Dear readers: I realize that I have written pitifully little about the school year so far. When I sat down to untangle my thoughts, I was simply overwhelmed. I will fill you in on serious matters later, but for now let me disconnect from work by writing about a frivolous yet frustrating affair–shopping for shoes.
Faithful black flats from Target, how I miss you!
It’s satisfying to see shoes paired up, Noah’s-ark style, at the foot of my closet. I’m rather proud of my humble collection, as I’ve battled for each and every set. To be perfectly honest, I loathe shoe shopping in Spain. I’d rather wait in a grocery store holding a 20-kilo ham leg than try to find a comfortable pair of illusive black flats. Black flats are as ubiquitous as jamón, but with the unfortunate detail of being located inside of a shoe store.
In the U.S., shoe shopping is Cinderella simple; pick up shoe, slide it on, slide it off. When you set foot in a shoe-selling establishment, be it a sports store or a department store (say, Kohl’s), you get an eyeful of what’s available. You know the exact color options for rubber rain boots, and which sizes are left of those faux-leopard sandals with rhinestones. You can calmly try on different sizes without bothering anyone else. Additionally, you have the luxury of trying on the entire pair, a boon for those of us with wonky arches, wide feet, or simply those who would like to make sure it is possible to walk in a straight line.
Beware–shoe establishments in Spain will beckon you inside with their hip displays. The storefronts are lovingly arrayed with the latest trends, and the variety will make you believe that your cup overfloweth with options. Another misleading lure is that the shoe store will be chock-full of browsers. This is not because they are satisfied, returning customers; on the contrary, they have such a taxing time finding shoes that they must undertake weekly pilgrimages to zapaterías in order to stay clothed through the winter.
Here is a rough breakdown of the process: You enter said shoe store. You zero in on shoe. There will only be one shoe, usually the one for the right foot, since of course most of us are right-footed (tough luck to all you lefties).
Next, you need to get the attention of the shop assistant. I had never encountered that rare species, the “shop assistant,” until I came to Spain. We first met in the pages of an English-learning book, which is where shop assistants love to mix and mingle with other equally rare professionals such as refuse collectors, fishmongers, headmasters, and telephonists. (Microsoft Word does not even recognize [or should that be “recognise”?] telephonist as a legit word.) Thus, it will take American eyes a minute to adjust. Hint #1: Shop Asses love to blend in as they are not wearing any special uniform. Hint #2: Look for people actively hiding from customers; seek and you will find.
Once the shop assistant has been tracked down, ask him or her to bring you the appropriate shoe size. The most typical response is for a shop assistant to wordlessly disappear for an absurdly long time, long enough for you to go cross-eyed wondering which make and model initially enticed you in. When they do reappear, they will make you feel beholden to them for waiting on you hand and foot. Brace for waves of guilt as you begin to imagine life with a pair of loafers that pin your big toe to the pinky.
Sometimes the Shop Ass. will come back bearing not shoes but rather the news that this specific model is only available two sizes up at a sister store three towns over. Would you like them to call and reserve the shoe for you? By the way, it is only available in lime green.
Of course, you can only make it this far if you are lucky enough to know what your shoe size is. Half sizes are the black sheep of the Boot family, and the ‘ole Tennis gang has them relegated off the court, as well. You’re a Women’s 8.5 in the US? Well, I don’t see you winning the shoe lottery anytime soon. Better luck next year.