I know you all were hoping that this would be a continuation of India/Nepal 2012, but it’s not. But if you can indulge me and read on just a few more paragraphs, I promise this will all come full circle to some sort of relevance, I swear.
Even though Christmas has passed, I celebrate through Epiphany and beyond, mostly because I just put my Christmas decorations up at 1:15 on Christmas morning. It’s my little protest of the continued commercialization of Christmas that stores abuse earlier and earlier each year.
Ok fine, I was actually on vacation.
But beyond annoying songs about reindeer killing my grandmother, the movie Elf, and eggnog, there are several other things I truly deplore about Christmas, most notably shopping. To say I hate shopping is an understatement. It’s just that I can’t seem to do it without being on the verge of tears or murdering someone.
So it is much to my relief that the Andersons do not exchange gifts for Christmas. As Kevin so eloquently coined it this year, “Why would I waste my time with a superficial economic transaction to tell someone I love them?” I mean, the four of us still get presents from Santa, but we do not get anything for each other. So to answer your question, that means yes, our parents don’t get jack for Christmas. And as long as my presents still say “To Amanda From: Santa” I see no reason as to why I should get them anything. But before you call me a hipster (I am actually typing this from my swanky new tablet so am losing my street cred by the day) or the grinch (my favorite movie, in case you were wondering) or a spoiled brat (I have no counter for this one), hear me out.
I recently went on vacation to Morocco without them. The first time I went on a trip without the rest of my family, I was 16 and jetting off to play soccer in Italy and Spain with my high school team (Didn’t every suburban white kid go on a high school ‘cultural trip’ to Europe, or as I like to call it, tweenie bopper study abroad pregame?). Before I left that July, my Dad gave me the best travel advice that I have stood by to this day. He said, “There is nothing more stressful and distracting on a trip than having to buy souvenirs for friends and family, so just know that we don’t expect anything. We’d rather you have a good time!”
Actually, it probably went more like this, “We’d rather you have a good time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
It made sense then because at 16 I did not have a working income, and therefore anything I bought for my mom, dad, brothers and sister would be at my dad’s expense. I bet he didn’t think that at 23 I’d still be milking this as an excuse to absolve my conscious of embracing the spirit of giving, but I am. Yup, I’m that shallow.
But have an income now, so this time around I splurged in Morocco…sort of. Because the bar is set so low, my family is very easy to please when it comes to gifts. Take Morgan. Morgan is actually the easiest because she will never say she doesn’t like something. That is attributed to the notion that a) I have good taste b) Morgan is really nice and c) Morgan and I have similar tastes. She will refute the latter but her acceptance of my gifts suggests otherwise. Morgan’s gift requires the least thought because whatever I buy for myself, say a bracelet, I buy two of and give the other to Morgan. I just realized I left the bracelets in my suitcase and never gave one to Morgan when I saw her, and the next time I will see her will be May at the earliest. Fail.
Next up is the second easiest, Kevin. Kevin actually couldn’t care less if he actually gets anything. In fact, he might even be flattered if I told him, “You know Kevin, I looked high and low for the perfect gift for you, and nothing seemed to your standards.” Honestly. But he recently picked up the hobby of collecting postcards from cities he has visited. It’s a tad late to begin such a collection when you have already visited 30 + countries if you ask me, but regardless I am happy to oblige. Unfortunately, Kevin has never been to Morocco, so I cannot get him a postcard. Luckily, I had layovers in Frankfurt and Toronto, places he has visited pre-post card collecting, so I told him I would grab some on my way through. Almost missing both flights at my respective layovers left me barely any time for a gift shop run, so I tried but failed to get a single postcard for him. After Germany and Canada, I was flying home into Newark, and he hasn’t even been there. Fail #2.
My mom, though a woman who appreciates the finer things in life, namely brand jeans, shoes and purses, is also pleased rather easily. You see, my mom has two true loves: France and Britain. My Dad is further down the list, probably behind my brother Tim, Princess Diana and our deceased mastif, Sydney. It is of little matter that I did not visit France or the United Kingdom on my trip to Morocco; my mother would still most appreciate something Franco or Anglo-related. This requires me to be a tad creative, but Morocco made it relatively easy. Because it is a former French colony, EVERYTHING in Morocco is in French. Perfect. On top of that, Morocco is famous for its argan oil (Garnier’s latest shampoo uses it in it), and I happened to visit a region known for producing it. Outside of Morocco it is rather pricey, but I shelled out a rather reasonable 100 dirhams (today’s conversion rate= $11.86) for some argan oil hand cream. That’s another thing, hand cream. Laur loves a good hand cream, because as she loves to point out, she is the only one of her group of friends that washes dishes and cleans her own house, leaving her hands looking rough and wrinkly. While she is partial to the Royal Jelly brand, found at Boots’ stores everywhere, Moroccan hand cream with a label in french surely fits the bill.
Oh, you’ve never heard of Boots? It’s the British Walgreens, duh. That’s right, my mom may clean our house herself, but she imports her hand cream. Peasant or princess? You be the judge.
Tim’s souvenirs are the second-most unique of our family. As anyone Facebook friends with Tim would know, Tim is moderately possessed by pop, particularly Mountain Dew. If my mom purchases five 28 packs of pop, four are Mountain Dew for Tim. The other is a Coke Zero for the rest of us to share. But I digress, FF isn’t meant to be an oldest child rant mourning the lost qualities of discipline, sacrifice and punishment in a child-rearing household (or is it?). Tim collects pop cans and bottle from around the world. He has hundreds of them displayed on his shelves, almost wallpapering his bedroom. Orangina from Europe (the most underrated foreign drink of all time), Coke Light in reusable glass bottles from Zimbabwe, and weird Japanese fruity soft drinks are perfectly aligned and displayed in Tim’s lair.
So my choice in beverage on vacation is entirely driven by one thing: the can. Before ordering a drink, I ask myself three basic questions: Is it cool looking? Is it in another language? Does Tim have it already? Note one question not asked: Do I like the drink? In Morocco, the Coke Light bottles looked the same as they did in America, only they were glass. But the regular Coca-Cola ones were totally different, written in a beautiful Arabic script. I hate regular Coke, but regularly gulp it down for these reasons. Same goes for PepsiMax. It was a cool can and it was written in Arabic, so I went for it, even though all I really wanted was some tea. The added calories I consume for Tim’s sake makes this my most meaningful souvenir yet. The biggest downside is that the cans I bring back for Tim rarely survive, and therefore look pretty beat up when I give them to him. Fail #3. I am also sometimes required to steal the glass bottle from the restaurant, but it’s nowhere near being my worst souvenir offense.
That award goes to my father’s gift request. Given his “don’t worry about souvenirs while you are on vacation” mantra, it’s a bit ironic that he is the only one who explicitly asks for anything. In addition, his souvenirs are the most difficult to attain. They are neither rare, illegal or expensive, but nonetheless require me to break the law. In fact, he asks for two things at that: safety cards and vomit bags found in that little pocket in front of you on an airplane. According to my father, they are collector’s items and there is a huge underground market for these bad boys. You heard it first here. Of particular value are safety cards of planes that are no longer a part of an airline’s fleet (still on the hunt for a Concord safety card) as well as barf bags with the airline’s logo on it. This is because in a desperate attempt to cut costs, airlines stopped spending the money to customize the barf bags and instead began doling out generic barf bags to its passengers. This sounds like a great idea, because when you think about it, do passengers really care what bag they throw up in? I can assure that Tim Anderson does not, and he has puked on more flights than anyone I know. But in the name of preserving safety bags, Tim will make his way to the airplane’s restroom if he can instead of resorting to using the bags and enduring public humiliation.
But Paul Anderson surely cares. I have stolen so many safety cards that I am near-certain that at least one of the flights that took after I have deplaned and taken the safety card with me has had instances in which passengers actually needed to refer to the safety guide and/or throw up, only to find the safety card and barf bag removed. Because let’s be real, as many times as you have watched an airplane safety video, would you really know how to find your life vest that is supposedly underneath your seat if you needed to? I’ve looked before; I can’t find it. But maybe if all safety videos were like this awesome Air New Zealand one, I’d start paying attention.
Kevin and I recently discussed our own special strategies for stealing contraband airline items while making as little of a scene as possible. Kevin’s approach is to jack the items at the beginning of the flight, taking the card out and referring to it when the flight attendant is doing her critically-acclaimed theatrical performance that is the safety presentation. When the presentation is complete, you nonchalantly return the card and vomit bag to your backpack carry-on instead of its proper home, the seat pocket. This approach has many benefits, the first being that this makes you appear to be one of three considerate people on the plane that actually watch and follow along during the safety presentation, while the 257 other jerks on the plane like myself illegally listen to their iPod and or doze off before takeoff (and often both at once). They see you watching and paying attention. This puts you in the flight attendant’s favor early on, establishing yourself as an honest person who would never steal anything. They’ll never suspect you. Downside: you have to remember to put your backpack on the floor under the seat in front of you as opposed to the overhead storage bins.
My approach is different. I wait until the end of the flight. Because I have typically irresponsibly blown $30 at the airport shops, I have at least two magazines at hand along with some gum, a latte and if I’m in Europe, some Kinderbars (most underrated European candy of all time) that I stow away in the seat pocket. The magazines are clutch because at the end of my flight, I simply make sure the magazines are directly in front of the safety card and barf bag, and grab them all at once and slip them into my purse. Employing this strategy ensures that no one will ever see the safety card leave the seat pocket. To the untrained criminal eye, it appears as if I am simply taking my magazines with me. In the event that you do not have a magazine of your own, you may use the Duty Free catalog or the airline’s travel magazine. Those are easily replaceable.
Downside: sometimes I get overambitious and try to jack the passengers’ things next to me (Dad likes to have duplicates for trading purposes. Who does he trade with? I have no idea). I have been caught peeping in other people’s seat pockets. I have also stolen the vomit bag too early in the fight, causing my seatmate to ask me for my owen vomit bag because theirs is missing, unbeknownst to him that both are sitting in my backpack. But I can’t blow my cover and take it out of my backpack, so I resort to pretending to not speak English the rest of the flight. Again, this is why I recommend waiting until the end of the flight. If you have time on your side, wait until everyone else is off the plane, and you can steal to your little heart’s desire.
My dad’s request also impacts my airline selection. We have hundreds of United, Lufthansa and other Star Alliance barf bags (pre-logo and post-logo), so now the task grows increasingly more difficult to fly an airline that my dad has not flown. I only partially succeeded in that respect, flying United, Lufthansa, Air Canada, Royal Air Maroc and Ryan Air on my last trip. I thought I could bank on Air Canada (Paul Anderson would never pay to fly anywhere in a country that borders the United States unless it was to the Yukon Territory), Royal Air Maroc and Ryan Air. Unfortunately, RyanAir is so budget that they don’t even have safety cards. Rather, they are printed on the back of the seat in front of you, right above the table tray. This was also the case for one of Kevin’s flights in Europe that I booked on an airline called WizzAir. Note to self: never fly uber-budget airline again. Thank goodness for RAM and Air Canada, for I fear what wrath I would endure from my father should I return from a 7-leg vacation empty-handed. I would also like to point out that this was a trip that could have been done in 4 flights, but I select the layover flights to increase my chances of lying more planes and airlines, just for Paul.
You see, so even though I selfishly opted to go on vacation instead of going home for the holidays, my family still manages to remain ever-present, inconveniencing me one stop at a time. I may have only spent $20 total on them, but consider the intangibles: I had to shop for the bracelets and lotion (I repeat, SHOP), consume unwanted beverages and excess calories, run through airports almost missing my connections to buy postcards, and endure 8 additional hours of layover time all for my family. I know Santa’s watching.