Friday, 24 December 2010

Ten Top Tips for Chaps on Christmas Shopping

Gentlemen – your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to purchase successful presents for your nearest and dearest, without it appearing obvious that you did in fact dash in at the last minute with a few of your so-called colleagues from work, in a bit of last-minute ‘aren’t we the wags’ camaraderie.

With this in mind, might I tentatively suggest following these words of wisdom.

Never forget the cardinal rule of Christmas present buying – your sweetheart imbues the act with a great deal more importance than you can ever know or guess, and that you will suffer in many and various small ways for months (perhaps even for years) if you get it wrong. How often have you heard “well it is not as bad as the pink cardigan that you bought me in 1997”?  If you hear this every year then you are clearly not taking heed of the lessons.

Let me offer you hope – it is possible to buy the wrong present but get away with it, provided that it is abundantly clear that is it bought with the right intent. However much of this comes down to the quality of your back-story (“I remembered that in August when we were walking past the fisherman’s shack on Corsica that you liked the old-fashioned look of his equipment so I have bought you a wooden-handled spade and fishhook”) and the ability to counter the inevitable disappointment on your wife’s face with true sadness at failing her. Can I emphasise that this is a very high-risk strategy and not to be contemplated unless all others fail – it is the ‘Nuclear Option’ of present-buying.

Remember the perils of shopping too soon for your beloved’s gift, however – I am reminded of the well-known joke:

It was Christmas and the judge was in a merry mood as he asked the defendant, "What are you being charged with?"
"Doing my Christmas shopping early sir," replied the defendant. 
"Well, that's not a crime," said the judge. "How early were you doing this shopping?"
"Before the store opened," answered the prisoner.

and worse still you may find that she has already bought it for herself (as she assumes that you will not have picked up on any of the 30 or so hints littering the conversation in the last month) or indeed that you will buy it before the ‘hinting’ season starts (roughly around late November for the vast majority).

Avoid telephoning your wife to ask her what she wants. This is especially to be avoided when you are, say, at the perfume counter, and you need to know if she likes Chanel No. 5 or Miss Dior. It is better to guess, and to choose an unknown scent (you can try to palm this off with “I thought that it would really suit your natural muskiness/athleticism/sense of fun etc etc and it’s nice to try something different, isn’t it”) than to make it obvious that, despite several years of marriage and children, you have no idea what she really likes in perfume.

The aim is to find a suitable present for your beloved. You know you have got it wrong if you hear any of the following:

* I’m getting a gift too? Wow!
* If I had not recently shot up 4 sizes that would've fit.
* This is perfect for wearing around the basement.
* To think - I should get this the year I vowed to give all my gifts to charity.
* “I really don't deserve this."

Also to be avoided are gifts which are quite obviously for you. Picture the scene – roaring fire, children smiling and happy, a small sherry at your hand as the good lady Wife rips open the proffered package. Her face falls, and you say “but didn’t you always want an Xbox 360?”. Clearly she didn’t and you will suffer for this. 

When purchasing anything battery operated, assuming that this is something that the Wife actually wants, (stop tittering please) then bear in mind that you may need to consider its ability to be used on Christmas Day.  Someone has stated that the three phrases that best sum up the Christmas season are - "Peace on Earth”, "Goodwill to Men" and "Batteries not included."

An even higher-risk strategy than the ‘Nuclear’ Option is to try to take a High Moral Stance – eg to claim that you have not bought anything flashy as a “stand against the vulgarity of modern life and the commoditisation of Christmas, the dumbing-down, the general acceptance of mediocrity and the grubby, ill–mannered tedium of so much of modern life.” by “turning ancient rituals of courtesy and gift-giving into revolutionary acts of non-conformance”. This will not wash (especially if, like me, you work for B&Q, retailer of Christmas tat) and you will be accused of being a tightwad as you hand over the crushingly retro present of a clove-studded orange and a few sweets in a stocking, or some such nonsense. Please remember that this only makes sense to you and the lads down the pub.

Remember that as the minutes tick by on Christmas Eve in John Lewis, the expenditure should rise by around 5% for each 10 minutes of shopping – so if you were planning to spend £100 at 10am, by 12 o’clock this is £171 and by 2pm it is a staggering £307. By this stage true panic will have set in, however, so you will randomly buy something expensive and then suffer the double derision of a poor choice AND scorn for wasting money.

And finally, just realise that you cannot win and that you are permanently going to be on the back foot!
Good luck, chaps – you’re going to need it!

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