An open letter …
On Christmas shopping
This is a story about Christmas and shopping. And probably it ought to be a morality tale. Certainly, when previously writing on the subject of my love of shopping, I’ve always ended on a cautionary note. Diluted any unpleasant aftertaste the admission of my fervour for retail might leave in your mouth by drawing attention to the ill-treatment of garment workers, to the ultimate unsustainability of consumerism. See, I’m saying: I know it’s wrong. Pinky promise, I’ll mend my ways. And in some areas I have. I buy fewer clothes now and when I do, they’re quality. I spurn packaging, all that tissue and all those bags. Yet at heart I’m still a shopper. My breath still hustles at the hint of a sale.
I’d heard of Black Friday, but as with trick or treating, Doritos, and other preposterous American traditions, it took me a while to fall for its charms. However, unlike our Boxing Day sales (the idea of hitting the shops straight after Christmas has always struck me as both mad and repugnant), Black Friday actually makes sense. Held on the day following Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November), it kicks off the Christmas shopping season with some serious bargains. A friend, already wise to its joys, gave me the heads-up the week before. And so, when the day fell, I was prepared, heading to the local Westfield with my children’s wish lists in hand. En route to Farmers, though, I was lured into Bendon by a large sign in the window: 40% OFF STOREWIDE. In truth I did need a new skin-coloured bra but I probably didn’t need a white lace bralette with matching Brazilian knickers. And I probably didn’t need to spend an hour and a half there. It’s just that it was so much fun in that fitting room, knee-deep in underwear, the sweet sales assistant bringing me more and more to try on. Thank you, I said, paying for my purchases. My pleasure, she said. We smiled at each other and it was intimate and it was warm because minutes earlier she had been poking my double-boob back into the cup that should have contained it as we laughed together.
Excuse me, I said to the woman kneeling to restock the shelves at Kmart, are there any Black Friday deals? She stared at me as if I’d lost my mind. It’s already so cheap, she said. Looking around at the piles of T-shirts for $4, the boxes of chocolates for $3, I had to concur. The line for the check-out looped around itself, sinuating like an inchoate conga. And I couldn’t decide whether this was a terrible sight, modern society at its most woeful, or if there wasn’t a terrible kind of beauty in it. Shopping used to be the preserve of the moneyed, and while the low-cost of items in big-box department stores adds to our tendency to treat everything now as disposable, it’s hard to deny that they’ve evened up the field. That, even if you’re broke, you can probably manage to treat yourself to some small thing.
They say it doesn’t make you happy. Watching my husband dance with our children, walking our dog along Takapuna beach, eating icecream straight from the tub: these things fill me with joy. But, and I’m not quite sure what to do about it, shopping does too.
When I think of the camera-shy, it’s normally other women who spring to mind. Evidently, though, I was pleased to discover, there is no gender-bias inherent in loathing having one’s photo taken. Most of those who responded to last week’s column on the subject were men. Said Kevin: “Like you, I try to avoid being caught on camera … Dare I suggest for a somewhat morbid reason you should try to be caught on camera more. As well as that, get hold of those snaps for when you pop your clogs. Funerals now include the obligatory slide show of those special and not-sospecial moments of your life. You owe it to yourself to have a cache of your life’s special moments for your mourners to have a memory-jog and some nice thoughts about you when farewelling you.”
Excuse me, I said to the woman kneeling to restock the shelves at Kmart, are there any Black Friday deals? She stared at me as if I’d lost my mind. It’s already so cheap, she said.