“She said ‘Cockfosters!'” I wanted to say and giggle, but you can’t really do that when you’re alone. I glanced at my fellow Tube travelers. Apparently I was the only immature American around. Cockfosters is the final stop on the Piccadilly line, and I don’t know how anyone can say they are visiting or living there with a straight face.
The announcer voice also kept making announcements that every Underground line was running normally. It wasn’t just a one-time announcement, it came on multiple times — as if the lack of delays was so surprising it was worth repeating.
Today I decided it was about time I visit Harrod’s. I needed some commercial cheer to remind me that Christmas is just around the corner. Harrod’s is legendary. Touristy or not, you can’t go to London and not visit Harrod’s, I’ve been told. Plus, they have a dress code. Since I believe the downfall of society happened when people stopped dressing up, I decided I needed to check this place out. So I went.
Yesterday I wrote that hardware stores are intimidating. I did not know what intimidating meant yesterday. Hardwares stores are small potatoes compared to Harrod’s, which has over 330 departments and over 1 million square-feet of selling space — 1 million! The minute I stepped out of the Tube station, there it was: the most massive department store I’ve ever seen, towering over me with its hunter green awnings.
The store sits on 5 acres of land. I cautiously walked around the perimeter, not sure which entrance to go in. Crowds of tourists were bustling about with their trademark green bags, snapping photos in front of all the window displays.
Let me preface this by saying as much as I love shopping, I don’t really like department stores. Even at the JC Penny’s in a suburban mall I feel overwhelmed by all the clothes, departments and accessories. I used to go to the giant Macy’s (:cough: Marshall Field’s :cough:) on State Street in Chicago just for their food court. The one time I tried to shop there I got overwhelmed and quit before I had a chance to use my coupon. So I’m not really sure why I thought going to one of the largest department stores in the world would be a pleasant experience for me. I guess because it’s Harrod’s (!!)
After looking at all the elaborate windows, I decided on an entrance. I was immersed in designer purses and I could already feel the panic setting in. I walked into the next room. More purses. I turned the corner. “The Writing Room,” full of expensive pens. I was expecting some “You are Here” directory telling me where the world famous Christmas decorations were. I never found it (the directory or the decorations). The store has the strangest set-up — rooms and rooms of expensive items with no easily located central area. I had the hardest time finding an escalator, but even that just took me to another room of expensive goods. I did not feel the overwhelming Christmas spirit I was looking for. I felt trapped. And Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” was playing over the loudspeaker. That did not help. Eventually I stumbled upon the gift shop. Yes, Harrod’s is so famous and touristy that they have a gift shop, where you can buy just about anything with “Harrod’s” written on it. I wouldn’t doubt if the gift shop brings in more revenue than “The Writing Room.” In fact, Harrod’s didn’t really feel like a store to me, it was more like a museum (they even have fancy Egyptian rooms and a memorial to Princess Diana). Although London museums are free, I would not be surprised if Harrod’s starting charging admission to tourists, and people starting paying. I wonder how many “real” Londoners shop there. I found it funny that the cashier at the gift shop asked every customer if they’d like to open a Harrod’s card — as if people buying a Harrod’s key chain are locals who will shop there again. “No, I’m just a tourist!” I heard one woman exclaim. I noticed after every person checked out the cashier asked if they needed directions. I don’t think she was talking about getting to the bus stop or cash machine, I honestly think she was talking about the store. I certainly could have used directions on finding the way out. I had planned to spend a good amount of time in Harrod’s wandering around, but I just couldn’t do it. Maybe I’ll give Harrod’s another shot some other time and hope that the other 900,000 square-feet don’t make me want to hyperventilate and curl up in a ball behind a Prada bag display.