Reginald in Russia and Other Stories HTML version

The Sex That Doesn't Shop
The opening of a large new centre for West End shopping, particularly feminine
shopping, suggests the reflection, Do women ever really shop? Of course, it is a well-
attested fact that they go forth shopping as assiduously as a bee goes flower-visiting, but
do they shop in the practical sense of the word? Granted the money, time, and energy, a
resolute course of shopping transactions would naturally result in having one's ordinary
domestic needs unfailingly supplied, whereas it is notorious that women servants (and
housewives of all classes) make it almost a point of honour not to be supplied with
everyday necessities. "We shall be out of starch by Thursday," they say with fatalistic
foreboding, and by Thursday they are out of starch. They have predicted almost to a
minute the moment when their supply would give out and if Thursday happens to be
early closing day their triumph is complete. A shop where starch is stored for retail
purposes possibly stands at their very door, but the feminine mind has rejected such an
obvious source for replenishing a dwindling stock. "We don't deal there" places it at once
beyond the pale of human resort. And it is noteworthy that, just as a sheep-worrying dog
seldom molests the flocks in his near neighbourhood, so a woman rarely deals with shops
in her immediate vicinity. The more remote the source of supply the more fixed seems to
be the resolve to run short of the commodity. The Ark had probably not quitted its last
moorings five minutes before some feminine voice gloatingly recorded a shortage of
bird-seed. A few days ago two lady acquaintances of mine were confessing to some
mental uneasiness because a friend had called just before lunch- time, and they had been
unable to ask her to stop and share their meal, as (with a touch of legitimate pride) "there
was nothing in the house." I pointed out that they lived in a street that bristled with
provision shops and that it would have been easy to mobilise a very passable luncheon in
less than five minutes. "That," they said with quiet dignity, "would not have occurred to
us," and I felt that I had suggested something bordering on the indecent.
But it is in catering for her literary wants that a woman's shopping capacity breaks down
most completely. If you have perchance produced a book which has met with some little
measure of success, you are certain to get a letter from some lady whom you scarcely
known to bow to, asking you "how it can be got." She knows the name of the book, its
author, and who published it, but how to get into actual contact with it is still an unsolved
problem to her. You write back pointing out that to have recourse to an ironmonger or a
corn-dealer will only entail delay and disappointment, and suggest an application to a
bookseller as the most hopeful thing you can think of. In a day or two she writes again:
"It is all right; I have borrowed it from your aunt." Here, of course, we have an example
of the Beyond-Shopper, one who has learned the Better Way, but the helplessness exists
even when such bypaths of relief are closed. A lady who lives in the West End was
expressing to me the other day her interest in West Highland terriers, and her desire to
know more about the breed, so when, a few days later, I came across an exhaustive article
on that subject in the current number of one of our best known outdoor-life weeklies, I
mentioned that circumstance in a letter, giving the date of that number. "I cannot get the
paper," was her telephoned response. And she couldn't. She lived in a city where
newsagents are numbered, I suppose, by the thousand, and she must have passed dozens