I was kind of stupid.

When I was thinking about what to see in Minneapolis, I kept overlooking Mall of America. I thought it’s just a big shop. All the other fellows were going there, everyone was talking about it, our WPI intern said it’s super but I couldn’t see a shop as an attraction.

I was thinking about museums, pedestrian streets, walk in a park, some architecture. Then I went to barber and asked Casey, who was cutting my hair, about what to see.

“Well, hmm, let me think, obviously there are some attractions and culture if you like, you could just use google…” 

Subtext: There is nothing that cool.

Then I told her I’m going to Mall of America anyway, because my fellows are driving there.

“Oh yeah, it’s super! You should definitely do it!” she replied in a sudden energetic tone. At that moment I realized that ok, I’d better get excited about the mall.

Mall of America is the largest mall of America. It has four floors, over 400 shops, amusement park, movie theatre and everything you don’t need but instantly want at the very moment you see it.

As we approached the mall, the Hungarian gasped in disbelief. Oh my god, it’s larger than an airport!

America has these different levels of hugeness. In the first orientation day we went to Target, which is a huge mall. No, sorry, this one actually was supersized version, Supertarget. Isn’t that cool. WPI intern had raved about it – it’s soooo great, but you guys will get lost there. And I did. 

(For the Finnish readers: Supertarget is a get-it-all-shop like Prisma or Citymarket, but with considerably wider variety and maybe better quality of goods.)

So we were getting used with that ever-growing hugeness, which was supposed to be interesting. But Mall of America took that to a new level of gargantuan. An Ikea behind it was a blue matchbox.

We took the main door into what felt like some kind of a mothership.

Supertarget is actually handy for shopping once you get yourself oriented. Mall of America, however, is not practical anymore. The size slows you down. You don’t need that amount of variation at once. People love it for reasons that are not rational. It evokes an emotional response, makes your juices flow, gets you high on shopping possibilities. It is a church of shopping and place to practice capitalism, which is the state religion of United States. Under this roof of glass and steel you don’t have to worry. Everything is fine. Visa loves you.

I walked aimlessly and examined the stores feeling a slight sorrow, for alas, I cannot shop.

I love wasting money, buying things and polluting the planet, but my spending patterns are different. I get interested in something, google it and buy it. Shopping means going to a mall with no plan, examining what is available and buying on impulse. I suck in that. So there I was, blind man trying to enjoy a rainbow, impotent inside a harem, hungry man trying to eat soup with a fork.

Sound? This relentless white noise of human swarming, which is somewhat damped at the first level, but rises to a crescendo in upper levels because it is echoed by the hard glass roof. The purpose of the noise is to make you escape to the nearest shop and rest your head in that soft acoustic asylum, and when you lift your eyes you see a Marilyn Monroe tin box, which you most certainly don’t need nor knew that this kind of thing existed, or should exist in the first place, but you watch Marilyn whisking her shirt in the cover of that pink box and suddenly feel so relieved by the momentary calm that you buy the thing. That almost happened to me. I am almost an owner of a Marilyn Monroe box.

Smell? Aircon. Soft, slightly dusty carpets, fast food, cotton candy.

Feel? Aircon. Rubber handrail of escalator pulling you firmly forward, come, come, let’s buy things already.

Taste? Ice-cream. If you buy smoothie, there is ice-cream, even if the booth is Healthy Something.

Looks? Unreal. In the center of the mall there is a giant indoor amusement park. It is such a surreal sight, to suddenly come across a ferris wheel looming behind the escalator. Children are spinning around their axes, screaming, adding a sharp edge to the aural chaos of the mall.

The mall made me feel despair, but I’m glad I went there. Now I understand something better. After the mall I took a different kind of adventure: a light rail and a bus to a different part of town. Babies cried. The bus hit a pedestrian and stopped. Finally I made my way to the block party I was on my way to, and met Ellen, who is part of my St Paul host family. She asked me about the mall.

“Well, I’m not basically a mall person”, I said.

“Who is”, she instantly replied.

Her comment made me so relieved. We drank some beer and watched the local band, and that was America as well as the mall.