If you’ve never been to Colombia, you might be forgiven for thinking that Americans have cornered the market on global mall-worship. After all, we’re responsible for the Mall of America, the very phrase “strip mall” and the international scourge that is Hollister. Yeah, we’re pretty good at malls in the good old U.S. of A, but I promise you, we’ve got nothing on Colombia.
Malls here are not a few stores tacked on to a massive Target or Macy’s. No, malls here are insane piles of 50 stores all selling the exact same style of shirts, more pizza and ice cream places than one could ever hope to conquer and a critical mass of shoes. As if the stores themselves weren’t enough, the larger malls are also packed with stands where vendors hawk everything from obleas (sweet flat crepe-like pastries that can be filled with various condiments) to baseball caps. There are malls specifically devoted to the sale of electronics, housewares or shoes, and others housing superstores like Carrefour (sort of like the foreign version of K-mart) and Home Center (Colombian Home Depot, obviously).
But malls aren’t just for shopping — they’re centers of social life, too. Most of the major malls have movie theaters — always on the top floor for some mysterious reason, possibly related to popcorn and/or gravity — and many include gyms, pools, karaoke bars and even small amusement parks for children. Colombians don’t just go to the mall to shop — they go for the experience, and when they do, they bring the whoooooole family. One of my friends here tried to go to a nearby mall to run some errands, and her host family refused to let her go alone, because apparently, to quote my awesome great-grandmother, some things are just not done.
In all honesty, spending more than two hours in an enclosed space full of stores and people who walk so slowly it seems to defy physics is pretty close to my personal idea of hell, but apparently this is not a sentiment shared by most Colombians. If I ever want to assimilate, I’d better start learning to enjoy eating ice cream surrounded by bright lights and teenage couples making out on benches because they can’t do it at home. On the bright side, though, at least I dont have to deal with Wal-Mart. Yet.
Other Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love: