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The day I turned into an old woman

I'm that rarest of creatures – a woman who doesn't like shopping – but recently the sorry state of my office clothes forced me …

Wait. Let me qualify that statement. I don't like shopping for clothes. Books? Different story altogether. I lament the fact that bookshops don't have shopping trolleys for their customers.

We continue. I've had to admit that maybe I need more than one black skirt, and that perchance you can't fool people into believing that black jeans are actually tailored pants. I mentioned in a conversation with a friend that I needed office clothes. She promptly invited me to go shopping with her in Yokohama.

So that's what we did, in the station area, on a Sunday, just before Christmas. Japan has a too low birth rate? Really? Really?! I felt like that poem The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Struggled the two brave women into the teeming masses of millions.

I wanted to escape to a library within 5 minutes of entering the underground shopping arcade called The Diamond, but my friend Miho ruthlessly dragged me ever onwards.

The advantage of buying clothes in Japan is that everything fits me. The disadvantage of buying clothes in Japan is that there is a universe of difference between what Japanese women like to wear and what I like to wear. You see, I believe that mini-skirts and hot pants went out of fashion in the 1960s and should, please!, remain out of fashion. If you feel absolutely compelled to wear it, you should preferably be younger than 20, and my 20th birthday is but a foggy memory.

So then. I don't like short pencil skirts. I prefer mid-calf skirts. My favourite style, as unpractical as it may be, is the 1947 Christian Dior New Look silhouette: a tightly fitted jacket, a cinched waist and a flaring skirt. I would never wear it myself – I love my Levi's too much – but oh, it's gorgeous to look at. This odd, old-fashioned belief complicates shopping in Japan. 

Miho took me to several shops. I started sounding like an old LP record that got stuck: "It's too short!"

Finally Miho stopped dead in her tracks in the middle of seething hordes of frenetic shoppers and observed me with a shrewd, calculating look.

"You want long skirt? OK, we go shop for senior person," she instructed in English.

"I'm not senior person!" I protested.

May the gods have mercy on my soul, but I've started speaking Japanese English. I drop articles with abandon; I blithely ignore the singular s; I form questions not by changing the word order, but by tucking a question mark at the end of a declarative sentence.

"You're not senior person, but you want senior skirt!" she said, crossly.

"I don't want senior skirt! I want long skirt!"

"Then we must go senior shop. This way."

So we went to Noge Mariya, where I happily bought a long woollen skirt with knife pleats after I finally proved to the shop assistant that not all foreign women are big. I suspect her thoughts proceeded as follows: foreign woman = tall + big hips = large size. Stereotype trumped empirical evidence. She gave me a skirt with a 66 cm waist to try on, and then as an afterthought also a 71 cm waist.

"Try both," she said. 

"It's too big," I said.

"It's the correct size," she said.

"It's too big," the LP record got stuck again.

"Try the 71 cm waist first," she said.

You have two options in a situation like this: throw a tantrum or play along. I took the skirt, put it on, walked out of the fitting room and called the shop assistant. She goggled at me. "Eeeeh! Gomen, ne! Eeeeh!" Then she fetched me a 61 cm waist. It was a bit loose but I don't like tight clothes, so I bought it.

"I'm Japan-sized," I admonished the shop assistant. "Eeeeh! Gomen, ne! Eeeeh!" she repeated. Silly old biddy.

Yes, she was old. She mos works in a senior shop.

I really have to teach you that Afrikaans word mos. It's used in a sentence that announces an obvious, self-evident truth. It's roughly equivalent to "indeed" or "as you know", and it has the same role as tag questions in English. When I say that she mos works in a senior shop, what I really mean is: "Well, of course she's old, isn't she, because I've already told you that it's a shop for old women, so the chances are pretty good that the shop assistant will be mature as well, use your common sense, she's hardly going to be sweet 16, is she, so stop asking stupid questions and shut up and let me finish my story."

After this successful purchase we had a lovely lunch at a restaurant called Ottimo Seafood Garden in the Lumine centre. A pleasant surprise awaited me at Ottimo: they served a South African bubbly called Villiera Tradition Rosé Brut NV. Look, 1995 Krug Clos d'Ambonnay it's not, but it's a satisfying, easy-to-drink, inexpensive sparkling wine: pink but dry and not overly sweet, with just enough acidity to balance the fruitiness.

So, all in all, a good day. I found a nice skirt that wasn't expensive, I had a taste of home and then I popped into Yurindo Books to recover from the trauma of old age. That's mos happiness.

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