Living the Bazaar Lifestyle

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I remember a time when supermarkets and shopping malls were the only kind of shopping I knew. Even though I had a car and could go to as many places as I wanted to shop, I put convenience over quality, and would always stick to the kind of shopping that could be done in a single location. When I started moving to different countries, I gave up my car, and ironically it was then that I embraced the bazaar culture that encourages shoppers to be constantly moving from place to place, always on the lookout for new bargains and better products. It was a change I had to get used to gradually, but now I can’t imagine shopping any other way.

First, let me explain that there are two kinds of bazaars. The first is the kind that tourists are most familiar with, a stationary location where vendors rent stalls, much like in a shopping mall, and pretty much everything stays how it is, everyday. Although you can get a lot of specialty goods this way, and you will see your share of unusual items, the stock rarely changes in overall content, nor do the vendors come and go.

The second kind of bazaar is the one the locals are talking about when they say “bazaar”. In each neighborhood, there is one day a week when the residential streets are closed to traffic, and local vendors come out from daybreak and set up their stalls directly on the street, in front of local homes. This is the day that people in the neighborhood do the majority of their shopping, some bits from here and other bits from over there. At dusk, it all shuts down again, and perhaps the following week there are many new vendors with completely different products.

During the six days of the week when the neighborhood bazaar is not running, you’re left to fend for yourself, and this is usually done by buying all your goods from appropriate small stores in town. Meat is bought from the butcher, cleaning products from the corner domestic shop, and socks from the woman in the shop on the corner who sells yarn and carries an assortment of knitted and wool accessories. If one of your shops doesn’t have what you’re looking for on that particular day, they’ll suggest somewhere else you might go to try. Often the place they suggest can be a place you’ve never heard of, even though it may be near to where you live. It’s exciting to visit new stores everyday and find what else is out there that the other shops don’t have.

Aside from the variety of things that you can find by shopping around at different places, there’s also the aspect of broadening your horizons. It may seem like doing your shopping at a million little places is kind of like reducing yourself to the role of scavenger, but there are benefits to this type of roaming. When I was in the habit of supermarket or mall shopping, I tended to limit myself to a few places that I knew and liked, and rarely if ever did I stray from those places, unless of course a bigger and better mall or market opened up near me. The only time I saw a new product or learned about something different is if I saw it on TV or in one of my regular shopping haunts. Nowadays, I’m familiar with a lot more of my city than I ever was when I shopped at supermarkets, and I feel excited that I have so much more ahead of me to learn.

To shop this way, it’s not necessary to move to a country where the bazaar culture is prevalent. Even in North America, pretty much every city and town has a huge variety of small shops for everything from specialty foods to handmade clothing. You can find great bargains and wonderfully original items by exploring these shops and finding out what they have to offer. Sure, there are still things that will always be cheaper and easier to buy at your local supermarket. But even if you only discover one little gem of an item each week in a small shop off the beaten path, it will be worth it both for the joy of the discovery, and for having learned something new about a part of your neighborhood or city that you didn’t know as well as you thought you did.

Now that I have lived this way for many years, I’m not sure I could go back to my old supermarket habit, or even if I’d want to. I do visit the supermarket from time to time, but I treat it like I do all my other shopping venues: as only one of a series of places I will be going during the day, rather than the end-all-be-all of my shopping experience. I find that shopping around in different places is not as time-consuming as I had feared it would be, and the rewards that I get back in terms of the things I buy and the people I meet are enough to keep me wanting to stay with my nomadic shopping style forever.

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