During college, one of my roommates and I road-tripped to New York City for a girlfriends getaway (see us in the photo below). I wanted to get a taste of the Big Apple before making my graduate-school decision, and Toni had a job interview just outside the city. One afternoon, Toni and I stepped into Tiffany & Co. for an Audrey Hepburn moment, and I was captivated by a silver-and-diamond bracelet.
“Oh, no; I’m just looking,” I said.
The gentleman smiled, unlocked the case, gently removed the bracelet and fastened it around my wrist. It glistened in the showroom light, and was the most spectacular piece of jewelry I had ever worn. For a moment I was a glamorous, big-city girl, not a Midwest college student.
“It’s a Paloma Picasso,” the salesman told me. “It costs $12,000.”
I blushed and said, “I’m really sorry, but that’s definitely out of my price range.” (In fact, when I started working a year and a half later, my annual salary wasn’t much larger.)
“Don’t worry,” he said. “One day you will be able to afford it, and I’m hoping you’ll come back to Tiffany then.”
He was right; I always remembered his gesture, and I now occasionally shop at Tiffany’s, although not for anything so lavish.
However, that early experience taught me an important lesson about travel: when we’re out of town, we can step into a fantasy world, where our mundane cares and pressures slip away and all of our dreams seem within reach.
Witness my experience in Paris:
I had traveled to Paris a few times during my junior year abroad and several times in my 20s, always on a budget that allowed little more than street-corner crepes, bread-and-cheese dinners, cheap wine and museum entry fees. The first time my husband and I traveled there together, we had four young kids in tow, so shopping definitely was not on the agenda.
As such, when Carol and I visited Paris in 2005, we gave ourselves permission to shop and spend.
Paris loved us. Tourism had retrenched after 9/11 and President Bush’s war on “Freedom Fries.” Shops and restaurants that normally teemed with American travelers now were virtually empty. The fact that I speak French fluently helped; locals were happy to chat with us and to discount everything we bought, even cups of carry-out coffee (simply because we hailed from the land of Starbucks).
After a few days away, I started to forget that I was a frazzled suburban mother of four, and began to believe that I fit into Paris’ fast pace and chic culture. Carol and I drank morning espressos in bars, sampled cheese from the neighborhood vendor, walked for kilometers on end and tried to dress like Parisians. The scarves and bangles we bought provided a welcome break from our carpool-driving jeans-and-hoodie uniforms.
So, when we discovered a discount designer showroom that sold samples and seconds of top-name brands, I decided to take the plunge. I found a beautiful blazer that fit perfectly; it was something Catherine Deneuve would wear. I decided not to calculate the exchange rate, handed the salesclerk my credit card and took a deep breath.
A few minutes later, when Carol was paying for her purchases, I overheard another customer bargaining with that same saleswoman. I was mad at myself: why hadn’t I thought to negotiate the price?
All that evening and throughout the next day, I thought of my purchase, and got angrier and angrier. I kicked myself for being so fool-hardy, for spending too much on a designer garment I didn’t really need. I felt guilty for succumbing to my own whims.
A day later, after a friend from London had joined us, we took the opportunity to return to the showroom. I brought my now-detestable jacket along.
Calling up my best French accent, I greeted the saleswoman courteously, and then explained my buyer’s remorse. “I think I paid too much for this jacket,” I told her. “I feel I should have tried to negotiate the price.”
The woman sighed with exasperation, and said, “I don’t know what you expect me to do. You already paid for the jacket. If you want to return it, go ahead. If not, the best I can do is lower the price by 20 percent, just to make you happy.”
I accepted the 20-percent rebate, beaming inside. And now, when I wear that jacket, I am transported not only back to the cobblestone roads of Paris, but also to the bright Tiffany’s showroom where I got my first taste of luxury, endless possibilities and the magic of travel.
–Linda Williams Rorem, 28 Feb. 2011