Thu 8 Dec 2005
I like Christmas. Or Yuletide as I prefer to call it, because as we are all aware (aren’t we) that this time of year was first and foremost a pagan festival before other johnny-come-lately religions appropriated it.
Be that as it may; the origin of the season is neither here nor there in my books. I’m happy that once a year we are reminded of that noble sentiment Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Men (I use the archaic genderism advisedly. It is of course redundant, but I like the scan). You could make it an aphorism by which to live your life.
However. (you knew there was going to be a ‘however’ didn’t you? Otherwise that would be it, we’d have polished off the plum pudding and you’d be picking holly out of your teeth by now). However. As each year passes, I get more and more pissed off by the rabid commercial terrorism that the season has become.
It’s not the giving, nor indeed buying, of gifts that I deplore, nor the decorations, the lights, the wonderful food and drink. There’s a space for all these things. They are the tokens by which we celebrate the privileges of our lives. One of the great things about the Season is that it is scalable – you don’t need to spend much more than a few thoughts to bring happiness to others.
But that’s not how the retailers see it. Christmas is now an OPPORTUNITY. Along with that view comes the reciprocal view by shopkeepers that certain customers see it as an OPPORTUNITY as well.
A few years back at about this time, I was browsing in a bookshop in the city (I’m naming names, dammit. I really hope they read this). My own view is that there are few better gifts than a book, and I have many friends who are avid readers. So bookshops feature prominently in my Christmas shopping routine. In this particular case, I’d found a couple of things, and I was having a particularly enjoyable day (shopping for books is just about as much fun as giving them – I’m selfish like that). I paid for my purchases and was heading out the exit when…BLLEEEEMPP BLLEEEEMPP BLLEEEEMPP BLLEEEEMPP … one of those wretched shoplifting alarms went off at my elbow.
Security Guard appears.
SG: Can I see your bag please sir?
Me: Why? (alright, it was a dumb-ass comment, but I was genuinely rattled)
SG: I’d just like to check your bag. It’s a condition of the store.
Me (indignantly, realizing that he thinks I’ve stolen something): OK, just as long as you know I really resent you doing this (I was also resenting the fact that a dozen customers were staring at me a whole lot as well).
Of course, after I had revealed the contents of my bag to everyone in the shop, and it seems that it was just the bloody alarm detector thing having some kind of conniption, there were the perfunctory apologies and I was allowed on my way.
But man, it wrecked my day. What’s worse, I now have some kind of phobia about the whole thing. It’s wrecked all my Christmas shopping expeditions forever. Now whenever I go into or out of a shop when all the Christmas decorations are up, I feel like everybody behind every counter in every shop regards me not as a customer, but as a potential, or even probable, thief.
Most of all, I was pissed off that a shop in which I have probably spent thousands of dollars on books, made me, a loyal customer, feel like a common pilferer. Now, I understand that retailers have trouble with shoplifting but in their zeal to stop a relative minority of thieves I feel they have traded something valuable on something petty.
The way I see it, no matter how hard you try, you can’t buy loyalty. But you can sure smash it in one embarrassing second.
†Yes, yes, I know, possibly the worst pun I’ve ever made on The Cow