I had a miraculously productive day yesterday, as I’m scrambling to get stuff done and out of the way before my mom arrives tomorrow. (Woohooo!) I did take one break though, and for once it wasn’t to go to the gym. This time I made the most out of the fact that we live in a capital city, but not by taking in a play or seeing an exhibit. No, nothing as cultured as all that. I went shopping.

When I did my master’s degree in London, one of my largest financial downfalls (besides the copious amount of beer I drank) was that my university was about ten minutes’ walk from the stores of Covent Garden. At least once a week, I would stop on my way home from a twelve-hour day of classes and studying to buy myself a treat — never anything big, just a pair of earrings, or a T shirt, maybe a scarf. All those little things add up though, especially when the dollar was as weak against the pound as it was back then. Which is why I am still paying off a student loan that took me less than six months to burn through. Sigh.

I learned my lesson though, especially when it came to moving back from London at the end of the year. I got some very dubious looks from the customs agents when I came through with my truly enormous bags, saying I had nothing to declare. No really! It’s all cheap earrings and T-shirts! I swear!

So far, I have been very good about shopping while living in Lisbon. The specter of packing our entire lives up into four suitcases last summer and obsessively weighing them to avoid incurring extra fees is still far too fresh in my mind. But now spring is on its way, with our trip to Morocco looming in less than two weeks’ time, and I feel woefully unprepared for warmer weather. (Read: I am sick of all my winter clothing and at this point would rather burn all my sweaters than take them home with me again.) Feeling righteously justified to a small binge of consumerism, off I went into the mild afternoon, determined to brave the wilds of the nearby H&M.

The first floor I came in on had exactly my kind of thing: plain soft T-shirts and cotton dresses in muted colors, bright scarves, big earrings. I tried on a huge armful of stuff, chuckling to myself over the exchange I had with the sweet little gay boy manning the dressing rooms. When I came in, he asked me in English, “Hi. How many?”

Surprised, I replied in Portuguese, “Oh! Fala ingles?”

He looked at me with equal confusion and said, “Uh… fala portugues?”

Of course now that I can actually negotiate basic transactions in Portuguese, I find someone who speaks English. Go figure.

After this initial sortie, I ventured down to explore the other three floors of this massive fashion behemoth. I was already feeling frazzled from the overload of people, music, and clothing on the first, so I gladly skipped over the professional wear (one of the beauties of working at home!) and the kid’s, maternity, and men’s sections.

I was completely unprepared for what greeted me when I got down to the ground floor: Neon. Lots of it. Leggings. Oversized T-shirts and sweaters. An abundance of stripes, in every color. Jackets with shoulder pads and big brassy buttons on the front. Huge chunky bangles. There is currently an unfortunate return to the 80s in European fashion, and of course H&M is on the front line of cheap, disposable trendy clothing.

I halfheartedly looked through the clothing on offer, wincing at most of it, laughing at some. I did find a few things I liked, including an oversized white linen button up shirt, which I’d halfway been looking for as something to try in warm weather. How such a basic sensible thing ended up on the 80s revival floor, I don’t know. But such hidden treasures are precisely what makes shopping at H&M such hell fun.

Quite a few times, I was tempted to drop my pile of loot and run screaming from the store, but by then I had come too far to turn back. Instead I looked on this as a sociological experiment, and wandered around to see who was shopping in that section. Lots of teenagers, not surprisingly, as school had gotten out while I was shopping on the grown up floors above. Many of them were foreigners, curious about what an H&M in a different country had to offer. (And yes, after many years of highly professional scientific observation, I can attest that they are different from country to country.)

There was also a trendily-dressed Downs syndrome guy in big aviator sunglasses, wandering around with a skinny blond girl with big hair, both uttering blase Portuguese comments about the clothing. She was clearly very into the clothes, and he was clearly very into her. The mixture of people on this floor was nearly as colorful as the leg-warmers.

Soon this game wore itself out though, as I was getting hungry and feeling the need to return to work. Confronted with a huge line at the register on the ground floor, I retreated back up to the relative peace of the top floor to make my purchases. The girl there rung me up without even a glance in my direction, her black fingernails and fake gem-encrusted wide belt telling me that I was nowhere near hip enough to merit good customer service.

So I escaped from my H&M excursion intact and armed with a large bag of loot, which I bore home triumphantly and hung up amidst my tired and well-worn sweaters. Now I feel ready for spring and warmer weather — of course just as it’s due to start raining again. Sigh.

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