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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Day 42 Window Shopping in Paris


Nothing, but nothing, can push you into the current of Paris life faster or more effectively than a few hours of shopping. Follow the example of Parisians, who slow to a crawl as their eyes lock on a tempting display. Window-shopping is one of this city's greatest spectator sports, and the French call it l├Ęche-vitrine—literally, "licking the windows"—which is quite fitting because many of the displays look good enough to eat.
Here is a picture of the ceiling in the Lafayette Department Store.


Store owners here play to a sophisticated audience with a voracious appetite for everything from spangly flagship stores to minimalist boutiques to under-the-radar spots in 19th-century glass-roofed passages. Parisians know that shopping isn't about the kill, it's about the chase: walking down cobblestone streets looking for things they didn't know they wanted, casual yet quick to pounce. They like being seduced by a clever display and relish the performance elements of browsing. Watching them shop can be almost as much fun as shopping yourself.

With the euro trouncing the dollar, it may seem foolish to even contemplate the latest Chanel handbag or that racy pair of Christian Louboutin stiletto boots. All the more reason to look for things that can be found only in Paris. Travelers can still find a treasure on even the most stringent budget: bottles of fruit-flavor eau-de-vie, a box of jewel-like chocolates, antique filigree picture frames, lacy lingerie. And if you do decide to indulge, what better place to make that once-in-a-blue-moon splurge?

Most stores in Paris—except for department stores and flea markets—stay open until 6 PM or 7 PM, but many take a lunch break sometime between noon and 2. Although shops traditionally close on Sunday, regulations have been greatly relaxed in the past decade, and you'll find a number of stores open then, too, most especially in the Marais. If you're making a special trip somewhere, especially around holidays, it doesn't hurt to call ahead and check the hours. And don't forget to greet and thank the staff everywhere.

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