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Ask Suzy! Shopping for Tanzanite in Rio and Soaps in Paris

Where to find the best of everything around the world, courtesy of our shopping expert Suzy Gershman.



Our Born to Shop author Suzy Gershman is answering your global shopping questions for the next several weeks. Send mail to Her new book,Where to Buy the Best of Everything: The Outspoken Guide for World Travelers and Online Shoppers, is in stores now.

Dear Suzy:

Can you recommend the best way to buy a Tanzanite stone? Should I buy just a stone or buy a completed piece of jewelry? I'll be in Tanzania in November in Arusha. If you could recommend a jeweler I'd be forever grateful. -- Rosemarie from Clearwater, FL


Arusha. My god, my childhood is coming back to me -- did you know I grew up in East Africa? In my time, there were Maasai collars and beads and baskets and ten million salad servers carved with the various animals atop. I never saw a tanzanite and would never buy them here. If you fall in love with a stone or small set piece and you can afford it, and you love it, and you simply don't care what it really is or if you are dealing with corrupt merchants -- and all of those things are possible -- then go for it.

Otherwise, I would send you to Rio. Try H. Stern at rua Garcia d'Avila (tel. +55-21/2259-7422; H. Stern has stores all over the world, but the Rio location is the one I single out in my book as a "World's Best," with its museum and factories. An "off price" outlet next door sells year-old merch for 30% off.

Dear Suzy,


My husband and I will be visiting Athens and cruising the Greek islands (Rhodes, Santorini, Mykonos, Crete and Patmos with a sidetrip to Ephesus, Turkey) this summer. Since we'll have limited time on each island and also want to see some historical sites, do you have any shopping suggestions?

Thanks for writing Born to Shop Italy and Born to Shop France. I've enjoyed and used suggestions (including eating places) from both books, especially ones pertaining to Southern France, Lyon, Venice, Florence and Rome. After reading your book, I'd like to go to Bologna, too. -- Dee from Jackson, TN

Bologna, be still my heart, Miss Dee. You are onto something, but first let's keep talking about jewelry and how generous your husband is going to feel.

Now I don't want to sound like an idiot, but the first thing that I say every time I go to Greece is "Geez, who let them in?" By which I mean, these guys are in the Euro zone, so prices are going to be high. Most of the islands you are visiting are great for jewelry, especially Santorini, and yes, you can bargain a bit, even in fancy stores. One of my favorite stores in the world is there and would have gone into my book, but I can't remember the name of it. I haven't been able to track it down. It's a person's name, like David's, but it's not David's. Anyway, you'll have fun.


It's worth pointing out this article of a jewelry appraisal gone horribly wrong in Santorini -- but I've never had any problems here.

Crete is okay for olive oil but not much else. Supposedly about 95% of the olive oil here is certified Extra Virgin, so you can't go wrong.

Athens has a fun flea market in Monastiraki Square and some nice strolling.

Ephesus (Turkey) is fun for the historical bit but I like the little market right in the port town. Hey, that's just me.

Mykonos is a bit touristy but you can begin to warm up on jewelry with the understanding that Santorini is where you want to score. Have a great time. I just wish I could be there with you and guide you to my jewelry store, but you'll do fine on your own, I promise.


Dear Suzy:

I spent nearly 3 weeks in Tuscany, visiting Florence, Siena, Arezzo, Cortona, San Gimignano, and a few other places. Of all of these places, the best prices our group found were in San Gi. Almost every one of twenty or so folks in our group bought at least one bag there. I got a very lovely leather bag for my sister for around US$30. -- Cheri from Spokane, WA

(Note: This is a response to Suzy's tips on handbags in Florence.)

Good info. Many thanks.

Siena and San Gimignano are very pleasant day trips from Florence, especially on a Monday morning when many of the Florence shops are closed.


Dear Suzy:

Where would I find the best hypoallergenic soap or moisturizing soaps in France? -- Sally, location withheld

You will go crazy with the selection of French soaps -- believe it or not (and many people are shocked when I tell them this) the French invented soap as we know it today, in Marseille. Go to any dime store, pharmacy, or parapharmacie, for pharmaceutical brands of soap. In Paris, the rue Vignon (in the 9e right near the big department stores) has several good soap stores on it, including Durance, 24 rue Vignon, Paris, 9e (tel. 331/4742-0410;, and La Compagnie de Provence (LCDP), 16 rue Vignon, Paris, 9e (tel. +33-1/4268-0160; Don't forget Roger & Gallet ( which has several big bars besides their better known rounds in plastic cases. I like the more unusual scents such as the cherry-and-tomato combination.


One of my favorite French gifts is a pairing of a bar of soap with a gant de toilette, the French version of a washcloth. The total cost will be about $10.

Now let's switch gears from soap and jewelry and turn our attention to something that appeared recently in The Washington Post. I know this was not emailed to me as a question per se, but I feel compelled to respond to this article by Robert J. Samuelson, entitled "The End of Shopping." Here's an excerpt:


Transfixed by unruly financial markets, we may be missing the year's biggest economic story: the end of the Great American Shopping Spree. For the past quarter-century, Americans have been on an unprecedented consumption binge -- for cars, TVs, longer vacations. The consequences have been profound, and the passage to something different may not be an improvement.

(Read the full article here.)


Dear Mr. Samuelson:

Back in the day when I was a serious journalist, as opposed to being a Shopping Goddess and the author of books on retail, I interviewed a woman for People Magazine who taught me to beware of men with moustaches. I thought this was silly advice -- after all, my brother has a moustache -- but now realize she was trying to save me from you.

The end of shopping? I don't think so.

The era of smarter shopping, yes, maybe. Your article sure got me thinking about it. Although, frankly, ever since Oprah has been on her tear about Eckhart Tolle, I have been examining the relationship of shopping to ego and ego to the economy.


Ergo, I think shopping is here to stay.

First off, let's talk about the historical perspective. You talk about the shop phenom as something from the last 25 years, when in fact this is a post-World War II boom. Any guy who served in the armed forces and lived to come home in the late 1940s wanted only to settle down, buy a house, a car (or two!) and raise a family. Since the early 50s, everyone thought life was only going to get better each year. That was the American Dream.

We learned that wasn't so by the '80s, where your article kicks in.


But we've also learned a lot about the world picture since then. Maybe your idea of shopping is a trip to the mall or Circuit City. To me, it's walking the souks of North Africa or even the food and street markets of France. I'll take a day out in China, or any place in Asia where my dollar stretches past the euro. Or I'll log onto any of the sites with "private" club membership that allow me to buy designer clothes at 60% off. I'm telling you, Bob, you've got a lot of travelling to do; a lot of shopping to know what you are missing.

The New York Times has been running multiple stories on the r-word and the down percentages, which are in the 1 to 3% range -- but yet men's clothing is up 5%. Go figure. Steve & Barry's sells clothes for under $10 and is a $1 billion business. Go figure. What we're learning now is that old fashioned models of consumption don't fit the down-sizing Baby Boomers. Shopping hasn't ended, it has simply shifted.

If we aren't shopping, it's because we have too much and we're giving it away -- or selling it on Craigslist or eBay. This is Boomer common sense. We have new values, we understand mortality, and we don't need as many sets of dishes.


Those who are shopping have come to realize that a designer name doesn't mean a thing and that some things are built to be disposable (many of these items are modern electronics) and some things can be chosen with care and will last for decades. We shop for entertainment, we shop to express our creative nature, we shop in the way that chimps groom other chimps -- it's cultural.

That's why you see strong numbers in stores like Walmart and Target and fashionistas who mix no-name fashion with $1,000 handbags. If this were the end of shopping, why are there so many thousand dollar handbags out there? They don't represent value, so they have to stand for something far bigger than a bread box.

What you need to do, my dear Mr. Samuelson, is to read my book and talk to some real shoppers. Whether we are at home shopping online, bartering online, using coupon codes online, in the mall or haunting thrift shops because our paychecks can't cover rice and milk, we represent an important slice of sociology. We may change to fit the times, but we are not over.