Shopping. One word, containing so much joy.
Having worked in fashion for over a decade, it probably won’t surprise you to read that I love swiping plastic. Or at least I used to.
The art of shopping in London is a beautiful thing; I might go as far as to call it divine. Oxford street. Carnaby. Marylebone High Street. Spitalfields Market. Borough Market! Burlington Arcade. Grays Antiques. The Kings Road. Regent Street. Dover Street. Portobello and Westbourne Grove. Selfridges. Liberty. Harrods. The home of Net-A-Porter and my first ever job in the industry. And who could forget Harvey Nichols, where I grafted for five ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ years.
As I write, I am practically salivating at the thought of these wonderfully civilised and stylish havens. But if the idea of physically crossing your threshold in search of ‘that perfect something’ doesn’t strike your fancy… don’t fret… a dapper chap in a branded van will bring it direct to your door, within a few hours of clicking ‘Buy Now’.
The same goes for that dreaded weekly shop. I mean, who ACTUALLY does a real life grocery shop these days, when you can sit in your knickers with a laptop and order from Ocado’s finest selection, for next day delivery?
I’ll tell you who does a weekly shop these days.
Because Ocado hasn’t bloody made it to West Africa yet. Or Amazon for that matter. Nor can you shop any of our online fashion favourites, with the confidence you won’t get half-inched for taxes, if indeed your package ever arrives this side of the Atlantic.
I’m unsure where to start, to convey how this once favourite past time, has become such a complicated task. Let’s address the basics. Groceries.
The first port of call is a supermarché called Casino. Which is fine for store cupboard essentials (such as Nutella), however poor refrigeration generally means that the fruit and veg is independently walking out the door, and given the state of the delivery van, I am not altogether convinced the meat and fish won’t leave you talking to Huey. Stock taking seems sporadic, making basic items like chicken breasts (and weirdly lemons), a very rare sighting. Upon asking if there will be any delivered later in the week, one can expect the ambiguous response, ‘Inshallah’, which translates to ‘God willing’. Leaving you wondering if God will indeed will for you to get chicken breasts by Friday.
The weekly shop, has therefore become a four part series, made up of a visit to Casino, followed by a twenty minute trek north to the butcher in Ngor, a dash across the road from the butcher to the fruit and veg stall, and finally a quick stop at Grain D’Or boulangerie on the way home to fill the freezer with baguettes. This equates to a two hour round trip – with baby twins in tow.
Convenience shopping here also has a very different connotation to Ecommerce. This is when your car is surrounded by street vendors, attempting to flog everything from fruit, tupperware, scarves, electrics, phone cards and even stationery, through your open window. Although sometimes quite handy if Casino is out of lemons again..
Then there’s what I used to call retail therapy; shopping for pretty things, you don’t actually need. I now almost need therapy after the exchange has taken place. Imagine walking into a shop, or going to a market, where everything has ‘a price’, but nothing is ticketed. And depending on the cut of your jib, an assessment will be made over what you may, or may not be willing to spend. Needless to say, goods can have different prices for different people.
‘ça coûte combien, monsieur/madame?’
, a lengthy debate ensues whereby one has to negotiate harder than Theresa May, to try and secure a fair deal.
Shopping in Senegal is a game of poker.
Now at this point, I will happily hold my hands up and say I am the world’s WORST haggler. And British to the core, I will avoid heated confrontation at all costs (including my own). Which, for me, makes shopping in Dakar a little stressful.
Finally, there is the issue of payment method. Again, I must reiterate how easy us Londoners have it. Remember that old fashion paper money we last used in the early 2000s? Way before the days of Chip & Pin, which later evolved into ‘touch’ and Apple Pay. Now I can never be without it. To run out of actual cash, makes the purchase of goods or services a non-event. No longer can I simply tap a card to buy a coffee, pay for a taxi, or that impulse packet of Wrigley’s Extra. In fact some shops only take cash, and one must always have a stash buried away.
So. Shopping in Dakar… it’s proving tricky for this West London girl. However, if you can get past all of the above, you will find a wealth of wonderful things to buys.
And despite being extremely poor at poker, I am learning. Never underestimate your opponent. Always smile! Keep your cards close. And be prepared to walk away from table.
With or without your lemons.