All right, today I’m going whole-hog into a very first-world concern: When you visit/move abroad, where do you shop?
To some, this will feel like a rather daunting aspect of being in a foreign country. If you’re like me — I don’t like crowds, or going to unfamiliar places alone — you may request a full-blown 6-week class in how to shop in your new nation from a native who has been dealing with the proper currency/conduct/manners for his or her entire life. And top off your “exam” for this “class” with a tour around town, getting a better grip on doing this yourself (American accent and all).
Here are some of my favorites in England…
If you’re traveling on a budget, charity shops are great for lots of the little things you won’t realize you miss until you miss it: A vase for the flowers your neighbor brought from their garden; those little scented candles you weren’t allowed to bring through Customs; that tea mug with a quaint English rose pattern. Charity shops are similar to most secondhand stores in America; they often support a charity or social cause (disease research, animal shelters, children living below the poverty line) with their proceeds, and they take those outgrown clothes/toys/unwanted knickknacks (that so many of us on this side of the Atlantic try to pawn off in garage sales).
Not just a drugstore, Boots is fantastic. It’s one of the most clean and spacious-looking stores I think I’ve ever been in, anywhere. It’s your go-to for cosmetics and toiletries, baby supplies, first aid kit things, vitamins and allergy medicines and cough syrup. Their brand of makeup is so pretty (yes, in the packaging), and that’s even exported to stores like Target over here (praise God!). When White Fang was a baby, I used their value card and earned so many discounts on diapers (or nappies), wipes, and baby food. It was a godsend.
This is for clothing. Adults and kids. A bit on the more expensive side, but keep an eye out for those seasonal sales. Quite the bargain can be had. The quality is good, the selection is good, and even me (who stands at five feet and a half inch on my best days) was able to find clothes that fit there.
Food is important, and as delightful as pub meals are, eating out all the time goes back to that budget thing. So you’ll want to learn how to cook some of those wonderful ethnic dishes yourself. (Jamie Oliver, here we come!) We shopped at Tesco, but that was largely because it was the supermarket closest to our flat. They also had a great online ordering and delivery service, which meant you paid by credit card and boxes of groceries were magically brought to your doorstep! So amazing for those of us without cars!
Waitrose and Sainsbury’s tend to be more on the posh (read expensive) side, but it all depends on where you live and what you’re after. All three have plenty of fresh produce, frozen and fresh meats, vegetarian options, canned (or tinned) goods, pre-packaged meals (Americans, read TV dinners), and lovely, lovely British desserts.
Independently owned specialty shops:
The small business is something that many of us in North America are concerned about; in some areas, it seems to be rather an endangered species, and that’s not cool. Anyway, there are a lot of these shops in the UK (yes, a lot do cater to tourists, but, hey, that’s part of what we’re after!). I honestly really love that you can walk down any random Main Street in any random British town and find a whole bunch of these.
Places to buy books, movies, music, and stationery:
No post of mine on the topic of shopping would be complete without addressing this very important issue. Yeah, you could pack an entire suitcase with books, but that may bring your travelling fees up; plus, what about when a new book has been released that you just have to have right now? My preferred store was Waterstone’s (I once joined the midnight waiting line for the newest Harry Potter down the street from a Waterstone’s). WH Smith was great for my writing needs — notebooks, journals, letters, printer paper, notecards, pens, drawing/art tools if I felt like it (which I sometimes did).
So, if you’re ever in England, check these places out! And for those Brits who frequent here (author waves — cheers, mates!), what are some of your favorite shops?