11. How to shop

In America, just as in England, you see the same shops with the same boards and windows in every town and village.

Shopping, however, happens to be an art of its own and you have to learn slowly where to buy various things. If you are hungry, you go to the chemist’s. A chemist’s shop is called a drugstore in the United States; it is a national institution and a very good institution at that. In the larger drugstores you are likely to get drugs, too, but their main business consists of selling stationery, candy, toys, braces, belts, fountain pens, furniture and imitation jewellery. Every drugstore has a food counter with high stools in front of it and there they serve various juices, coffee, sundaes, ice cream, sandwiches, omelettes and other egg dishes.

If you want cigarettes, you are expected to go to the grocer; if you want to have your shoes cleaned, go to the barber; if you want to buy a suitcase, go to the chemist’s. On the other hand if you want to send a telegram, avoid the post office, because telegrams are sure to be handled by private companies. Nor has the post office anything to do with the telephone either, as telephone service is supplied by the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. Nor will you find public conveniences in America in the British sense of the word because a lavatory turned out to be a strictly private enterprise in the United States, well hidden from the public eye.

Whatever you buy, it may be exchanged later for something else in the same shop. This seems to be a great pastime with the Americans. A great many people do not really buy things — they only want them to be exchanged later for something else. It is not unusual at all to see a lady bringing back a hat with a lot of fruit on it and exchanging it either for real fruit or a real hat; or to see somebody bringing back a refrigerator with the remark that he made a mistake and now he wants to subscribe to the Reader’s Digest instead. (abridged from "How to Shop ” by G. Mikes)

Checking Comprehension

  • 1. What strikes a stranger in America and England about shops and shopping?
  • 2. What is a chemist’s shop called in America?
  • 3. What can be bought there?
  • 4. What food is served in drugstores in America? Does it seem unusual?
  • 5. What is the Americans’ favourite pastime?
  • 6. Do Americans have to apologize when exchanging their purchases in a shop?
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