Tonight I discovered a new shopping experience.
It all started because I need a new toilet seat. The one I have has been loose since May. If you're not careful, the thing will slide off like a toboggan on a well-iced run. While this is perhaps a good way to build your core muscles, four months of this is enough. Plus, my toilet is already a challenge for visitors, what with the temperamental British flush, so making them perform some crazy butt surf whilst using the loo is perhaps a bit much to ask.
Resigned to the idea that I needed to actually go buy a toilet seat, I decided to ask around the office for help finding the sort of DIY place that would carry something like this. Milton Keynes is a city of roundabouts with green space and trees shielding the main roadways from the buildings on the side of the road, therefore you don't necessarily see what you're passing. Plus, most of the stores aren't on my way to anything, so when I have a specific need I have to ask: a) what store should I check, and b) where is the dang thing.
Colleagues recommended Wickes, B&Q, and Homebase...basically your Home Depot/Menards/Lowes type places, except English. Then someone else said it would be cheaper at Argos, so I figured cheap is good...I'll go there.
When you're sent to a store, you expect a store. So you can imagine my shock when I walked into Argos and it looked like an office lobby with a jewelry counter. Luckily, my friend Anna was with me, as we were on our way to dinner, and she showed me the ropes...it would have taken me some time to figure it out. You start out at the table where you can flip through the catalog. They have everything. Kitchen stuff, tools, furniture, clothes, electronics...it's like Sears and Roebuck from 1970. You find your item, enter the number in a little keypad, and it will show you an LCD of the price and the number of items in stock. You write the item numbers on a little notesheet and then take your sheet to the counter to pay.
Once paid, you go sit in color coded chairs (for the four pickup points that are addressing your order,) and the people scurry around in the shelves. When all items in your order are collected, a cheery voice calls your number, you show your receipt, and then they give you your purchase and you go home.
I love this store. Sure it's weird that you don't get to look at the item before you buy it AND you don't get the convenience of home delivery, but the sheer novelty of the place is worth the trip.