The night before my exciting Saturday with the foreign exchange students, attending museums, I had some one-on-one time with the student from Tanzania. After supper, I asked her to choose from several options as we explored the largest U. S. city she's ever visited. She decided on the mall.
When we arrived, I noted with dismay that we only had 55 minutes before closing. "We can see a lot, though, in that time," I assured her.
Walking into the large Younkers store, she looked with awe at the large selection of women's clothing. The look on her face was something like I've seen on my own children's faces when first seeing a cartoon character. A mixture of delight and amusement.
My husband later reminded me of my own reaction, after being in Africa for almost 4 years, upon walking into the lingerie dept. of Macy's. It was the first time I'd ever seen women's panties hanging like dresses on multiple racks. Being the verbally impulsive person that I am, I loudly declared, much to the chagrin of my husband and children (all more reticent than I): "Oh, my Lord! I've never seen so many drawers in all my life!" I'm not sure they noticed a clerk turning to identify the source of the Southern accent, but I busted out laughing at HER strange expression.
I led my guest through the store and into the hallways of the mall. "What's this?" she asked, with eyes wider than before.
"It's the mall," I replied.
Confusion spread across the young face of this "alien." "What is a mall?" she asked.
It was 8:20, fifteen minutes after we'd walked into the mall. We'd taken a fast stroll around, entered a second store that she chose and even made a trip to the rest room, when she asked in a very matter-of-fact voice: "Can we go home now?"
I smiled. She'd accomplished her mission, seen all she needed to see, and put into perspective the strange phenomenon of shopping for frivolous items--the very thing that keeps our economy going. At the risk of taking us away from some essentials that we may not even realize we are missing, as we get caught up in the bright lights.
As we were exiting the same store we'd entered 15 minutes earlier, the student saw something that really appealed to her. I followed her lead. It was a simple, white, long-sleeve shirt that could have been just as much in style in 1960 as it is today. A nice one indeed, very useful and practical. Except for the price that horrified her--$59. She shook her head in amusement.
This visit stood in sharp contrast to the following day when we couldn't seem to find enough time to do all that interested the students as we explored the museums that were not nearly as crowded as the mall.