The shopping problem

I have only one wish in life: I would like a simple, efficient bedside lamp. Actually I have two wishes, but the second one is for a sitcom about former Arab dictators sharing a flat in Brixton (Hosni! Have you been eating my humus again!?), which would be much more difficult to organise. Or at least I thought it would be more difficult to organise until I actually started looking for a bedside lamp. I can’t find one anywhere.

There are two possibilities: either there are no lamps for sale in Krakow, or I’m looking in the wrong places. If the first is true, I’m going to start taking a lot better care of the lamps I have because they must now be worth a great deal of money. If the second is true, I will have to reconsider my prejudice that lamps should be sold in electrical appliance shops and address the possibility that they are, in fact, sold in gardening supply or hat shops.

I have made two extended trips to Galeria Krakowska in the past week, something that is almost as difficult to admit as it is to endure. On neither occasion did I find a lamp to buy. Home furnishing shops, the ones that smell of lavender and are impossible to extract wives from, do not sell lamps but they do sell endless varieties of candles and candle holders. Apparently, a return to burning wax or whale oil is currently the most accessible means of illuminating my bedtime reading.

The big electrical shop, a branch of Saturn, sells every imaginable electrical device apart from lamps and kilowatt range free-electron lasers. I toyed with the idea of buying a 48-inch plasma and playing a looped DVD of a switched on lamp with the brightness turned right up, but apparently nobody has yet released one – a gap in the market I will be leaping on.


21/2 hours of relentless 40-watt action (Bonus Director’s Commentary and Bloopers)

The real problem, and this is not the first time it has become apparent, is that I still lack of proper sense of how Polish urban spaces work. Put me down in a British town that I have never visited before and I am certain that I could find a lamp or a fish and chip shop or a copy of a street map in minutes – I just know what kind of streets to look on for the right kind of shops. I’m sure there are lamp shops out there, but I have no idea what they look like or how to find them.

This is a genuine and annoying problem that previously vexed me when I needed to buy a roll of parcel tape (W H Smiths), but it is compounded by the weird transitional state of the shopping experience in Poland. At first glance, it looks as if Poland has all the shops you could ever possibly want. In fact, at the shiny new Galeria end of the market, there is a superabundance of a very limited number of types of shops and almost nothing else.

In Galeria Krakowska, for example, there are seven or eight jewellery shops, all selling essentially the same watches and earrings, at least 30 clothes shops, also selling barely discernible products, and a dozen electrical shops selling slightly different forms of iPhone and laptop. The rest of the space is taken up with a couple of mega pharmacies, a supermarket and a branch of Empik. That’s it.

I know this is also the case in shopping malls elsewhere in the world, but the problem in Poland is that the glittery Galerias have been laid down on top of a highly impoverished strata of existing shops. Outside of them there are a few absurd hardware stores, an extraordinary number of wedding dress shops, endless second-hand clothes emporiums, the occasional bicycle shop and nothing else. Trying to buy an interesting or original birthday or Christmas present is almost impossible. It’s either standard high-street tat that you could buy anywhere in the world, stained glass angels and humorous Jewish figurines or a spanner.

I suppose what I’m really moaning about here is the lack of a broad bespoke luxury sector to cater to the whims of pampered middle-class folk such as myself – giant Stilton wheels, hand-made Faroe sweaters and things of that kind. With that humbling realisation in mind, I’m off to Ikea where I’m sure they have numerous lamps that will cunningly cater to my supposedly sophisticated eye for good design and solid workmanship at prices that can only mean Vietnamese sweat shops.

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25 thoughts on “The shopping problem

  1. Kolin says:

    I’d love to help shine a little light on your problem but I don’t know Krakow. It’s a little strange. Maybe Krakowians (?) travel to Warsaw for lamps. I can think of three good ones in Warsaw off the top of my head.

    Or maybe you are a total lamp snob! That’s not really your lamp in the photo, is it? Have you had your home retrofitted with North American plugs, and real right side up switches?

  2. Serratus says:

    Destination: OBI mate…
    There’s one next to Krokus (former GEANT). Any shops with furniture or home decor will do.

  3. Obviously you haven’t visited IKEA, where there is a whole section devoted exclusively to lamps.

  4. Leroy Merlin (“lewoyawn merrloyn” po Polsku) also sells lamps, but for simple and not too hideously expensive …Ikea. Sorry.

    BTW, now that Empik in the rynek thoroughly gutted their English section, the best (ok, only that I know of with a bit of selection) place to get stuff in the ol mother tongue is the English-only bookstore in Galleria Krakowska.

    Also: you’re such a computer n00b! VLC will auto-repeat videos and it’s easy enough to hook up a laptop or something via HDMI or DVI to a new LCD TV. I bet I could import a picture of a lamp into iMovie have LAMP: The Movie done in 15 minutes. Best part is, I can probably find an animated GIF of a lava lamp so… LAMP 2: The Blob. Then… CANDLE: The LAMP Prequel.

    Patent pending!

  5. BTW: I bet you know how to find a place that sells flowers or alcohol. Hint: spin around three times and open your eyes. You are looking at either a place that sells alcohol, flowers …or a kiosk with an exceedingly surly dwarf-woman in it that sells bus/tram tickets, cigarettes and slightly dusty packs of candy/gum. If you need anything else then you are a bourgeois foreigner who needs a good dose of Polish Reality ™.

  6. Videotek says:

    As others have mentioned, Obi, Castorama, Leroy-Merlin, Ikea are the places to go…. not a shopping mall.

    In my city (pop. 400,000) there are also several stand-alone lighting shops.

    At least the shopping malls here in Poland generally have most things available, including a pharmacy, grocery shop, sometimes even a post office. Try finding those at a mall in the USA!

  7. Videotek says:

    I forgot to mention another obvious choice: Allegro!

  8. Bob says:

    Jamie,

    You need to find the Polish guy who set up the pictured contraption that I photographed in Sud Tirol – he can solve any problem I believe.

    http://blockimages.com/album.asp?album=Whimsy

  9. Someone says:

    Restocking of sold out items is not a strong suit of Polish stores either.

    I mean who would want to buy something that other people have cleared your stock of. But hey you can have this display model for the same price as a sealed boxed item.

  10. Maggie says:

    Jamie, try Ikea – if you can’t find a bedside lamp there, I honestly don’t know where else you can.

  11. “Home furnishing shops, the ones that smell of lavender and are impossible to extract wives from…”

    Jamie back on fineft form

  12. VLF says:

    Thanks for sharing. I can understand how frustrating it must be to make two extended trips to a shopping centre which doesn’t have a lamp shop attempting to buy a lamp.

  13. Joanna says:

    Piłsudskiego street in the centre. Just a shop with lamps. And of course “Miejsce” http://www.miejsce.sklep.pl/ :-).

  14. Steve says:

    Fascinating observation, even though I thought it a bit weird to begin with. Thinking through it, I do wonder why there isn’t a big international chain of specialist shops selling lighting – the sort that would have set up in large shopping centres. I can only remember (normal priced) lighting being sold in England in departments of large DIY, furniture and fashions shops – BHS and Marks at one time. The plethora of small specialist shops scattered around large towns in Poland didn’t seem to exist to any great extent in England and haven’t made it generally into the shopping centres in Poland. A market opportunity?

  15. scatts says:

    It’s improving, very very slowy, but there’s still a bigger variety of shops on any UK high street (just the high street, not including other streets in the same town/city) than there is in the whole of Warsaw, Krakow or any other major Polish city or all of them put together for that matter as they all contain the same shops anyway.

    I used to think this had something to do with ‘middle class’ or available cash but that’s not true. Every time something new opens here, it’s an instant success so there’s really no excuse beyond a general lack of interest. I give as an example ‘Body Shop’. I wrote to them once and asked why they were not here as it was a great market, looking for an opportunity perhaps. They said Poland was with their German franchisee and it was up to them where they opened. Some people thought the prices in Body Shop would be too high for Poles. Well, they are here now and if the shop in Zloty T is anything to go by then there was nothing to worry about.

    Every try buying a CD that wasn’t Doda or the Polish top 10, Polish ancient classics or a very select range of International artists like Sting & Michael Jackson? My colleagues at work wanted to buy me a CD for my birthday, I gave them a short list, the shop had never heard of them. I gave them a longer, dumbed down list using my knowledge of how crap Polish music stores are, things like Radiohead OK Computer, obvious shit. Not a single one was available.

    If anyone’s looking for an opportunity, open a music store….like a proper one.

    Or in fact any damned shop that actually gives the customer a choice.

  16. daa says:

    sadly, prices of books and cds are a bit too expensive for an average Pole. that`s why they choose to very rarely buy/read books and to steal the music on the internet.
    I agree with Jamie about lack of places where you can get something decent as birthday present but when it comes to lamps… sorry chaps, but how long have you been living in Krakow/Warszawa etc. that you can`t figure out where to find what? do you live in cages, or only move from point A (home) to point B (work) in a blindfold? there are plenty of specialist shops around and no need to squeeze every shop under the sun in one galeria.or maybe you haven`t noticed that Poland doesn`t really do high street? Which is good, cause I dread the day every Polish street looks will look like a typical British one with long line of identical chain stores, be it London, Liverpool or Leeds – you can`t really tell!

  17. VLF says:

    Shopping can be a strange experience and as much as you fondly remember British villages full of lamp shops with friendly staff, you’d be surprised how many hardware shops I had to visit in London to not buy a 1/4″ screw… about 7.
    For some reason imperial screws are off the menu in London. Got them in choice of finishes and lengths in Krakow out of all places.
    Manfrotto (tripods etc.) is a British owned company. 4 Photography shops in London offered to get me a HDV701 within 30 days. They were even happy to ring me when it arrives. A shop in Warsaw delivered it to London in just over 24 hours, cheaper than the shop price in London.
    You are not alone.

  18. anna says:

    Hi, it is so simple to find :
    1. go to your computer
    2. turn on a switch
    3 write down a word ” lamp” and the name of the city you live in.
    4 write down the name od the store and the street and the number of the building
    5 go there !

  19. anna says:

    Sorry , I have forgotten to add some important info. you have to swich the button between steps – 3 and 4

  20. scatts says:

    Anna, most of us Polandians would fail at step 2.

  21. anna says:

    I know that and deeply understand . But it is sometimes a very amusing experience to read your comments and small grouches. about your living in Poland . I guess sometimes it is like discovering of America for yourself.

  22. bb says:

    I’ve found lamps (Ikea, leroy merlin, obi, castorama and others) but there’s something confounding me. If I want a desk lamp I DO NOT WANT the switch on the cord. What’s the point of having to reach behind, next to or under the desk to switch it on and off. Cannot find lamps with switches on the lamp base or a pull cord. Except for one with Hanna Montana. Sorry, Miley. Can’t do it.

  23. Andy says:

    And that’s exactly why I have stopped reading your blog. Something like a year ago when I started to read it was a very interesting website where you could read about how does an English person perceive Poland. But nowadays it has changed into moaning about Poland.
    How long are you living in Poland that you don’t know that Galerias are not the place to find lamps? I’ve been in England several times and I have visited many similar galerias but in neither of them you could find lamps.

  24. Serratus says:

    Time for some constructive criticism:

    You once wrote “It’s all to do with the national myth of the English amateur, which I may get around to explaining one day.”

    You did no such thing so far.
    You suck.
    Fellow Krakowianin

  25. brent says:

    obviously you dont know krakow! its called asking for advice! ive been there quite a few times as i live in sweden and i visit there alot never had a problem! order one through any mail order if ya cant find a lamp as i find that very hard to beleive evrybody nowadays ships overseas or to a neighboring country! internet works!

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