Uruguayans are darn proud of their shopping malls. I don’t even know how many times I have been asked if I have been to such-and-such shopping center with great sincerity. And interestingly enough the word “shopping” has not been translated. So I hear something like, “Has ido a shopping?”
The malls are hotspots where everyone seems frequent and to rave about amongst one another. In Salto, the Shopping Center (which also doubles as the bus terminal) was the pride of city. In Montevideo the shopping locales seem to garner the same praise. When we visited Florida, the people were trying to convince us that Florida is a great town even though they don’t have a shopping mall. I got the vibe they might be a little embarrassed about the lack of a shopping center in their city, but to be honest, I could care less. What is a shopping mall? Don’t get me wrong—I love shopping. I even love shopping malls, but I’ve never thought of a shopping mall as anything really special. It’s just another place to me, as shopping malls probably are to most Americans.
I think the shopping mall frenzy is reflective many social, economic, and even political factors. For one, the novelty of stores in a centralized location under one roof makes buying goods much more convenient. Shopping at the mall also functions as a way to signal status. The stores in the shopping centers are usually those of higher caliber and so higher price tags. These stores are mostly chains that have stores in multiple locations (abroad and/or within Uruguay)—anything from Zara, Manos de Uruguay, Levi, Nike, To-To, Tienda Montevideo, to Daniel Cassin. Not just anyone can afford to shop at the shopping mall. Also, it seems that the malls are proud displays of modernity.
The buildings often are large, well-designed structures, definitely better than some shopping malls I’ve been to in the States. The atmosphere is also very consumeristic (of course, it’s a shopping mall) which I would argue is close synonym for modernitistic these days. The ability to shop for luxury items on a Friday or Saturday night is not something that Uruguayans were always able to do. Built in 1985, Montevideo Shopping boasts about being the first shopping center in the Rio de la Plata. It's no coincidence that the dictatorship plaguing the country happened to terminate that same year. Shopping malls are emblematic of the free society Uruguay is today.
At the risk of sounding patronizing, I find the fascination with shopping malls endearing. And at the same time rather troubling…