Working at the biggest department store in Canberra for 3 Christmases in a row as a brace-faced adolescent, I learned a number of Life Skills:
1. How to cope with intense boredom
I was in Ladies Accessories which had none of the bitchy drama of Menswear, discounted only-slightly-chalky expired Godiva chocolates of the Food Hall, or fierce Commission Competition of Electronics. I spent hours re-arranging sparkly tchotchkes, cascading party clutches by colour or PVC content, and trying to convince the befuddled Dads to buy their daughters cute MBMJ accessories for Christmas (to all my classmates, you’re welcome!)
2. How to withstand noise torture
The store’s Christmas track was literally just ‘Feliz Navidad’ and ‘Little Drummer Boy’. The former was a whiny Latin pop version interspersed with frenetic maraca playing. It was like something a culturally-insensitive jingle-writer would produce for a burrito ad. The latter I probably don’t need to tell you is the most infantile, pious song in existence. Every time it got to ‘Li-i-i-ittle baaaaby pa rum pa pum pum’ (which on the loop was every 6 mins) a little bit of bile would rise in my throat.
3. How to diplomatically prevent customers from suffocating
At least once a day, I’d face a situation like this: A beefy-necked lady would come in looking for something to match the emerald velvet dress she’d bought for her work Christmas party. She’d insist on trying on the shortest, spangliest necklace we had, and ask me to do up the clasp. This would be like garrotting cheese or artisanal butter with one of those cutting wires…so I’d tell her the necklace was actually an anklet. I got pretty excellent at extolling the alternative virtues of long, adjustable strings of art teacher beads.
4. (Actually relevant to the point I’m getting to…) How to trim a tree
If there’s one thing department stores know how to do right (because it’s certainly not music or employee welfare), it’s Christmas trees. Every year we’d lug out the huge garlands of wire ribbons and rosettes, clusters of baubles and glittery stars and dress the pines within an inch of their lives. It was never Galeries Lafayette, but it was pretty sweet.
Yesterday evening I went along to the Christ Church College Christmas Tree lighting. I was pretty excited because ChCh is one of the biggest and wealthiest colleges. Also, as the set of the Harry Potter films, I thought they might take some inspiration from the film and put their best house elves to work frosting the trees with live fairies, candied fruits, fake snow etc. I guess it’s kind of unfair that I came with such high HP expectations and Department Store tree expertise…
The countdown and lighting was uncannily like The Office season 2 Christmas episode where Dwight plugs in the tree and everyone is underwhelmed by the tiny lights.
They did get the bottom tier going eventually though. And the tree itself was impressively sizeable!
Kevin: Why did you get it so big?
Michael: A. That’s what she said, and B. I wanted it to be impressive. Biggest day of the year deserves the biggest tree of the year.