I was working in Milan a couple of weeks ago when I ran out of shower gel, so I excitedly popped downstairs to the neighborhood Farmacia to do a little shopping, as buying international beauty products just so happens to be my one of my favorite hobbies. (I mean, obviously.)


The utterly gorgeous Duomo is literally right around the corner from the scene of the shame.

What happened once I got inside was a bit disheartening, to say the least.

At first, the smiling sales associate and I engaged in the confusing albeit typical stumbling-over-English-and-Italian conversation, where she tried to ask what exactly I needed, and I ended up acting out a series of hilarious scrubbing-in-the-shower motions. After the longest 90 seconds ever, we were finally on the same page, so she briefly excused herself to bring me an assorted deliciously scented selection to choose from.

She returned with five of body washes, each more expensive than the last. The cheapest one rang up at 24 euros (approx. $31), while the most expensive of the crop would have set me back 45 euros (approx. $59).

(For the record, I’ll sit in my own filth before I shell out that kind of money for body wash. I’ll never be that damn dirty. Who spends SIXTY dollars on 12 ounces of soap?! Some of these companies are bat-shit crazy and they shan’t get an ounce of my sympathy when they inevitably go belly up.)

Somehow I successfully informed her that her picks weren’t acceptable options for me, as they were far too pricy. She stormed off and returned seconds later with only one bottle, which she slammed on the counter and haughtily remarked, “This one is only six euros. Just six! Do you want this one?!” (In pretty good English, to boot.)

I was so shocked and taken aback, I actually bought it.

Partially because I needed it of course, plus I presumed this was the cheapest she had. I mean, I didn’t want her to have to go back a third time. Also — and I can’t stress this enough — she kind of made me feel like I had to buy it.

I’m not sure what it was about me that set her off — be it my aversion to overspend on soap, the fact that she didn’t make a big sale, or that she had to make a second trip — but I left that pharmacy feeling… guilty. For being an American tourist? For being a budget soap shopper? For not being able to speak fluent Italian? Either way, shopping shame-induced guilt is not a feeling I’m at all very familiar with. (I choose my choice!)

As you can probably tell, buying that $8 bottle of body gel is a decision I’m still struggling with, two weeks later. Part of me wants to go back next time I’m there and tell her to Chew. This. Ass., while the other part of me says forget it and start packing a backup bottle of Dove.

Have any of you ever experienced anything similar? Has a sales associate ever guilted you into making a purchase?


This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more India-Jewel on XOJane! 

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  • blue sunshine

    I lived in Europe (Italy) for over 5 years and I’ve found that International “customer service” isn’t the same as the States. The same thing happened to me a couple of times until I finally realized that it might be cultural…. Kind of how I felt moving from Atlanta to New York; customer service isn’t the same.

  • E.M.S.

    No need to feel guilty. The customer is always right! Plus that’s an outrageous price for some soap. I buy dove bars in a 2-pack for $5. I would’ve had the same reaction. And I bet you my soap bars go a lot farther than that bottle would, and I use tons of soap every time I shower :)

  • Humanista

    Yeahhhhhhh, no. I’d try and stay out of those boutique pharmacies abroad next time. In a crunch, I had to buy feminine products in a French city at one of those–pretty sure I spent close to $25 for 2 regular-sized packages. Every town I’ve been to (all European, big and small) has had an actual market or super-market and the prices in them are AMAZING, and they’re often easy to get to on foot.

    Learn how to say “super-market” in the language of the locale you’re visiting, because you never know what you may need. Like washcloths. (I guess those aren’t a “thing” in some European countries? Lol.) Or snacks for the hotel–even good-quality local goods to take home (specialty shops will rob you, just like here).

  • BellezzaRagazza

    Oh XOJANE,
    I completely understand your story and lived it as well ALSO in the department store MAC counter adjacent the Duomo in Milano. I was with my auntie perusing the MAC foundations when the sales rep (also smiling) came over and asked my auntie what I was looking for. I told her I was interested in the foundations, which was all she needed to practically scoot me into her stylist’s chair. Before I knew it, she had gathered an assistant and like 6 shades of foundation and once she found the right shade, proceeded to do my entire face. I was grateful and thought she did a good job for darker skin make-up, so I thanked and praised her for her technique. BUT, that only meant that she expected me to purchase the make-up. I was just perusing that day and did not intend to purchase anything even with my auntie offering to get it for me. I mean, “Why should I feel pressured to buy something even if I like it?”
    When I politely said, “Thank you, not today”, the sales rep’s face turned from proud to confused and pissed (It was actually humorous how quickly her face changed). “Why, you no like?” she questioned? I was starting to feel pressured and embarrassed, especially as the only Black person around drawing attention.
    My aunt had to explain to her (in Italian) that I was from America and this is what they do. The sales rep liked my aunt, just not me. And later, my aunt explained to me that in Italy (esp. in Milano), if you like something, you just buy it so sales reps may take it personally that they did not do a good enough job.
    In the end, the sales rep did write the shade number/line name in case I decided to return, which she didn’t have to do so I guess she eased up.