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Christmas Gifts Explained

[GQ, 1998]

COME Christmas, folk will insist on giving you stuff to marinade, trim, floss, pickle, scour or launder yourself with. You can scatter a basket load of hints. You can tell them outright you'd rather they put no thought into it at all and just gave you the money. It won't make any difference. Still the unguents, scrubs and scents keep arriving. Some are enjoyable, some practical, some downright rank; but each serves at least one useful purpose. It tells you something about how the gift-giver sees you. This brief checklist should help clarify matters.

ANYTHING FROM THE BODY SHOP: A bad sign. If someone presents you with Brackenberry and Pimento Foot Scrub, it means they think of you as a soft-centred, namby-pamby corn doily with a probable tendency towards cuddling up to Dutch elms. They no doubt suspect that the only reason you've yet to grow a beard is a pitiful lack of virility. Don't stand for this assault on your masculinity. Take up ostentatiously paring your toenails in company using a blood-stained hunting knife
  The only other interpretation is that the giver confused The Body Shop with Sainsbury's and thought they were buying desert. Even now, they may have a fridge full of Hazelnut Elbow Lotion masquerading as yoghurt which they're desperate to get rid of.

TALC: A very good sign. Talc is what people get you when they can't think of anything else you obviously need. Ergo they have an image of you of as well-groomed and self-sufficient. Either that or they've got loads left over from cutting that iffy coke they sold you.

SHAVING CREAM: You have a hairy neck. No-one ever buys shaving cream for someone else unless he has a hairy neck. And if you have a hairy neck, not even electrolysis or a blowtorch will shift the bristles. You could always try shaving on the inside.
  It's far preferable to receive an elegant set of badger-hair shaving brushes, which suggests that in the eyes of the giver, you deserve a little class and luxury. You don't actually have to use them.

COLOGNE: Fairly safe, this. Although, if a man gives you Gaultier, you can be pretty sure he wants to sleep with you. And if a woman gives you Gaultier, you can be equally sure she never will.

ANTI-BACTERIAL FACE WASH: Coming from an acquaintance, this is a full blooded insult worthy of invoking the code duello. From a loved one, it is woeful but undeniable evidence that the sight of you across the dinner table has been putting them off their food for some time now. Use it.

FOOT DEODORANT POWDER: Not the humiliating and shame inducing gift it might at first appear to be. Chances are that the donor is merely externalising their own fear of foot odour. Unable to confront the notion that their plates might whiff like Beelzebub's Reeboks, they have projected it onto you. Give them the same thing back. They'll thank you in the end.

“SIMPLE” BRAND PRODUCTS: You are perceived as being far too wholesome for your own good. Usually only virginal-looking posh girls in eau-de-nil shifts who shun make-up and alcohol get Simple for Christmas. What have you, a man, done wrong? Have you worn nothing but grey shirts and pale linen all year? Do you conduct yourself like a more hygienic version of St Francis of Assisi? Or is this merely a wily plot to psychologically destabilise you and send you hurtling down the primrose path of sin? If you suspect as much, then frankly it would do you good to succumb.

SHAMPOO: Obviously, it depends what sort. Pricey shampoos bought from stylists and made with tea tree oil or awapuhi are harmless enough and pleasant to use. Head & Shoulders is a non-too-subtle hint that you shouldn't wear the black jacket to any holiday season parties. Anything on which the label reads “For dry, stringy, straw-like, dubiously fibrous or repulsive but mercifully thinning hair” is an act of unfeasible pettiness on behalf of the giver, and you should respond by shaving racing stripes down the spine of their cat and gluing the fur to their curtains.

BATH SALTS, BUBBLEBATH, SHOWER GEL ETC: Almost perfect, in that they are completely non-committal and you will be neither pleased nor upset to receive them. A gift like this has no hidden agenda (unless it's called Matey and you're over the age of eleven.) Bath salts and bubblebath say nothing about you apart from making the assumption that you do, at least, take baths. Shower gel as a present simply suggests that you have yet to try it as alternative to soap; unlike soap itself, which implies you've yet to try it at all.

SOAP: Well, there's no mistaking this one. No matter how fancy the soap may be, the fact remains: you smell, bubba. And there is no longer anything your best friends won't tell you.

Armed with this knowledge, it shouldn't be hard to think of something really insulting to hand over in return for that mouthwash. Suppositories, say; or a family size pack of Wind-Eze; or dubious fat-burning pills from an advert in the back of the Sport. Remember, Christmas isn't about presents. It's about appearances, intrigue, slights, snubs, covert insults, settling old scores. It's a pity, in this age of materialism, how easily we forget that.

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