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Shopping tips for beginners - how your can avoid being 'nice' to your loved ones

Opinion

Too small or too ostentatious – too expensive or just too darn cheap. Christmas shopping is dangerous territory, but “nice” might just be the faintest praise of all, writes Michael Blucher

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Tricky business, this Christmas gig, particularly after all we’ve endured this year. Talk about stressful.

Not that any female needs reminding, but it’s a time of year that actively involves at least two (of countless) things that men are not particularly good at – shopping and decision-making.

When circumstances conspire that the two be performed concurrently, disappointment is always going to be a near neighbour.

Not heartfelt enough, not expensive enough, too expensive, too closely associated with the carrying out of household chores, or the preparation of nightly meals. And my particular favourite – the all-encompassing dismissal – “it’s nice, but it’s not what I would have chosen myself”. Nice. Now there’s a nice word.

Yes, there are lots of ways we can get it wrong. And while there’s always the fallback of exchange, this requires the tendering of the receipt, an unveiling capable of igniting a whole new wave of disappointment.

That’s not to say we never hit the mark. I remember quite a few years ago, after a nine-hour lunch, bowling over all my Christmas shopping responsibilities in one alcohol-infused frenzy. A dozen presents, in under two hazy hours. The following day, during the gift-unwrapping ceremony, there was smile after smile. What made this giving experience all the more rewarding – none of the gifts had been requested. They were all a surprise.

Even to me.

I remember sharing my unscripted success story with a few mates – one of them I know adopted the formula and ran with it for years, right up until the time of his divorce. I guess even the best strategies have a shelf life.

I will say this – as complex a task as Christmas shopping might be for married men, it’s a damn sight easier than it was when you were single and “just going out”.

That presented a whole raft of different challenges, many of them centred around the principle of parity. Do you go big and make an impression? Or do you play it cool, pick up something small and nifty, in a more modest price bracket, safely avoiding any inference of “try-hard” or “over-eagerness”?

The worry, of course, in both instances is that you’ll go one way, and she’ll go the other. Then it’s really awkward.

In my bachelor days, I had one mate (who may or may not have been English) who could never seem to get it right, though it must be said, he traditionally played the “unders”. One year I remember his girlfriend arriving at his unit – “one small room”, we called it – with a full battery of expensive gifts, all meticulously wrapped.

With each unveiling, he sweated more and more profusely, to the point he was drenching the carpet. A Country Road shirt – thank you, I love that colour, a Ralph Lauren sweater – magnificent choice, my favourite brand, some expensive aftershave – how good is that, I’ve seen the ads on TV. I think there might have even been a pair of golf shorts, tailored to measure.

Then it was her to turn to be lavished. Can you imagine her delight when she peeled the tatty brown paper off the small, single parcel, and found a pair of sports socks and a flimsy activewear top, which had been plucked without thought from the shelves of Big W late the previous afternoon?

Well … more champagne?

Oddly enough, their relationship unravelled before New Year. As for the socks and the ill-fitting activewear garment, I don’t think she even took them home. Yes, the law of reciprocity is a complex one – at times, achieving parity can be nigh on impossible.

It wasn’t all bad news – his new girlfriend was very impressed with his immaculate dress sense, and enjoyed the aftershave.

On the strength of my questionable track record, it’s probably not worthwhile, trying to help my male comrades with suggestions of suitable gifts for the special lady in their life this Christmas.

But girls, on the off-chance you’re still looking for present ideas for your fella, which is probably unlikely this close to the day – my wife finished shopping in September – I’d go down the following safe path:

Hardware vouchers – always good. Support the smaller outlets if you can – besides, getting anyone to serve you in the bigger chains can be a challenge. Exotic beverages with daunting alcohol/volume readings – they’re always well received. Or even something vintage, for instance, a one-off whisky that exudes success, however misleading or inappropriate that might be.

The other thought – and you’re probably not going to like it but it’s a sure-fire winner – 100 complimentary brownie points, with no expiry date. To be redeemed at “his” discretion, without recourse. There’s not a bloke in the world that would look that gift horse in the mouth.

Stuff we don’t necessarily want or – for that matter – need: Ties. One, nobody wears them anymore more, and two, on the rare occasion we have to, the old ones covered in gravy will do just fine.

Anything to do with navigation – give that a miss. We know where we’re going. Clothes – not ideal. We’re aware you always buy them a little too small, probably in the hope that we’ll lose some weight. That’s not going to happen anytime soon – we’re happy just the way we are.

Books – books are OK, but there are a few subject matters off-limits. Barbecuing, for instance. We already know what we are doing on that front. More to the point, anything with instructions, as you’re well aware, will be ignored.

Vouchers for body treatments, massages etc. We can see straight through that. You know we won’t get around to going, and then two days before the voucher expires, you’ll use it. That’s hardly cricket.

Finally and most importantly, no socks. You don’t buy us groceries for Christmas – so why buy us socks? For most working males, socks are a tool of trade – a necessity, not a treat. If we don’t wear them to work, the chances are we’ll never wear them.

At the lowest level, they’re insulting.

Just ask the Sweaty Pom.

Happy shopping.

Happy Christmas.

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