This is less a blog entry about the differences between America and Scotland and is more about the differences in experiences between living in a rural town in Scotland and living in the suburbs of a city that has a population as large as the whole of Scotland. Life can be lived quite differently as a result.
This year I did not even start Christmas shopping until late November. We obviously could not import any new items with us, either in person or in our shipping, which meant my usual habit of starting to buy Christmas gifts in the summer – if not earlier – was not feasible. Then we had a “bedding in” period during which time I almost forgot that Christmas was just a few weeks away. It was a trip around Toys R Us – just for browsing purposes – that snapped me back into present buying mode as my kids mentioned a few things they would like to pop on their Santa lists.
Living where I used to, leaving it so late to embark on buying gifts for four children would have had me hyperventilating. We had a few really lovely gift shops in town but none of them really stocked much in the way of toys, certainly not many for kids above preschool age. It was, therefore, necessary to travel to the nearest large town – which was over an hour away on boke-inducing roads and still a bit limited – or the nearest city – which was a five hour round trip. As both excursions required me to take my children with me, it was all a bit stressful, not least because of having to somehow make secretive purchases with them by my side. In recent years, therefore, I had resorted to using the internet to buy gifts. However, the internet only really works effectively and efficiently if you know what it is you are buying. If the children had asked Santa for a specific toy or book then the internet worked like a charm for price comparisons and ordering and delivering, all without me having to venture outside the house. Doing it that way also made it very easy to keep on track of the budget and number of gifts being bought as all the “receipts” filed into my email inbox. Of course, the downside of all this delivery of packages was that some companies liked to charge additional shipping costs because of our postcode. Sometimes the premium was pretty steep. We might have been just over two hours from Scotland’s largest city but those companies would make it seem as if their parcels were having to go through acts of derring do and explore the hinterland of civilization just to make it to us. More than once I had to have an argument with someone on the phone who claimed they were going to place an additional charge on our delivery fee because we “lived on an island”. That was news to me. Also more than once I would suggest they look at a map, follow the route and tell me when it was they thought the delivery was going to cross a large body of water. Ridiculousness. In any case, the internet could indeed work like a charm for Christmas shopping unless the children were not asking for anything specific or had only asked for one thing when more than one gift was required. The need for search terms to input into the websites means that browsing in search of inspiration can be a long, wasteful and frustrating enterprise. I estimate that last year I accomplished as much as 90% of my gift shopping online but that was only possible because I started in May.
So this year was very different. The advantage of not making a start until late November was that it coincided with the Black Friday sales. My boys happened to be asking for a fair few new and popular toys and, by jings, they turned up thick and fast in the online sales which made life easier and cheaper for me. Everything I bought them during the sales period was 50% or more reduced. Kerching! Once that period was over, I still needed a few odds and ends for them, stocking stuffers and the like. In previous years, I would have cruised sites like ebay to find some funny wee bargain items. This year, however, I could mooch around the local malls and find lots of cool bits and bobs for them. And, what’s more, I could do all of that completely child-free since – living a few minutes away from stores – I could fit it all in while the biggest three boys were in school and the little one was in preschool.
There is a downside to this ability to shop locally, however, and that was that the novelty of it may have got the better of me. In an effort to make their first Christmas in America really memorable and special, I may just have gone a teensy wee bit overboard on the present buying front. It was all a very good price so I’ve not burst my budget but my understairs cupboard does look a bit like Aladdin’s cave. And I had to wrap it all. I. Loathe. Wrapping. Nothing sucks the Christmas spirit out of me faster than having to sit on the floor for hours cutting patterned paper, getting trapped by unruly sticky tape and trying to figure out the engineering required to neatly wrap all those bizarrely shaped boxes. Which is one of the reasons I love buying lego for the kids. Nice rectangular boxes. It took me several nights and a bottle of wine to get it done, but as of last night all of my gift wrapping is also at an end.
Now I can sit back and let the festive mirth and holiday fun begin. Except I can’t because my house still looks like a warehouse and I still have a third of the shipping boxes to empty once I can figure out where on earth I am going to place their contents.
At least I don’t have to gift wrap those boxes!