Blase Berliners shrug offstore's topless sales staff
16 September 2004, BERLIN - With consumer spending down dramatically in Germany these days, retailers are having to resort to extremes to lure customers into their stores. So when executives of the Innova appliance mart at Alexander Platz in the heart of Berlin opted to have topless hostesses greet customers at the door, they assumed they had hit upon a novel gimmick to go along with their "end-of-summer strip-off prices to the buff sale" campaign. But they had not counted on the notorious sophistication o
16 September 2004
BERLIN - With consumer spending down dramatically in Germany these days, retailers are having to resort to extremes to lure customers into their stores.
So when executives of the Innova appliance mart at Alexander Platz in the heart of Berlin opted to have topless hostesses greet customers at the door, they assumed they had hit upon a novel gimmick to go along with their "end-of-summer strip-off prices to the buff sale" campaign.
But they had not counted on the notorious sophistication of blasé Berliners. People in this city pride themselves on being imperturbable and unshockable.
So when the sale opened and a young woman - naked from the waist up - handed out sale leaflets to customers at the door she elicited no visible response whatsoever.
She stood there all morning, smilingly covered in goosebumps in the draft every time the glass doors slid open. Customers unsmilingly (another native Berliner characteristic) took her leaflets and looked anywhere but at her upper torso.
They studied the sign inviting do-it-yourselfers to "make your own charming chandelier". They frowned at the long line of people waiting for the elevator up to the TV/Video/DVD department. They scrutinized the balcony hibachi barbecue pit with colour-coordinated wicker patio furniture.
They glanced at the crowds of tabloid photographers and TV camera crews, who had assembled to record this historic unveiling for posterity.
But the customers paid no attention whatsoever to the bare facts at hand.
"We thought this was going to create an uproar," a store executive told Berliner Zeitung newspaper. "We thought there would be crowds clamouring to gape at here. Or that women's rights protesters would turn out to demonstrate and give us even more publicity. And now it has turned out to be a fizzle."
One middle-aged male customer was so ostentatiously not looking at her that he tripped and nearly fell on the escalator.
But he recovered his composure to tell TV interviewers, "I'm going on 60, so it's nothing I haven't seen before."
Albeit it not in an appliance store amongst toasters, waffle irons, microwave ovens and refrigerators with built-in TVs.
Female customers were equally blasé, at least outwardly, though several wondered whether the hostess might catch her death of cold, standing in a drafty doorway for hours on end.
"More power to her, I say," said the customer, who identified herself as a waitress accustomed to having men focus their eyes on her cleavage.
"But I'd never go so far as to go topless at work," she said, before adding as an afterthought, "Well, maybe if somebody paid me a lot of money, but it would have to be a whole lot."
Other women customers agreed that, while it was all right for the store's hostess, they would never strip off for an employer.
"I'd have to be very, very drunk," said another young woman, who works at McDonald's and said she did not think her manager would approve of such behaviour at a family-oriented restaurant, even though McDonald's outlets in Germany sell beer.
Pundits speculated that Berliners have become inured to nudity thanks to topless nightclubs, front-page nudes in the tabloid press, nude sunbathing and free-wheeling late-night German television.
"People are used to seeing outrageously enlarged breasts and pierced penises on TV," noted Berliner Zeitung. "A wholesome-looking but topless young woman at an appliance mart just cannot compete with the shocking fare people see in their own living rooms."
That wholesome-looking but topless young woman admitted she had had certain qualms about taking the job.
"I did it under condition that I would wear a mask and a wig to conceal my true identity," she told interviewers, some of whom admitted afterward they had been unaware she was wearing a mask and a wig until she mentioned the fact.
"I'm studying to become a school teacher and prospective employers might be put off by this," she explained rather needlessly.
She got the job through a modelling agency.
"It's a change from the usual modelling jobs, and the pay is certainly better," she said. Somebody asked how much she was paid."
Subject: German news