As someone who is reasonably widely travelled, it never fails to amaze me at how consumerist British society is. I occasionally used to go shopping at my local 24-hour Tesco at 10 o’clock at night but eventually gave up because it was always just as busy, no matter what time I went. Even the Americans, widely derided as the shopping-est people on the face of the earth, don’t have the same sustained commitment to Wal-mart and K-mart that we do to Tesco and Sainsbury. Every morning when I drive past, the parking lots at my local shops are full. All year long. I can’t really understand how retailers don’t make money, because the shops are always heaving.
And woe betide us all when the shops dare to close for a day or two. Shelves are emptied by people preparing for a nuclear winter, not just having the shops shut for a couple of days.
Here’s a little experiment: in the week before Christmas, have a look at the number of apparently sensible people who will walk out of the shops with more than one loaf of bread. It really is like they’re stocking up for Armageddon: candles, mountains of bread, cartons of cans and more food than you can eat in a month. All, apparently, because the shops will be closed for two consecutive days.
And then, after Christmas, while we’re all still rolling around from a turkey overdose, the sales start. Just when you thought buyers couldn’t crank it up any more, they really let it all hang out.
When I look at this, I only have one question: why?
Why are people always in the shops?
Why do they go berserk when the shops are closed for a day?
And why (oh why!) do they follow up the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy with an even bigger one?
This isn’t a maudlin call for a return to the true meaning of Christmas or anything as hackneyed as that, but why, when we, as a nation, are so completely on our uppers, are throwing money we don’t have at things we don’t want or need?