Friday, May 9, 2008

Malls: A Brasilian Love

I rarely meet a mall I don't like. And I rarely meet a mall where I can't manage to find something fabulous to buy. And few things are more exciting to me than coming home with bags full of goodies and announcing to my husband how much money I just saved! (He is always more interested in how much I spent, but, seriously, I love sales and when my savings outweigh my spending, well that is one heck of a good day! No matter what my hubby might tell you!)

So anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I like shopping. A lot. I like malls. A lot. And for as long as I can remember, I've been this way. But I might have stumbled upon a group of people who enjoy malls even more than me. Ah, yes, the Brasilians! (I should clarify and say especially in Belo Horizonte, since this is where I live and where I make these observations!)

Here's the scene from a day early in our stay here in BH: It's a beautiful sunny Sunday at 1:00 pm. Eric and I assume the mall is open since three floors of the hugamongous (you like that word? Isn't it great that I'm teaching English here!?! hehe) parking garage are quite full! We park and walk in. The mall is quite large, 2 stories tall, and has stores of all sorts. The corridors on both floors are packed full of people. We make our way near the food court - there's barely an empty seat to be found. Groups of people are hanging out eating and drinking beer. Kids are playing on the indoor playground. All the women are dressed to the nine's with high heels, fabulous purses, and colorful jewelry. It is a happening place for sure! But all the stores are closed. Seriously. The mall is packed, and not one store is open. Oh well sure, at 2:00 on Sunday afternoon the stores will open up and some people will wander in and out shopping, but most people aren't here for the shopping. They're here to walk around, socialize, drink, and, assumably, enjoy the rare air-conditioned space. You can repeat this scene even on weeknights when the stores close at 10:00 but at midnight people are still hanging out at the mall.

For a long time we were befuddled by this habit. I mean, even men seemed to flock to the malls (which is not something you see a whole lot of in the US, unless they are being dragged around by their wife or girlfriend, or unless it is two days before Christmas and they decided to start doing some shopping. Am I over-generalizing and portraying stereotypes here? My apologies, but . . .) This city has a whole bunch of malls too! And on any given day there are a lot of people at all of them who may or may not be shopping at all.

Belo Horizonte is not without places to go and socialize. There are countless restaurants, bars, botecos, etc. But one of our friends explained to us, "Oh sure, when I was younger I liked to go hang out at botecos, but now that I am older (he is in his low 30's) the mall is a great place for my wife and me to go, meet some friends, have some drinks..."

I'm not complaining. I am highly supportive of anything that involves going to a mall. Going without any desire to shop or at least window-shop is a totally new concept to me though. And a habit that highly intrigues me!


Corinne said...


Malls are also getting popular because they are safer places than street stores and restaurants. I was in Rio last weekend and went to a new mall in Leblon, the neighborhood next to Ipanema. Basically, they had taken all the neat restaurants, bars and shops that make Leblon so neat and put them in the mall. You could TOTALLY tell it was driven by rich cariocas afraid of crime - to get to any stores you had to go up 2 escalators and the food court was on the top level.

I also notice that the BH malls are packed, but can´t say how much of that is also security driven. I personally like going to restaurants in the malls rather than the street because the parking in not as much of a hassle and usually there is wheel-chair acess, which I need for my mom.

wondering ego said...

1. parking
2. security
3. air con!

bad side: synthetic food, bad food, hordes of uniformized teens with vague looks, so much people in the food court resembling a chicken yard!

very bad side: I can't believe I am commenting on the malls post!

Bruno said...

Mmmm... Well, it´s true, malls are full on sundays (though parks and normal restaurants also are). So, why, if stores are closed? Well, being from Belo Horizonte I can tell some situations I´ve been to the mall when stores were closed:

- Sometimes I go with my family to have lunch. If we go to "normal" restaurants it will cost 30 reais per head, at least 20 something... When we don´t want to spend that much money we go to one "a quilo" or to the mall: a choice I like, since I get my burger, my sister her pizza, my parents something in the chinese or "mineiro" (both "a quilo") and so on... Usually we leave right after we eat, though my mother always makes us walk a bit to see some prices in the "vitrines" (shop windows?). So food courts are seen as a cheap option, in a "pleasant" place.

- Sometimes when I want to meet some friends, without a reason, nothing specific to do (like "let´s go to the jazz festival in Savassi" or go to one boteco) we meet in the mall. The intention is: let´s meet there, eat something, then try a movie, then eat something else, walk... So, we can spend a long time together, doing different things, in just one place. If we met in a boteco, we would have to stay there, in that table, drinking. In a restaurant, also. In nice "walkable" places like Savassi, Lourdes or Avenida Bandeirantes, stores are also closed. So we meet in the mall, although the intention is just to talk to friends! >D

I can go to Minas Tenis Clube, though not all my friends are members. I can go to a park, though it´s a "fast meeting", that last for just an hour, I only do it with friends who live nearby...

Though brazilians are always complaining about security, I don´t think it´s a reason. We complain, but we don´t change our plans or the places we go because of that(that´s why parks and others places are also full at the same time). But for one specific age group it´s true: young teenagers: parents leave them in the mall, "the safe place", and actually, as I said, a good place to meet friends. Specially teens, that can´t drink in botecos, can´t drive through the city... So watch a movie, eat some ice cream and chat in the food court is fun for them... and the mall is full of other teens, so they enjoy also doing some people-watching.

I definitely don´t think air con. is also reason, BH´s weather is fine (at least for us! hehe) it may be hot in the summer, but rarely enough to make people prefer a mall over a street (for THAT reason). And now, temperatures during the day are very similar to the one in an air con. place (around 23ºC). Since you said "2 stories tall", I guess you were in Pátio Savassi. Most parts of it don´t even have air con.!

Well.. I don´t know, I guess people are more "laid-back" (that´s how you say it?) and don´t go there just TO shop... That´s why stores are closed, and people are chatting in the F.C, then still walking around, cos they still want to talk... hehehe Any suggestion for better places? hehehe

Anonymous said...

Hey, Em!! It's Betsy...I would log in, but for some reason my internet provider has a problem with blogspot and I can NEVER even log into to update my own blog. VERY annoying....anyway...we were at Fellowship last weekend and saw your grandparents...and they passed on your blog address. I'm so glad to hear that you're enjoying your time in Brazil, even though the customs and habits take some definite getting used to. I hear you're teaching English...I'll bet that's a LOT of fun...Love you and I'll be keeping up with you now! Love, Betsy