Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Men's Lifestyle: Surviving Christmas Shopping

This article can also be found at The Yorker.

So it's December and the customary need to buy gifts for others has arrived. While going shopping isn't something alien to you (or at least, it shouldn't be), the idea of having to deal with increased crowds and the fear that you're going to be judged and scrutinised by your family and friends for not knowing anything about their interests is a scary thought.

But it's okay, you've been told by your friends that you're not expected to like or be good at shopping. After all, you're male and us lads don't know how to shop, right? Ha ha ha.

Congratulations, you have lazy and poisonous friends.

I don't think I'm a particularly special case when I say I get a kick out of going shopping. Maybe it's because I'm an urbanite, and I take pleasure from being part of the hustle and bustle; maybe it's because being the neurotic, task-driven sort, I get a warm sense of accomplishment from finding what I set out for, and getting a good bargain; or maybe I'm just a consumerist bourgeoisie pig - but the bottom line is that I have some solid hints for getting over your stumbling blocks when it comes to shopping - male or not. If you absolutely must bring up gender stereotypes, men are supposed to be good at getting a plan together - so let's all be Modern Men here, and scheme our way to an easier shopping experience.

Actually Know About Who You're Buying For
This seems obvious, but it's something that needs saying. If you're going to be parting with your hard-earned cash (or Student Finance's hard-earned cash) to buy presents for people you could arguably have bought for them at any other time of the year; then it stands to reason that you actually like them, and know something about 'em. By knowing some basic questions (something my experience in retail at GAME has made me start dubbing as 'Invite' questions), you can start to form a pretty good idea of what they'd like. These are questions like:
  • Do they have any hobbies? (This question makes nerds incredibly easy to buy for)
  • What colours do they normally wear? (Clothes shopping has now become much simpler)
  • Is there an author/artist/genre they follow? (They like Tim Burton movies? That's a huge clue... Defriend them.)
  • Are they in need of specialist tools? (Cooking, sports goods, audio equipment...)
If you can't actually answer these questions, then you probably don't know them well enough for you to be buying them gifts. Awkward if that's a family member or your significant other, but don't let a holiday custom force you to spend money.

Research, Research, Research
Even if you don't intend to do your shopping on the internet, it's more valuable than just access to Facebook. Almost every magazine-site and blog that cover some form of merchandise are putting out Christmas lists of suggested purchases; you're spoilt for ideas. Amazon and similar sites have customer reviews, so you can get a rough idea if that pair of headphones you're getting will crumble into pieces in under a month.

Furthermore, if you're going clothes shopping, checking out the website of the brand is going to save you a lot of wandering around to see if they have a blouse with the correct colour and neckline your housemate wanted. Knowing what you want and where you can get it will save you the embarrassing moments where you stand stock-still looking confused and scared. The other customers will judge you if you do that - goodness knows you don't want the ire of people you will never meet.

When To Put Your Plan in Motion
Ideally, as far away from Christmas as possible, but you already knew that. Your most sensible bet would be when you know the shops you visit receive new stock; it lowers the odds of your target gift being sold-out.

If crowds aren't your thing, you're going to have to go shopping at either the very start or very end of the shopping day. People don't get the idea of getting up early for Retail Therapy until January Sales, so you'll be relatively safe. If you're lucky enough to be in York this December, the high road shops will be open until 8pm every Thursday up until Christmas.

And of course, if you really hate crowds, shop online. Don't be a hero.

Other Hints and Tips
  • Accessory/Lingerie Shopping isn't Mandatory! - One concern/complaint I've heard regards dudes who are terrified and lost when it comes to buying certain items for their ladyfriends. I can sympathise with that, La Senza, Claires, and their ilk are some of the very few places where catering to men aren't at the top of their list. But think for a minute - were you expressly asked to get someone earrings or underwear? Mightn't they have some other interest that you can cater to without sticking out like a sore thumb? Getting a thong for your girlfriend might not go so well; and getting a thong for someone who isn't your partner definitely isn't going to go well.
  • Don't be afraid to just ask what people want - Let's face it; for a lot of the people on your Christmas list, you wouldn't be spending money on them at any other time of the year; let's not have illusions of undue benevolence. Asking about what they want sounds taboo; but giving someone something they don't want will bruise that ego of yours far more. If they are also under the illusion of benevolence, they may even say "I don't want anything", at which point you've got it made.

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