~ Men in Saris: Now that’s Customer Service ~

On a recent trip to Surat, I joined a few women on the hunt for the perfect Sari. I’m not an avid fan of shopping but in India even the most banal of activities can give you intimate insight into the cultural. As we entered the showroom a line of thin men, outfitted in the same uniform, began to track our every movement. While my eyes darted up and down the walls full of multi-colored and multi-patterned material, the salesmen seemed to be trying to decipher what we would be in the mood for. An elegant silk chiffon number? A high-contrast sequenced piece? Or perhaps a more sober modest look?

We sat back in our seats sipping on complementary chai, as the men began to sling colored material across the marble tabletop. One after another, yards and yards of fabric, in every imaginable color combination were displayed in a chaotic pace. All I could think about is the fact that someone is going to have to fold all that back up! Sixty saris are dwindled down to ten, then four. Then the best part. You’ve come all this way, seen a dizzying array of options, now you must see it on. So what do the men do…well they put the saris on themselves. In less then three minutes! The fabric glides through their trained fingertips with such ease that I’m convinced they could wear a sari blindfolded and underwater.

The material conforms nicely to their thin frames as the men stand side by side, holding their arms up to display the garments’ complex patterns. It’s akin to walking into a designer’s section of Bloomingdales and having men model the dresses for you. I wondered why all the sales staff were men, the only answer I could seem to find was that’s just the way it is. The service industry is dominated by men, you may find women in larger chain department stores but in most boutique stores and restaurants the sales staff is completely male. Even lingerie stores have an all male sales force. And I have one word for that: Awkward!

After two hours, we left the store with a total of three one-of-a-kind saris. Mission Successful. And a shopping experience like no other, I actually had a great time. As we walked past the front entrance I couldn’t help but notice the mannequins in the windows. Why were they white? I was told Indians have an affinity to light skin, so naturally they would display their finest garments on the lightest skin tone. But no one looks like that here, I said, shouldn’t the reflect their customer base? They are showing you an ideal vision, what is not possible, what is seen as beautiful, I was told. Hmmm, now that is something I can relate to!

~ by kainazamaria on February 1, 2010.

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