In The Mouth Of The Gift Horse

Eating Over The Sink

What should I buy for [fill in the blank yourself] for Christmas? That’s a phrase guaranteed to send fear and panic in all directions. But, as usual, I’m here, to the rescue.

Since I know that money is no object with my readers, let me suggest a few things. You can hire Tommy LaSorda to talk baseball with your best friend for $50,000, or you can get Norman Schwarzkopf to talk terrorism with your mother-in-law for around $100,000. Jerry Seinfeld will probably agree to talk to your Cousin Agnes about nothing at all, for a mere $550,000.

These gifts are too impersonal, you say? Well, how’s about sending your boyfriend to a New Zealand recreational area where they’ll seal him up in a giant air-filled bubble, and roll him down the hill, for about $250 plus airfare. Or you can buy a Rubber Band Machine Gun, featuring twelve rotating barrels and a live action trigger so that your half-brother can release an unrelenting barrage of rubber bands against the other employees in his machine shop. Only $395. A bargain.

Buying gifts. What, how, and why? Questions abound, and Seekers search the Answers. I’ll tell you how it all works in a minute, but first, a few comments on research.

I suppose that, in the Big Scheme of Things, one research project is pretty much the same as another. They’re all intended to contribute to the Mass of Accumulated Knowledge, to the Things That We Know. Front and center: The research project of our current conversation, to wit, “What are the factors that influence how we shop for Christmas presents, and What influences our decision-making in this regard?”

I guess that the marketing folks who are involved in this endeavor feel that this information is sadly lacking from the aforementioned Mass of Accumulated Knowledge, and that adding their findings will result in substantial betterment of the human race. And, perhaps they’re right. Far be it from me to make a judgement on this issue. I only stand to serve, and being your source of vital information, I am doing my part by alerting you to the fact that this study actually exists.

The group who designed the Christmas Shopping Behavior study wanted answers to questions like, What kinds of “pleasures” does the shopper experience from doing the shopping deed? What are the shopper’s strategies for “social risk reduction”? In other words, how does the shopper prevent the chosen gift from looking seedy and cheap? And, What are the “psychological risks” the shopper is willing to withstand during the undertaking of the shopping ordeal? Like the risk of not finding a parking space in the same county as the mall.

So far so good. Now, for the benefit of those of you who have never participated in a Meaningful Study, let me explain that after you pose such questions, you are then supposed to suggest answers, so you that can prove or disprove them during the course of the investigation. The group designed the study, and I am presenting a summary of their work, below. Promise me you won’t laugh.

I don’t know what the researchers actually called their hypotheses, but we will refer to them as the Laws of Christmas Yet to Come.

Law #1:
The better you know the recipient of the gift, the more likely you are to know what that person would like, so you’ll spend less time shopping for it. (To which I say, Duh!)

Law #2:
People who love to shop will invest more time in doing so. (To which I say, again, Duh!)

Law #3:
A shopper who is accompanied by someone else will spend less time hunting a gift than if the shopper were alone. (Need I say it again?)

Law #4:
The less time a person has to shop, the more he will rely on help from clerks and other in-store personnel, and the less he will rely on browsing and product examination. (Ditto.)

Law #5:
Whether or not a shopper asks for assistance from a store clerk depends on the circumstances at the time, a factor the study-designers called “situational variables”. (Double doses of Duh!)

Law #6:
Whether or not a shopper relies on in-store displays depends more on the location of the display, and less on the social class and spending power of the shopper. (Who thinks up this stuff?)

Law #7:
If the recipient has told the shopper what to buy, the shopping should take less time. (Sigh)

Law #8:
Variables such as the age, amount of education, and family size will influence the hunt for presents. (Please wake me up when this is over.)

Law #9:
Men and women tend to be different in their shopping behavior, men typically spending less time and effort in shopping than women. (zzzzzzzzz)

Law #10:
The more difficult the recipient, the more time a shopper will spend trying to get just the right gift. (Yeah, right.)

Okay. So, after proposing these Laws, the researchers sent out a lot of questionnaires, and then rooted around in the answers they received, looking for Significant Associations and Marketing Insights. They could have saved a lot of time and money by simply asking me.

Modest as I am, I could have told them right off that no one spends more time trying to get ‘just the right gift’ for the difficult sister-in-law they don’t like anyway. And, as for the rest of the Laws…

Let’s just change the subject. Forget Christmas Behavior Laws. Relax. Put your feet up. The holiday season is really very simple, if you follow Uncle Zack’s Plan. Only buy things that won’t be here by Valentine’s Day. Champagne, mushroom or goose pate, flavored mustards, imported cheeses, olives stuffed with almonds or with garlic, or (my personal favorite), a variety of short bottles of hot sauce with great names like ‘Satan on Your Spoon,’ or ‘Breath of That Thing Over There.’


Zack Grady and Glorious Spouse will spend Christmas with Santa, under the palm trees in Southern California.

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Eating Over The Sink

ZACK GRADY writes from Southern California. He reads cookbooks, but mostly, he just adds garlic and hot sauce.

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