Cory Farley, voted "Best of Reno" 26 times in 27 years by readers of his column in the Reno Gazette-Journal, takes an unconventional look at topics from presidential elections to the best way to cook Brussels sprouts.

Location: Verdi, Nev, United States

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Eight ways to a merrier Christmas

Off to start the shopping today with three vague goals and one firm one.
We'll leave the vague ones alone, else there'll be no surprises. The firm one, though, was that I would notice something cheerily Christmaslike and be uplifted by it.
This Space has long-standing problems with the yuletide season, not all of them because it's cold enough to freeze the brass off a bald monkey.
The whole Buying thing, for a start, grinds me down. Giving a gift, however heartfelt, isn't enough. It has to be the perfect gift, one the recipient has always wanted but never would have thought of.
I'm not a religious person--Christ didn't die for my sins; I hadn't committed any yet--but one more fool talking about "giving the kids a great Christmas" when he really means scoring a Wii when the neighbors couldn't could push me over the edge. Call me Scrooge, but I think it's possible to know the true meaning of Christmas without melting down your Visa card.
Back when I had hopes, I used to imagine a consumer rebellion: What if people just quit buying?
Not permanently, mind. I had in mind a temporary boycott, like those silly No-Gas Days that are supposed to bring the oil companies to heel, and might if we didn't all fill our tanks the day before. For just one Christmas, what if all the downtrodden consumers agreed to observe the holidays in some fashion that didn't lead to bankruptcy, societal bloat and environmental ruin?
My personal Christmas wouldn't be religious; that's just not important to me. It would include family, a few friends, maybe a football game at the park or on television. If you want to devote it to worship, though, we still have something in common: Neither of us needs to spend ourselves into sleeplessness.
But that, as I said, was back when I had dreams and thought the world could be perfect. These days I'll settle for just not being pissed off.
I felt bad about selling out like that, and reluctantly mentioned it to a friend.
"So?" he said. "Not being pissed off is the best anybody can hope for."
It follows, then, that not pissing people off is the best anyone can do. Which brings us, willy-nilly, to the Eight Rules You Must Not Break Between Now and Christmas. Remember these and see if your life goes more smoothly:
8. Take the first open parking spot.
You've seen it many times: In search of a slot that will save 15 seconds of walking, a driver will spend five minutes idling while somebody finds her keys, opens the SUV, unloads four shopping bags, straps two kids in, then makes a cell phone call before pulling out.
Take the open spot. You'll be ahead in the end.
7. Avoid boorishness.
Wednesday in front of Kohl's, I saw six cars back up behind a man who idled at the red curb while his wife (or whatever) went into the store. He sat there despite the Christmas crush and a couple of polite taps on a couple of horns. When somebody finally leaned on the button, he waved impatiently and whined, "I'm waiting for my wife."
The guy behind, in an old pickup with a push bumper, dropped into low range, edged up behind the offending vehicle and gently pushed it a few feet.
"Move it or I'll shove your *** into the street," he bellowed.
Any responsible adult, of course, has to deplore this kind of vigilantism. For my part, I gave the guy a thumbs up and envied him the rest of the day.
6. Remember you're shopping in the 21st century.
The clerk doesn't know if a garment runs large, small or true to size, whether it will shrink, fade or stretch or how it should be washed. The clerk can barely find the break room. Do the best you can from the label and keep the receipt.
5. Never count out more than five coins.
If the tab is $11.23 and you have a quarter, whip it out. If it's $11.88 and you have three dimes, five nickels and 33 pennies, keep it to yourself.
4. The clerk is not hitting on you. It's her job to be nice.
3. When the checker says, "How are you today?" she doesn't want a detailed answer.
"Fine" is fine. Keep the line moving.
2. Can't find something? By all means ask. The employees are there to help.
The time to ask, though, is when you're out on the floor, wandering among the merchandise. If you wait until the checker has rung up all your items, has a finger poised over the TOTAL key and asks, "Will there be anything else?" the only acceptable answer is a clear, "No, thank you."
1. Think ahead.
You're making a purchase, right? You'll have to pay, right? While the clerk is ringing things up, then, would be a convenient time to find your wallet/cash/debit card/checkbook, and perhaps a pen, and--dare those behind you hope?--even your ID. Just on the off chance that you might be asked to show it, I mean.


Blogger DrSparks said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:49 PM  
Blogger TDH said...

I particularly like the one one about getting your money or card out. 99% of the time it never happens and you have to wait until they (women mostly) get money out and then go to the coin part and start counting out coins. Hopefully, some of the people that do this will see your column and make an effort to have things ready.

6:13 AM  
Blogger RiccardoB. said...

May I suggest two more? ( making it the prosaic "Ten item" list)

#9 Put your hopping cart back. Either in the little corral that some stores have out in the parking lot, or with the rest of the carts by the door. I shouldn't have to explain how this will help everybody out. For bonus points, on your way in to the store from that "first open parking spot you see" grab an abandoned cart and bring it on in with you. I do that even if I know I won't need a cart.

#10 Say "thank you" at every opportunity. It is almost shocking at Costco to watch the behavior of those people attached to the hands that grab for the free food samples as if they haven't had a taste of bacon bits or cheddar cheese in their entire lives.
One way to really knock people out of their self-involved boorish behaviour is to say "thank you" to them and get them wondering what you are thanking them for. Sometimes it is only that they didn't mow me over with their shopping cart, etc.
Happy Holidays.

6:53 AM  
Blogger Justin said...


Amen! I ALWAYS say "hello", "thank you", and "have a nice day". I also hold the door open for people behind me. It's sad to me how few people excersize common courtesy. Everyone is so preoccupied and self-involved.

As for Christmas in particular, I too wish for a simpler time when it was more about sharing with those close to us, and in many cases, those less fortunate than us. Now it's this insane month-long grind of decorating and shopping and wraping and office parties and secret santas and listening to nauseatingly cheery music, etc. This incredible pressure we all feel over a single day is just ridiculous. The message of the holidy has been totally lost in our ever increasing consumerism and greed for "more". I swear one of these years I'm going to go on vacation for the entire month of December. Well, maybe not, I too have (sadly) given up the fight.

8:18 AM  
Blogger tuzoner said...

I gave up Christmas cards over 30 years ago and exchanging gifts of any kind about 20.

And yet I have an extra scrooge factor that will easily trump Cory's: I don't give to charities or non-profits of any kind.


What is the efficacy of giving money to those whose main interest is keep the charity growing and whose interests are not necessary those that it serves?

Just ask two simple questions of your favorite charity:

May you send me a copy of your latest federal tax return to the showing income and expenditures?

Can you please disclose the salaries of those that are paid employees including executives and board members?

Two words: Good luck!

Oh... and Bah Humbug to all ;-)

9:20 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

We do not live in a polite society. I am not sure if we ever did.

Remember, people are stupid, or perhaps willingly ignorant.

Christmas, alas life is what you make of it.

I think about what I am doing, always. How do my actions affect those around me? How do their actions affect me? If what I know about how people are going to act is going to annoy me, I adjust. When going through a door at the store. People crowd the door that is open as if this is the only opportunity that will present it self, ever. I just stand back and wait for the fools to pass. I always give wide berth in all social situations. I do not so this to be polite, even though the end result suggest otherwise. I do it to avoid being frustrated by the cow mentality of the human race. What I keep in mind when out in public is that we are animals first and humans second. Given and more than not taken people will act like animals and only as humans when reminded that they are indeed human. We are taught from the earliest time in life to act like pack animals. We reinforce this in school with teams playing against each other, then schools against each other, then cities and so on. It is rare to find a teaching of what is equitable or fair. It is rare to find a teaching of how to treat others with considered though.

We do not live in a polite society.

10:56 AM  
Blogger DrSparks said...

Easy answer to this one CF--stay out of the stores. Although your buddy GWB would appreciate anything you can do for the economy the aggravation factor in December is just too great.

I have personally lowered my expectations for good service. I only expect it in expensive restaurants. If, by chance, an employee in any other establishment is at all helpful and/or polite I consider it a wonderful anomaly.

Remember that nobody from the RGJ is gonna call and make you write another "Get Your Car Ready for Winter/Summer/Dogs" so relax a little.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

What does it say about our society that so many (most?) of us hate what the holidays have become, and yet we participate in them anyway?

I watched Oprah's "favorite things" show yesterday (under duress, at my daughter's insistence) and audience members were being moved to tears by such gifts as an electronic facial scrubber (removes 90% more makeup!) and a high-tech refrigerator with a TV screen embedded in the door. Good grief. You'd think Elvis just walked in.

Within 10 minutes we were both yelling at the screen (like that would help). Even Charlotte, skilled consumer that she is, was like, "what is wrong with these people?"

Are we collectively insane? Have we been so brainwashed by the advertising industry that we can't get ourselves out of this rut?

Is it simply that we don't want to say "no" to the kids or steel ourselves against the inevitable backlash from inlaws or parents or whoever if we sit the holidays out?

I'd be perfectly happy for eternity if we skipped the gifts entirely and just had a nice potluck with friends.


3:39 PM  
Blogger ReconRanger said...

Some of us don't participate. Long ago, I lost any interest in participating in the insanity that begins long before Halloween. What few presents I feel obligated to buy I purchase on line. I haven't send a Christmas...uh, Holiday card in decades. December 25th is just another day to me.

Of course, I...I, uh...I don't love Jesus.

4:23 PM  
Blogger ReconRanger said...

Some of us don't participate. Long ago, I lost any interest in participating in the insanity that begins long before Halloween. What few presents I feel obligated to buy I purchase on line. I haven't send a Christmas...uh, Holiday card in decades. December 25th is just another day to me.

Of course, I...I, uh...I don't love Jesus.

4:23 PM  
Blogger stevex said...

Another request (expecially for Costco shoppers): when you run into a long-lost friend, please have the decency to move to an out of the way spot before catching up on the year's events. Caltrans employees would envy the way some of these boneheads block the fast lane in the middle aisle with the joyful reunions. Take a couple of seconds to move out of everyone's way.

7:47 PM  
Blogger ReconRanger said...


I once strolled the River Walk in San Antonio and had a long discussion with a college professor about the phenomenon you describe. He was contemplating doing some sort of study but I don’t know if he ever did. What he noticed as you did is that people tend to stop and chat at intersections of traffic flow. Whether it’s at the top of a stairwell, the intersection of grocery aisles, a doorway or the connection of two hallways, people seem to unconsciously prefer to pause and interact at those spots. It may be that those are places where the individuals will part and therefore they pause before parting. It may be that those are places where the individuals now have choices, even if they eventually choose to go in the same direction. As far as I know, no one knows. I agree, though, that it is highly irritating.

That leads to another issue I’m not willing to expand on in this post. Military members deployed overseas, though, regardless of where the go, are taught to maintain “situational awareness” at all times and have a “personal protection plan.” If your road-blockers and Cory’s shoppers just simply had situational awareness of the moment, which is to say being sensitive to what is going on around them and how their actions are affecting others, things might be a bit more cordial.

Long ago, in another life, I was squiring a child and a wife through the crowds of Anaheim’s Disneyland. After being shoulder-checked by a family of four intent on getting in line for an attraction, my wife expressed anger and frustration.

“You have to understand,” I said, “that you are not in their vacation.”

You have to understand that nearly every person on this planet does not include either you or me in their vacation.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Men also need to pay heed to being ready at the register. I stood behind plent of them struggling to get the wallet out of the too tight pants or too baggy pants, who could have been waiting, card in hand.

One another one, why do people still write checks. I find this most irritating, like they cannot come into our century or even our year!

No, I'm not a youngun, I'll be 65 in February.

3:34 PM  
Blogger sleet10 said...

Had an incident yesterday at one of our local establishments. A friend on mine went in to get a gift card, there was one get this one person in line ahead. This person had some purchases, went to pay for them, had to pull out her check book, had to find it first, write the check, had no credit card, needed her driver's license and of course a second piece of ID, the attendent had to write all the info down then had to put all the info into the register, ring it all up and finally gave the "person" a receipt, oh had to put all the 'stuff" in a bag, 10 minutes later my friend got her gift certicate, put it on her debt card and we left took all of 30 seconds. Frustration with the masses, as mentioned in many comments, try and make the best of a ever exploding commercial mess called Christmas, where the majority get depressed, spend way too much (takes most of the next year to pay for it) AND get out of their daily routines. The most absurb thing is this Wii thing, got to be kidding, the manufacturers have done this on purpose, wait until after Christmas when the price will be at least half or more. We really don't NEED these things right now, do we.

9:13 AM  
Blogger nutmeg said...

I loved your comment on not being boorish, and I share your gleeful appreciation of the actions of the fellow with the push truck.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...


Oh my I had a very hearty chuckle with the guy who pushed the car in front of him! I am not a Christmas fan either. Partly because I had horrible Christmas's growing up and swore off them. Then after I left home I decided, hmmmm - still don't want to participate. For awhile I made a big deal of it. Don't anymore, just do what I want to. Sometimes I send cards, sometimes I don't. I rarely buy gifts. But that may be for a stingy reason - if I'm going to buy a gift for someone, I want to buy it when I see it and I don't want to wait until Christmas when it won't be appreciated as much as when it is the only gift! I also am amused at the people who wait until everything is rung up and bagged up until they get out the check, money or credit card. That's when I peruse the magazines by the check-out counter.

On a happy note, I dine at a local restaurant on a regular basis. One time recently I went in and discovered I had left my card at home and had no cash. Oh my. I explained to the check out gal and after some talking among everyone, a manager came and comped my meal! Then, the other day, I had just enough cash to pay my bill no card, again) but not to tip the waitress. Apparently the check-out gal figured that out since I had bills and lots of change. She swiped a card into the cash register and said - I'm giving you my 20% discount. Amazing attention to customer service. The food is really good too!

Enjoy yourselvs, whatever the "season."


8:26 PM  

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