in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked

Monday, December 10, 2007

Owe Ho Ho Ho (no free gifts)

Every year, or so it seems, the price of icy poles rises, Mars Bars get smaller and Christmas begins a week or two earlier. You could say that these changes are ‘constant changes’; always differing, but in exactly the same way, at a regular rate, and just enough to really fuck with your head. But one thing that never changes – a ‘constant constant’ of Christmas, if you will – is the rising sense of dread at the cheerless thought of having to buy gifts for people who have to buy gifts for you: your sleazy boss; your (emotionally) distant aunty with halitosis (and her despicable crazy rat dog); your aggressively dull thieving brother in-law; even your bushbeast step-mother who, no doubt, has had to offer a little something more to make you smile than the soft grunt she issues every year after gutsing the last of the potato salad, only moments before dropping her annual bad boy in your toilet.

This ‘constant constant’, the yearly feeling of rising dread, is caused by an openly inadmissible fact: none of this is done freely. If you think you give because you want to, close your eyes, think of those in your social world, and then imagine its death by way of the following scenarios: refusing to give, refusing to receive, refusing to reciprocate. Think about a failure to give, receive or reciprocate, and consider the offence it will cause, and what it will do for your social standing with your friends, your extended family and your workmates – even those you are indifferent to, and especially those that you hate. Owe ho ho, you’re trapped, muthafucker! It’s as inescapable as the credit card debt you’re about to plunge yourself even further into buying all those gifts (and the far more expensive ‘coping compensators’ you get for yourself). This is precisely what gifts are for – they’re designed to bind, to forever Mary J. oblige you to something you would rather not have been involved in to begin with. If Christmas makes you feel trapped and depressed, there’s probably a good reason why.

Those of you presently working casual jobs (in anticipation of an impending debt) who have been ‘informed’ about the workplace Kris Kringle will know the score. You may not want to receive something you don’t care for from someone you don’t care about. Who does? Nor do you want to give something you chose with care to someone who doesn’t care for it. And you certainly don’t want to reinforce such a system by supporting it, further strengthening the endless web of reciprocal present-giving with people you only spend time with because you have to. And yet, unless you cite a peculiar religious taboo (which will itself mark you as the abominable office ‘alien’), there is no polite way to refuse. These days, it’s not enough to have to do a poorly paid, difficult job you dislike without complaint – you’re supposed to be cheerful about it. To the maniacal workplace goody-goody (the one who takes it upon his/herself to organise and micromanage infernal things like Kris Kringle and that stupid system where everyone is obliged to put in for everyone else’s birthday gift), any sign of scroogy gripe is a signal of imminent mutiny that calls for a slow rolling of the eyes, a patient sigh, or maybe even a lecture on the spirit of giving.

Operating in such a system, the only sane response is one of cheerful resignation. The whole stupid cycle is as inescapable as the other ‘constant constants’, so take my advice: don’t grumble, go along with it, open your wallet, give a little Mars Bar (my, that is a little Mars Bar) and smile. It’s either that, or the cuckoo option of joining the wild-eyed maniacs in the ‘organising committee’. Anything else is social death and will see you mistrusted, despised and eventually shunned. Your workplace may be a cuckoo’s nest, but the ‘refuser’ and the ‘grudging co-operator’ are the ones who flew over it in the eyes of Ms Kringle. You’re the oddball, you’re the cheerless bitch, you’re the grumblebum. Essentially, if you want to stay on good terms with everyone, you have NO courteous choice in the matter. Gifts are not freely given, they are the least free things in the world. They are designed to enmesh you in infinite obligation toward people you would (in many cases) never voluntary choose to spend time with. And they do a bloody good job.

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PC is an animal of the antipodes believed to be related to a gibbon.