Allegory of the Shopping Mall

Hintonburg, Ottawa, December 2013

Hin­ton­burg, Ottawa, Decem­ber 2013

Tech­ni­cally, it’s still fall although it def­i­nitely feels like win­ter. It’s cold. Too cold to enjoy push­ing the stroller out­side, too cold to let Mark wear any­thing but a snow­suit. Too cold to enjoy the “fresh breeze”—it turned into the dreaded “wind­chill factor”.

Yet we are not bears. We don’t hiber­nate. Well, really, I wish could but Mark doesn’t agree. So we have to find places to go—somewhere warm preferably.

Enter the mall. The great­est inven­tion of the 20th cen­tury along with the Star­bucks reload­able card and the iPod nano (I have decided to be shal­low to fit the topic).

Malls open early and close late. They are well lit, well heated and pro­vide clean restrooms. Okay, this short descrip­tion makes it sound like I am home­less. I am not. But I have a tod­dler in tow—same needs, really.

We have sev­eral big malls in Ottawa, includ­ing the Rideau Cen­tre (where I don’t go with Mark because it’s hard to park down­town), Bayshore (cur­rently under ren­o­va­tion but kind of hip and trendy) and Saint Lau­rent (same as Bayshore but with enough park­ing for every­one). Closer to home, we also have smaller malls, like Merivale Mall (weird inde­pen­dent shops, such as the “knives shop”) and Car­ling­wood (the favourite hang­out of retirees who love to “pet” Mark).

Frankly, I’d be happy to never have to go to a mall ever again. It’s the same fran­chise stores every­where, the same mer­chan­dises, the same gim­micks and the same sick­en­ing Christmas/holiday music—I feel sorry for any­one work­ing at the mall and endur­ing the same tunes over and over again.

Going to the mall is a nec­es­sary pain these days. It keeps Mark busy, it keeps us warm. It even pro­vides some form of exercise—try drag­ging Mark away from the Christ­mas tree while hold­ing a burning-hot cup of cof­fee, it sure strength­ens your biceps!

Prob­lem is, I am not exactly a con­sumer. I hate shopping.

Right after Mark was born, I went through a phase where I was des­per­ate for new clothes. I didn’t buy any­thing when I was preg­nant, I wore my “reg­u­lar” clothes—it helped that it was summer/fall and I could but­ton my shorts below my bump. Once I was no longer preg­nant, I just couldn’t wear these clothes any­more. I was sick of them. I felt like a new per­son; I needed new stuff. So I bought jeans, t-shirts, socks, you name it. It made me happy. Sort of. If you really want to ana­lyze it, I guess it was a way to reclaim my body.

This phase lasted a few months. It wasn’t a spec­tac­u­lar drama of maxed out cred­its cards and plas­tic bags over­flow­ing in the closet. I didn’t turn into a shopa­holic. I just… you know, shopped.

And now I am back to my usual self. If it fits and if it’s on sale, I might buy it. Or not. My favourite words are “just browsing”.

So I browse, with Mark in tow. I check out the sweaters, the pants, the beauty prod­ucts. And I always find an excuse not to buy. “I don’t need more crap”, I mut­ter to myself.

One place that always fas­ci­nates me at the mall is the food court. In some coun­tries, mall food courts are pretty cool. In Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia or China, we ate really good food—food courts were more like an indoor street mar­ket with tons of exotic choices. But in Ottawa, food courts invari­ably include the usual sus­pect, Sub­way, Tim Hor­tons, New York Fries, KFC (or Burger King or even Taco Bells), some kind of Italian-American food (think spaghetti and meat balls sit­ting under a heat lamp for hours) and some sub­par Asian food (yes, with Gen­eral Tao’s Chicken a favourite). Seri­ously, noth­ing excit­ing. Food isn’t cheap either. To top it all, I can’t think of any­thing more depress­ing than wolf­ing down junk food sit­ting at a sticky table, sur­rounded by trays, garbage cans and peo­ple cir­cling around wait­ing for you to leave to sit down and eat.

Yet food courts are always packed—anytime of the day. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing. I get it, a lot of peo­ple work flex­i­ble hours and grab a bite when­ever they can. It’s not like I eat at noon sharp either. But KFC at 4 p.m.? What is it? Lunch, din­ner? A snack?

I don’t have time to think more about it. it’s going to be dark soon again. Tem­per­a­ture? –20°C with­out the windchill.


It means we are head­ing to the mall, again.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Yikes –20°C? I’m glad I’m not in Canada right now after all. I would be stuck at home, or going to the mall. Your post reminds me of my days in Ottawa. It was sort of rou­tine, after class, I went straight to Rideau cen­tre, and hang out until the 97 arrives. Hang­ing at the mall is a great way to exer­cise though, but one can be tempted by a fat­ten­ing latte.

    • WE can’t even go out actu­ally, we have like 30 cm of snow on the dri­ve­way and the shov­el­ing com­pany has gone MIA… again. Ugh. It’s not as cold today, maybe –10C.

  2. I guess when you have not eaten since break­fast and your mom has been taken you to each and every shop you end up beg­ging her for KFC at 4Pm.

    No that I would ever eat at KFC 😉

  3. Pingback: (Re) Bonjour France! | Correr Es Mi Destino

  4. It reminds me my days in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I have no idea how many malls they have there, but believe me, it is A LOT! So I still don’t like going to the mall near my home (Car­regour Laval, in Laval, QC). If I have to buy any­thing I’d rather go to those places where I park in front of the store, take my car and go to the other store.. I feel “free”, ’cause I am not inside a huge build­ing with a lot of peo­ple, I just go where I need to go lol
    But.. you are right, what to do those days when it is –20C? I just hope in Ottawa they don’t close at 5pm as in Que­bec. I hate that 😛

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