Most Ridiculous Shopping Trip Ever?

bookbagkelThere is a chain of English-language bookstores that we frequent here in Buenos Aires called KEL. (We normally only buy the Z’s books there because it’s really expensive and Tom and I peruse most of our reading material on the Kindle, which we continue to love.)

Since Zoe recently ran out of books to read, it was clearly time for a run, so off to KEL we went. (Today, it was homeschool in the taxi.) Imagine our surprise when we showed up at this normally sleepy shop only to be greeted by a mob scene. All of the shelves and books were cordoned off, there was a huge line, and they had implemented a see-customer-by-number system.

It seems that in February and March, when school starts back up after summer break, the KEL locations have a higher volume of customers. In response, they have devised a novel system for dealing with this uptick — they make ALL of their clients take a number. When a customer’s number is called, they must tell an employee which tome they want, and said employee retrieves the book for the client. NO SHOPPERS CAN BROWSE ANY BOOKS ON THEIR OWN.

Needless to say, this is a ridiculous system — the store is a mess and people wait forever to buy their one English dictionary that they seem perfectly capable of choosing on their own.

I tried explaining to the store clerk, who spoke great English, that we wanted to look through chapter books for the girls and that I didn’t have any specific titles in mind. She got really shirty with me, and her “solution” was to stand behind a shelf barrier and hand us every chapter book they had in Zoe and Zelda’s age range. (Which really struck me as a great use of her time.)

Of course, she brightened up considerably when she realized that we were going to buy a boat load of books. And, even though we were a royal pain in the ass from her perspective, she did throw in this hot book bag, modeled here by Zelda.

This ranked as one of my most ridiculous shopping trips ever! If we hadn’t needed the books so badly, I would have just waited until April.

18 Responses to “Most Ridiculous Shopping Trip Ever?”

  1. Buenos Aires Expats - Online Community of Expatriates and guide to living in Buenos Aires, Argentina

    […] 11 March Most Ridiculous Shopping Trip Ever?[] There is a chain of English-language bookstores that we frequent here in Buenos […]

  2. Chris

    no browsing at the bookstore!!! but that’s the whole point of a bookstore! i’m impressed you got the clerk to do your browsing for you, though…not exactly efficient, but hey…

  3. Michele

    I know…I was really astonished that she would rather take the time to hand me every book I wanted to look at, rather than let me peruse myself while she helped other people. It took so long, it was one of those kids-ended-up-sitting-on-the-floor sort of outings.

  4. Futbol

    I am so sick of being unable to find decently priced paperbacks in Buenos Aires. And yes, I too despise KEL’s system. Otherwise, I’d be there every month.

    I found a Philip Roth at La Boutique Del Libro the other day and almost burst into gleeful dance.

    (The only reason I don’t have a Kindle is that I’m trying to reduce the number of electronic devices in my life. That, and the fact that the closest thing you can get to a Kindle here is a dry-erase board sold on the train.)

  5. Michele

    Ahhh, I love the cries of sympathy!! It’s funny, I was really not that interested in the Kindle when we lived in Portland, home of Powell’s Books, THE coolest bookstore ever. But, once we started planning this trip, I really had a mini panic attack about books. I remembered being an expat in Asia and perusing the weirdest variety of reading material, basically whatever I could get my hands on at Cave Books. (I think that is what the English-language bookstore in Taipei was called. Wow, several neurons died remembering that weird fact.)

    Now if only you could buy a Kindle on the train — that would be market penetration!

    BTW, I’m assuming this is Futbol from ootf? What the heck is your story? I can’t tell from your blog, but I’m dying to know. Were you born here? Moved here when you were young? Did you go the States for school and then return? I’m sure you love remaining mysterious, but you’ve got to put me out of my misery!!

  6. Futbol

    hah ok i’ll give you the general outline, that way i can keep some of my shroud of mystery. born and raised in buenos aires, parents both argentine, went to a bilingual school, left for college in the US at 18, worked a year in minn. after graduation, master’s at columbia, worked another year at a somewhat high profile job that i may or may not reveal in time, realized i hated my life, sold off all my belongings, and here i am, back at home. nothing to do all day but write comments on blogs. (supposedly, i’m working through my quarter life crisis. in reality, i’m just enjoying unemployment.)

  7. Michele

    “Shroud of mystery” — well put! Thank you for sharing!! Rest assured, although you may have unveiled the story, you still remain mysterious. Can’t wait to learn more about high profile job… .

    You will be happy to know that Tom and I subscribe to the belief that periodic life crises are a normal and healthy part of living (perhaps because we’ve had so many ourselves — haha). We always say that it’s better to get off the hamster wheel and think about where you’re going than to stay on it chugging away for the rest of your life.

    Having said that, Tom and I are always sorely disappointed in our reaction to unemployment, which is that we quickly become slug-a-beds. The sad truth we’ve faced is that in the absence of any sort of structure, we can quickly become more inert than pond scum.

    That has been the challenge for us during our sabbatical (also known as a socially acceptable mid-life crisis)– how do we self-motivate and actually figure out what we want to do over the next five to ten years!?!

  8. Futbol

    very wise advice. yeah, this is what i’m starting to figure out for myself. i thought divine inspiration would hit me eventually, but it turns out that unless i get out and try things, i end up sleeping till the afternoon and listening to NPR podcasts the rest of the day. that’s partly why i’ve decided to start traveling as soon as it gets cold here. i’ll find a warmer country so i can continue sleeping and listening to NPR podcasts all day without a sweatshirt on.

  9. Michele

    If only one could make a living as a shirt-free, NPR-podcast-listening, blog-posting, dozing-til-noon international vagabond. I tried that (well, no pod casts at the time, and I did wear a shirt) in Europe/Caribbean for a year after leaving my very respectable job and life in Asia.

    Sadly, my savings account dwindled to nothing, putting an end to that life style. I didn’t exactly embrace responsibility though — instead, I went to Vegas to visit my grandparents and decided to be a craps dealer on a lark. (I lasted about 6 months, all totaled!!)

    Where do you think you will travel? Stay in the Americas?

  10. Futbol

    I refuse to learn from other people’s experiences, so I’ll do exactly the same. It looks like I’m headed to Europe in a couple of months, and I’m trying to figure out a way to get to India for cheap.

    Also, why are you in my newspaper? This is getting weird.

  11. Dennis

    Back to the original topic: We haven’t been there (yet), but we’ve recently become friends with the owner’s (our 3 year old daughters are in the same jardin) of Walrus Books:

    a used English book store in San Telmo. A Google search for “Walrus Books Buenos Aires” shows many very favorable reviews.

  12. Michele

    Futbol, I hope the only thing you learn from my experiences is that life is short and should be enjoyed as much as possible, even when you get old and have kids — haha.

    And I didn’t know I was in your paper! When they interviewed us, they told me it was an online thing. Now, Tom is out running around looking for a Clarin! I shall endeavor not to end up in your paper again any time soon.

    Okay, it looks like we were just online! You had me nervous there.

  13. Michele

    Dennis, Thank you so much for getting us back on topic! The next time I am over in San Telmo, I am definitely checking out Walrus books! Do they have children’s books? I shall send them an email and ask.

    I love that you heard about it through the preschool network. One of the great things (of course, not the only great thing) about having wee ones is that you meet a whole new group of adults that you normally would not have the opportunity to know just because you have procreation in common!

  14. Dennis

    Several reviews of their store definitely mention children’s books, and I would expect even more emphasis now that they have a daughter (their first and only (so far?)). When we mentioned some of the English books we had brought with us, Josefina said “got it. got it. got it.”

    We moved to BsAs (from Washington, DC) in September. We’ve had a difficult time meeting people here as our 3 year old keeps us home during the ‘prime-time-BsAs’ hours (as yours do to). So we’ve been very much looking forward to the jardin-networking opportunity, and my wife (who is Argentinean) has put in a concerted effort to create a network in these first weeks of school.

    Of course it is generally difficult to meet people unless you have some common thread/theme, whether it is procreation, recreation or intellectualization (i.e. attending college). Chance meetings turning into lifelong friends make good stories, but it usually takes parallel paths, at least briefly. Getting philosophical here, sorry…

  15. Futbol

    oh, sorry about that. i no longer make a distinction between print and online. but it looks like your piece was a big hit based on the story ranking, so i’d expect a print follow-up shortly. i think argentines love to hear about reverse migration (we’ve been hearing about brain drain for so long…).

  16. Michele

    Dennis, one need never apologize for getting philosophical!

    Having kids is definitely an adjustment for your social life, well actually for your whole life! One thing no one every talks about is how weird it is to be glued to your house all of a sudden. You can’t just decide to go grab some coffee and hang out at a bookstore at 7pm at night because the kids are in bed! The someone-is-always-watching-the-kids thing makes it natural to separate in order to get things done and to have fun, which can be hard on a relationship. You definitely have to be creative to keep it all together.

    I guess the point I was making about socializing once you have kids is that it introduces you to a new category of friendship — the parent friendship. It is different than the ties you form through similar interests or jobs because your connections are based on being a parent and going to the same school. They are more tenuous, in some ways, but I find them more interesting in other ways because you have the opportunity to socialize with people you wouldn’t normally meet. So while they may not be lifelong friends, but it’s still fun being in a different social pool. (And when your kids are young, and you’ve moved somewhere new, sometimes it’s all you’ve got — *laugh*)

  17. Michele

    Oh you man of the new millennium, yes, I suppose you are right, it’s all going to be online soon. Don’t know why I still make the distinction…time to give that up.

  18. Geoffrey

    It’s been a while, but i remember Dennis. They’ve gone back to the states now, but i appreciate his comments. I’m one of the owners of Walrus Books, the father of the girl who was for a short time with his daughter at preschool. We do have a children’s section at the store. It’s not what we’d like it to be, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of either. The truth is that we don’t get many customers looking for kids books, so it’s not our most dynamic section, but it is getting better. Little by litte. Those families who know about us usually find something for their children, it’s just that i guess not many families know we’re there.


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