rack, what do you do?

For about twenty-three years of my life, I would wait at other racks of clothes, casually keeping track of that said stranger so I knew when they were finished their browsing, and then mosy on over after they moved away, take all the clothes, slide them to one side, and start my own search through.

Ok so that right there is not universal. And the rule here is that if you want something and need to breathe into someone else’s ear to get to it, you do that no problemo. If you want to see what’s on the other end of that rack that someone is currently looking through, you go right ahead and noisily screech all those metal hangers away from your newly claimed personal space. But the thing is – it’s not personal space for them. It’s just how it is. If I wanted a green sweater in front of their nose, I could reach for it and it’d be a-okay. When you live in such close quarters here, you just get used to it. I have made marathon strides in this category over the past seven years, but today…oooh today.

However, we made it. We succeded, I got some beautiful clothes with the help of my two favorite personal shoppers (who have incredible style and taste, and helped more than they know) and made it out of there alive. It was a wonderful afternoon full of family and a touch of chaos and I’d absolutely call it a success. But if anyone ever asks me to go back on a Sunday again, I’m going to say that’s a hard pass.

 

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