Fiona McCade: Bearing gifts, they haven’t travelled far

Men might not be practical about gifts ' but at least they're generous. Picture: Getty
Men might not be practical about gifts ' but at least they're generous. Picture: Getty
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Wise men don’t waste their time chasing a bargain – they just end up spending a fortune on last-minute presents, writes Fiona McCade

There is a reason why the men’s section in department stores is often to be found on the ground floor, or in the basement. Not only do architects and designers take customer psychology into account, they are also often men themselves, so they know from personal experience that when they are shopping, men prefer not to do stairs, lifts, or even escalators if they can possibly help it. The retailer that puts its menswear department on its very top floor won’t sell much. And that, ladies, is why we usually end up climbing to get to where our stuff is.

I remember whenever my dad wanted a new shirt, he would go straight to the first shop he knew the name of and make for the men’s section. So long as there were no stairs – or indeed a change of level of any description – between him and his target, he would find where the shirts were and the first one he touched that was in his size, he would buy.

Like many gentlemen, he considered this exercise to be so unbearably onerous, it would be repeated as few times as possible during his life.

I should probably have started out by mentioning that the only reason my father was ever forced to brave the horrors of a retail establishment was because, on rare occasions, my mother wasn’t available to do it for him. If he had only been born a decade or two later, he would have sorted everything on the internet, but I still don’t think he would have done much more than click on the first thing he saw in his size.

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A survey for Flubit, the online discount marketplace, has come to the conclusion that men spend more on Christmas gifts than women do. At first, I thought this was madness. How can they spend more? They hate shopping! Then it dawned on me that there must be method in it. After all, the very first thing you find in any shop – real or virtual – is rarely the cheapest.

If my mother had ever been fool enough to ask my father for a diamond, the only thought to occur in his profoundly literal, shopping-averse, male brain would have been: “Di…a…mond…where…to…get…?” and he’d have gone straight to the Tower of London and tried to lift the Koh-I-Noor. Simples.

Another reason why men spend more than women at Christmas is because they give up quicker.

They haven’t the stamina of a woman on the scent of a really good deal. Almost all the men I know would rather rip off their own feet than put time and effort into choosing a present for someone. I don’t blame them; I hate shopping too, but somehow, that second X chromosome of mine forces me out into the world and pushes me on and on, brutal and unflinching, until I bag a bona fide bargain. Only when my genes are absolutely satisfied that I have got the best deal possible will they allow me to rest.

O lucky men, you don’t have this problem.

A few years ago, my sister-in-law told her now ex-boyfriend what she wanted for Christmas. I can’t remember the exact details – I seem to recall that Viggo Mortensen featured quite heavily – but anyway, she asked for a CD, a DVD and a book. And that’s exactly what he got her. A CD, a DVD and a book. Not the CD, the DVD or the book she had so carefully specified, but pretty much the first ones he found on Amazon. It was a mistake – not least because the film he chose was The Straight Story, where a man drives a lawnmower across America, very, very slowly. Viggo Mortensen is not in it.

We all appreciate how much the internet has saved us from the sheer exhaustion of traipsing up and down the high street on wet winter nights, desperately looking for stuff to buy, but far from saving us money, I think we end up spending more when we shop online.

And if a bargain-driven, Scrooge-like female like me can say that, imagine how much the average lazy man must be spending.

The fact is that in bygone, pre-internet times, our loved ones would say what they wanted and then we would try to get it for them. Quite often, we would fail. True, we would then perhaps buy something even more expensive to make up for their disappointment, but not always (or ever, in my case).

These days it is almost impossible not to get what you want.

If the gift of your dreams can’t be found on one website, it can on another. If it exists on our planet, you will track it down eventually. Just keep trying until you get it imported from China.

So, whereas a child might once have been lucky to get half of the things on its Christmas list, the little beggars now expect to receive everything they’ve demanded. And if other households are anything like mine, chances are that because Daddy can’t resist the sparkly, feel-good lure of pleasing his precious baby, he’s bought it all.

Now that the threat of having to pound the streets on Christmas Eve and max out their credit cards on unwise, last-minute purchases has passed into history, you would think that men everywhere would plan their present-buying more wisely, but no. They’re still maxing out their credit cards on unwise, last-minute purchases. They’re just doing it at home, in their underwear.

I think when it comes to Christmas shopping, men tend to spend more because they can’t always be bothered to be selective.

This year, as usual, I’ll probably get about 20 things my man hopes I’d like, rather than the one thing I’d really like. But try as I might, I can’t fault his generosity.

Perhaps that’s why it’s Father, and not Mother, Christmas who always delivers.

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