Two New Yorkers spend six months 18 months!?! in Bangalore and other places in India.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


Back in New York I hated to shop. Especially for clothes. I wore shirts until they had holes in them. I hated the crowded stores, the overattentive and insincere sales staff, the high prices, the whole hassle of devoting an entire afternoon to the retail experience. I buy everything I can online, but clothes I've never been able to get that way. I have a narrow frame and a lot of stuff doesn't fit right. Everything has to be tried on. I hated that, too.

But here in India, I have surprised myself by taking up the shopping habit and discovered that retail can bring joy as well as aggravation. There are several reasons for this. The most obvious is that my dollar goes a lot further here in Bangalore than it does in Manhattan. At the high end of the mid-range department stores here (the equivalent of say Bloomingdale's), a nice button-up shirt will run you around 800 to 1200 rupees, or $18 to $27. You can pay more than that, sure, but even at the top-of-the-range places shirts will rarely cost more than fifty bucks, which would be a very average price back home. And some things are very much cheaper. I got a pair of prescription sunglasses here for $200; the identical frames and lenses (same brand, everything) cost about $600 in New York. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that it's more fun to buy things when they cost less, but I kind of was.

Another truly wonderful and unexpected thing that I have discovered is that I have the body type of a typical Indian man. So the clothes here tend to fit more often than not. This has changed my life completely. The frustrating experience of finding items I liked the look of only to discover that they made me look like a circus tent has been lessened considerably. You'll see people with the whole range of body sizes here, of course, but on average, the men tend toward the rakelike. I offer as evidence that the smallest waist size generally available for adult men here is 26 inches. In the US you are lucky to find a 28 and more often you start with a 30. I'm a 31, and that puts me more in the middle of the range than at the lower end of it. When you tend toward the median, more stuff is available to you. Hurrah!

The last reason is probably the most important one: there's not that much else to do in Bangalore other than shopping and going to restaurants. Bars and nightclubs are forced by law to shut down by 11:30, curtailing nightlife severely; we've done the few tourist attractions the city offers by now; and it's getting awfully hot. All this makes visiting the city's many air conditioned, often uncrowded malls an inviting prospect. And I'm going to take advantage of it as long as I can. Maybe if I stock up here, I can avoid clothes shopping completely for a year or so after I get back to New York . . .

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