Oct 21, 2008

Guys' Christmas Shopping Guide.

First things first. 

Can we all agree to make 2008 The Year We Make Greeting Cards History? For the price of a cup of coffee, you will be able to give someone... a cup of coffee! You know why? Because you won't be spending the month of December sweating dozens of over-priced greeting cards that have sub-Bazooka Joe humour levels.

And don't get me started on thank-you cards. Thank you cards exist for one reason, and one reason only: punishing eleven-year-olds who got more stuff than you. Here's the deal: I buy you a gift, you buy me a gift. It's over.

No cards. No notes. Whether this exchange occurs on Christmas, Arbor Day, or the third Sunday after the New Moon on Monday, we both silently agree that we could have bought better stuff for ourselves, and let it go.

So where were we? Oh yeah, Christmas gifts for you and yours.

Presents have never been my specialty. It is safe to say that my obituary will not include the words, "gift-giver" alongside "ballbuster". When I was fifteen, I accidentally discovered my Dad's stash... not of porn - that was much easier to find. What I unearthed below the bathroom sink and behind the Drano, was Dad's Graveyard of Crap Gifts I'd given him over the years (i.e. five progressively dustier bottles of English Leather). I can totally understand that he didn't want to throw them into the garbage - he obviously appreciated the gesture and didn't want to hurt my feelings. But I now appreciate that he didn't want to smell like the trunk of a '61 Vauxhall, either.

But buying a gift for a man is easy. You can't really go wrong. Women are a little different... in much the same way that a Scotch Bonnet pepper is different than say, Spicy Velveeta Dip. You want proof? I once bought my mom a potted plant for Mothers Day. I was in such a rush to buy anything, I didn't realize it was plastic... until I saw her face as I handed it over. It was like giving a toddler a chocolate-covered scorpion - a grateful smile touched her eyes, then slowly morphed into a grimace of restrained horror.

This was my first foray into the delicate world of What Women Actually Want. The funny thing is, I believe that a plastic plant is a completely logical (read: male) way of showing everlasting love for a woman. What exactly is the message of fresh-cut flowers? "Here, honey. This embarrassingly overpriced bouquet represents my love for you: fresh and fragrant the moment I need to impress you, but now wilting, and completely dead by Thursday."

When dealing with women, a man soon learns to ignore "logic". Spock may have been the smartest, but Kirk got the babes; green or otherwise.

So the question remains. What are you going to buy your girl? As stupid as this sounds, you should just ask her. Personally, I dig surprises; but my understanding is that most women don't. Any guy who has ever shown up at his wife's office on Valentine's Day dressed in a leotard with a red heart painted on his face can attest to this... oh yeah, like I'm the only one.

If you don't feel right telling your significant other that you've completely and utterly given up, ask her best friend. The best-friend will agree to give it some thought. She will then wait a respectable six or seven picoseconds and phone your girlfriend to ask her why you are such a clueless loser. The girlfriend then gets back to you, and, whammo! You're done. If your better-half has no friends, ask her mom; ask her co-workers; ask that guy she has drinks with on Friday nights when you're out of town... okay, maybe not him. He's probably busy.

At the very least, ask the light-of-your-life what price range she's comfortable with. (Survival tip: always add 30% to this figure.) On a lark, I've just Googled: "girlfriend, christmas gift, $100". Guess what? Ideas. Tons of ideas. You think the internet exists to not part you with your money? The best things in life are free, for everything else there's PayPal.

Now, if you absolutely insist on doing it the hard way, it helps to know what not to do. (A good rule-of-thumb is to ask your best friend, then do the opposite.)

  • Don't... buy her "vintage" lingerie from eBay.
  • Don't... buy an expensive combo gift that "doubles as a birthday present" - unless you plan on sleeping alone on her birthday.
  • Don't... buy her a DVD that you can't stand. How many times do you think you can fake it through 'Pride and Sensibility', starring Dame Gwynyth Bonham Kleenex?
  • Don't... buy her a ring that isn't an engagement ring. Are you seriously going to enquire about her ring size, then show up with that piece of quartz you saw her glancing at in Wasaga Beach?
  • Don't... buy her a gift certificate to anything with the words "Cajun", "Extreme" or "Pot-Limit". In fact, if you - as a male - register any interest in the gift, you're already in trouble.
And don't... I repeat, do not buy her a gym membership or exercise equipment. Even if she pleaded with you, e-mailed to remind you, and then stapled a SuperFitness brochure to your forehead. This is her war - and you don't want any part of it, big guy.

Finally, if you plan on taking her to a Swiss Chalet, it better be in Switzerland, Diamond Jim.

Here's a Bonus Tip: Buy another gift. This one should be around $30 and it's bought in case she out-spent you. It also helps take the sting out of a main gift that went over like a dutch oven. Don't put it under the tree! Keep it hidden. This is your Get Out of Jail card if you ignored my advice and got her a bulk tin of Slim Fast or Call of Duty VII: Die, Commie, Die!

So now you're saying, okay smart-guy. You know so much. What are you buying your wife this year? Answer: I have no freakin' clue. Off the top of my head, I'd say something personal. It's way better to give something cheap and thoughtful, than something expensive and cliched. Just bump it up a little higher than "macaroni with gold spray-paint" and you're on your way. Blow up and frame that photo she likes... Get her a first edition of her favorite book... Take her to that B&B she mentioned in the spring. If you can show her that you paid attention to one single, solitary thing she has said over the past calendar year, you're on the on-ramp to Mistletoe City.

The only exception to the "cliches no good" rule is... a puppy. If you've absolutely hit the wall; if you're frozen like a deer in headlights that's been dunked in liquid nitrogen, you can always cough up a cool 1700 bucks and buy her a mini-Cujo. Say what you want, puppies are Kryptonite. (It's just that the side-effects of this Kryptonite isotope are late-night whining and urine-scented carpets.)

And, finally, what if it's 5PM on December 24th and your reading this in line at the Beer Store? Well, buddy... unless your gal likes exotic microbrews, you're up the Creemore; because there's only one thing left that could possibly keep you out of the soup kitchen tomorrow night... Proposing.

And don't bother sending me a thank-you card when she says yes.

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