The first day after coming home to Bellevue, I needed to make a trip to Bellevue Square, our local mall, to get a new battery compartment for my Macbook laptop. Now Bell Square is not just any mall - it's full of high-end luxury stores, and I've heard that it makes more money per square foot than any other mall in America. So you can imagine.
The first thing I saw as I walked in was a store called "Free People." "Free People" - I'm not even going to look up the URL - features fluffy dresses for teenage girls. The next thing I saw was a giant poster at a store called Oakley: "Join the Rebellion!" said the poster. "Join the Rebellion" was surrounded by photos of a guy in swim trunks and sunglasses (sunglasses being what they sell: Join the Rebellion, wear expensive sunglasses).
What would Libyans and Tunisians and Egyptians think of those notions of freedom and rebellion?
After I got my new battery, I walked over to the nearby QFC supermarket and marvelled at the sheer excess of offerings in any category. In El Salvador, I can find three kinds of flour in the supermarkets: white wheat flour, corn flour, rice flour. Period. In QFC, there must be 65 different kinds of flour - rye, barley, amaranth, quinoa, teff, red winter wheat, and so on and on. There was a display case with 23 different varieties of gourmet chocolate bars. Mind you, it's grand fun to shop there: you can find anything and everything. But for someone who's been living in Central America, it's beyond excessive.
I know I could find grocery stores in the Seattle area that would look a lot more like my Salvadoran supermarkets, and I'd feel more at home there. The flashy wealthiness of Bellevue, apparently untouched by three years of economic collapse, imagines a world full of people who think they should have anything they could possibly want. I hope and believe that is not the truth of my Bellevue neighbors - but it is the truth of the merchandizing that surrounds us.