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- The Mall Culture of Latin America for a Small Town Expat
Growing up in a small town in Iowa, we have a mall where I’m from that was always nice enough to visit once in a blue moon.
Has a few good restaurants, a movie theatre and so on.
Typical memories that anyone would have from their childhood included.
Like going to “see Santa” similar to scenes from Bad Santa here.
Or picking up a friend named David in high school where we sent to see two chicks on some date where we’d all go bowling and had some food.
So on and so on.
Nowadays, the mall is still there
Granted, I haven’t been to my small town in over 2 years but, last I remember, the mall is still there obviously with stores inside.
Though, on my last visits that I remember prior to the last two years, I do remember the mall being not as full as it used to be.
A little bit less activity than before.
Don’t get me wrong – it still has activity!
I just remember the mall being more active in my childhood than how I last remember it over the last few years.
And it’s a small topic among us Americans regarding malls in the country as you can see here for example.
Where seemingly plenty of malls just go under and aren’t like they used to be.
Compared to stories of malls in other towns, I’d say the mall in my small town is holding up relatively good.
Though, after I have begun traveling around Latin America, I’d say the mall back home isn’t very impressive.
Granted, maybe it’s not fair to compare a mall in a small town versus some of the bigger cities in Latin America.
But that is part of the experience for me – comparing life down here to life back home in a small town of the US.
You do have that cultural shock in various ways and, among many cultural differences that I notice, is the one regarding malls.
Malls down here simply seem “much nicer” in many regards.
More food options, more bars nearby, etc.
But, on top of that, I do wonder if you could ask if Latin Americans like malls more than Americans back home.
Truthfully, it’s hard for me to say because we are comparing my experience in a small town to big cities down here.
I don’t ever remember stepping foot inside a mall in a big city like NYC or Chicago.
We do have nice malls though in those cities I’d imagine.
Either way, putting aside the cultural contrast that I notice regarding malls from my small town to Latin America, there are some things I have noticed about “mall culture” down here.
Let’s get to it.
The Latin American Mall Culture
First, we should address again briefly the question of if Latin Americans enjoy malls more than Americans back home.
Obviously, I think there’s a factor of class here also.
If you live in a poorer neighborhood like Pedregal de Santo Domingo, you see less people going to malls and more going to open air markets.
Anyone who has a little more money though does like the mall.
And, while I couldn’t find any numbers on the revenue malls bring in back in the US compared to Latin America or how many people of both regions visit malls, I can only speak from my personal experience.
It does, generally speaking, seem like folks down here like going to the mall more than folks back home but my experience may not reflect yours and we’ll leave it at that.
Second, you have the little detail about wealthier families enjoying malls back home.
When I lived in Bolivia for example, the first host family I had was relatively well off and was able to afford trips to the US for “shopping” and “to see Disney World.”
Or visit NYC.
While wealthier Latin Americans enjoy visiting the US for various reasons like see touristy spots in NYC or Miami, some use that opportunity to “go shopping.”
One of the reasons is that certain products are better to get up there like a new phone that would be cheaper to buy up there than down here.
Obviously, it isn’t as cheap when you factor in airfare but it’s not the worst idea in the world to buy a new phone up there while using the travel opportunity to see cool stuff also like whatever NYC has to offer.
Over my time in Latin America, I’ve had folks down here offer me money to buy whatever phone they want and bring it down here whenever I plan on doing a trip back home.
It’s a topic I wrote about here. I’ve never agreed to do that but I have been asked to do that before for some folks.
At any rate, these “shopping trips” likely involve a visit to a mall I imagine to keep up with the theme of the article.
Third, obviously not all of Latin America is the same.
We started this article talking about “small town America” but I wonder how strong “mall culture” is in small town Bolivia. As I said, maybe not the best place (small town Iowa) to compare Latin America to.
But, as I said, not every Latin country is the same when we talk about “mall culture” in this region.
Does Venezuela or Cuba have a “strong mall culture.”
Well, I remember seeing a “centro comercial” in Maracaibo but I never stepped inside it and I didn’t have much time there to really evaluate this issue. Nor did I care about it
With Cuba, I’ve never been there as of this writing but I have my doubts that they have a “strong mall culture” given that it wasn’t too long ago that they supposedly became more lenient on individuals having their own “paladar” restaurants as you can see here.
Conan Dines At A Cuban Paladar | CONAN on TBS
Their economy has slowly been opening up a tiny bit more little by little from my outside understanding.
But I don’t want to sound like too much of a judgemental First Worlder asking stuff like “do they even have cars in Latin America?!?” as I wrote about here.
So, upon doing some research, they do apparently have some malls in Havana as you can see here.
"En el nuevo centro comercial de lujo en La Habana, los cubanos miran pero no compran"
Are they as cool as malls in Mexico City?
No. Mexican Malls are Best Malls.
Anyway, if I had to take a guess, probably malls in Cuba are less cool than those in Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, etc.
So, as I said, “mall culture” probably does vary by country to some degree.
Fourth, apparently Panama is the real boss of Latin mall culture as their mall, Albrook Mall, is the biggest mall of Latin America as you can read here.
"Albrook Mall, situado en ciudad de Panamá, es seguramente el centro comercial más grande de América Latina. Cuenta con más de 700 tiendas y la particularidad de que no es una construcción demasiado alta, de modo que su extensión es enorme, teniendo en cuenta que también alberga un casino, una bolera y hoteles."
Pay your respects to Panama.
Fifth, who likes air conditioning?
One reason why malls in Latin America tend to sometimes get more love is because they are sometimes well air-conditioned.
When you live in a part of Latin America like Panama or Barranquilla in Colombia, it can get HOT AS FUCK outside.
So, if you don’t want to sweat your ass off or maybe you’re taking a girl out on a nice date, a mall isn’t the worst idea.
Which brings us to the next point.
Sixth, a place for dates?
Compared to the US, we have this thing in common with Latin Americans.
It can obviously serve as a nice place for a date or even as a place to find your date before taking her somewhere else.
When I lived in Barranquilla for example, I met almost every single date I had at a mall.
In Mexico City, I tend to meet my dates first in the metro station before taking them somewhere else.
In Colombia, I equally found malls to be the best starting point even if we weren’t going to hang out at the mall.
It just makes it easier to find the person and serves as a good starting point.
Seventh, is mall culture growing in some parts of Latin America?
In doing research for this article, it seems like Brazil has quite the mall culture as you can see here.
And, in Mexico specifically, we have the biggest mall in the country in nearby Santa Fe.
It was constructed in 1993 and expanded in 2013 as you can read here.
And, to be fair to Mexico, some say that this mall is the biggest in Latin America. I'm not sure if that's true but it's big obviously.
In nearby Dominican Republic, you have a new mall being made in the city of Santiago as you can see here.
While those are just some isolated examples, it does seem to me like mall culture is at least staying strong in some pockets of Latin America if not outright growing.
Anything to Add?
At any rate, what else is there to say?
I’m sure other points could be made about “mall culture” in Latin America but, being honest, I’m not the biggest expert on the topic.
I enjoy occasionally visiting the mall so I can withdraw money in a safe location or if there is a specific restaurant I want to go to as malls tend to take up some very specific ones that are harder to find outside a mall (like Chilis, Applebees, etc).
Outside of that, I don’t actually visit malls so much.
I would if I was in Colombia as, given what I said, I found it to be so much more convenient to starts dates there than anywhere else.
But that’s as far as my experience with “mall culture” goes in Latin America.
If you got anything to add, drop a comment below in the comment section.
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Thanks for reading.