I did most of my Christmas shopping in the UK this weekend.
This has less to do with the fact that I am arguably the most organised lady in the Northern Hemisphere, and more to do with yuletide hazards such as overshooting airline baggage allowances and dislocating shoulders. I am thoroughly fed up with only being able to buy lightweight, non-breakable presents for my family and then having to cart them across the Channel for our Christmas visit to Yorkshire. This weekend for a four day stay in the UK with Tadpole (but sans Frog) the unwieldy bag weighed in at a healthy 15 kilos. As usual, I only had a couple of changes of underwear, the rest belonging to Tadpole. Steering the pushchair with one hand upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport, we then proceeded to do 2 laps around circular terminal 1 (one clockwise lap inside the baggage hall, followed by an anti-clockwise lap outside to reach the taxi ranks) during which I could feel my right shoulder straining to leap out of its socket.
A mound of presents is currently residing (wrapped and labelled, so I don’t forget which is which) at the parental home. But certain aspects of Christmas shopping in the UK made the experience rather less pleasurable than I had hoped.
Firstly, in a trend which seems to be worsening every year, the high street shops have given over the lion’s share of their floorspace to ‘Christmas tat’: arrays of shiny, nasty looking gift boxes, with a pink aisle for the ladies and a black/silver/navy aisle for the gentlemen. You would have to be so uninspired to buy one of these items: everything screams ‘I don’t know you/like you very much/give a toss and I have no imagination.’ But, irritatingly, these offending items were of course occupying the very floorspace where the very thing I was looking for should have been. And was no longer as it has clearly gone into temporary hibernation. Grrr.
In the unlikely event that I did manage to find what I was looking for, I then had trouble paying for it. The UK has finally got around to introducing a chip and pin system, in an attempt to curb credit card fraud. My French (debit) cards all have chips on them (in French such a card is called a carte à puce, as puce means ‘flea’ and ‘dearest’ but also ‘microchip’) and I can’t remember a time since I’ve lived here when this system was not in operation.
But here’s the snag: the UK chip readers don’t read French cards. So inevitably in every shop, the assistant would:
1. try to read the chip with the spanking new card reader
2. get an error message
3. look very puzzled*
4. try again
5. scratch his/her head
6. (optional) ask for another (French) card
before 7. eventually swiping the first card successfully in the old style reader and obtaining my signature.
Explaining that I had encountered the same problem five minutes earlier on a different floor of the very same shop did not speed up the process at all. Instead of proceeding directly to step 7, they just continued to perform the same elaborate ritual. On one instance my card did not function at all and I was obliged to go to the nearest cashpoint and withdraw cash (which of course my French bank will enjoy charging me extra for). In the face of such adversity I had to be very motivated indeed to complete my shopping marathon undeterred. Which is where all the junk food snacks listed in the ‘post’ below came in handy.
The remainder of my Christmas shopping will take place in classy Parisian shops with a backdrop of a bare minimum of tacky Christmas displays and a free gift wrapping service. Vive la France!
Now all I have to do is work out a cunning strategy for transporting all the Christmas presents we will receive in the UK from our extended family (mostly large toys for Tadpole) back to France again. We have a 50 kilo baggage allowance between us and are staying for a week.
Something tells me I will have to make a noble sacrifice and manage without a change of underwear…