Christmas is around the corner and retail stores have gone into overdrive. Research indicates that the convenience of shopping online is encouraging shoppers to check out the “sales” from the comfort of their home or office, while avoiding traffic, parking hassles and overcrowded malls. Marketers offer enticements to online shoppers to track internet users’ proclivities and determine consumer demographics and their consumption behavior. This mined data is gold for sellers of all types of goods and services, as they are able to serve up ads specific to their intended target audience, at prices based on location or other factors gleaned from the shopper’s previous buying and spending history.
Christmas shopping while living in Bahrain in the 1980s was not an easy task. There were no malls or large superstores in those days and the three or four large shops provided very limited shopping opportunities at exorbitant prices. Mail order catalogues sourced primarily from England – as there was a large number of British expatriates stationed in Bahrain at the time – would make their appearance several months before Christmas. The thick, glossy booklets would carry attractive advertisements for all types of apparel, shoes, books, beverage and food hampers. Occasionally, the catalogues provided the coordinates of a local representative who could collect individual orders, arrange to import the merchandise, have it customs-cleared and delivered at the doorstep.
There were a number of social clubs that catered to the various local and expatriate communities. As an employee of a British bank, I was expected to join either the British Club, a most “propah” stiff upper-lip type of establishment or, the more sporty and informal Dilmun Club. We were also members of the Indian Club. It was a challenge initially, but also fun to get acquainted with the English, Irish, Scots, American and other, European expats. We took the “bobbing head” jokes and other mannerisms associated with Indians in our stride, just as every other community would laugh off their own idiosyncrasies.
This was an important life lesson that has stood me in good stead over the years – to not take oneself too seriously and develop the ability and confidence to laugh at oneself.
A favorite Dilmun Club event around Christmas time was the “panto” or pantomime. It is an English tradition and a comical musical production that involves strong audience participation. Typically, pantomime scripts are based on children’s stories and the most popular ones include satirical versions of Cinderella, Puss-in-boots, Aladdin and Sleeping Beauty etc. Kids would squeal with delight as one of their favorite characters would make an appearance on stage, while the adult audience – suitably irrigated with appropriate liquids – would provide raucous encouragement to the amateur thespians.
I met a young English officer of the Bank in Bahrain in the early 1980s and we became good friends. DM and I were at work one Christmas eve, fretting that as junior “covenanted” officers of the Bank we had been chosen to hold the fort while our more senior colleagues were out merrily dispensing “Christmas cheer.” Ever the practical joker, DM walked into my office and with a twinkle in his eye asked that I dial home and ask for my daughter, who was then three or four years old. I got her on the line and as directed by DM, told her that someone special wished to speak with her. My friend then proceeded to put on his best Santa Claus act and while chatting with my daughter made background noises of a strong wind blowing and reindeers honking. He convinced her that as she had been a good girl, she would get something special from Father Christmas. Her gift, he told her, would be out by the main door and not under the Christmas tree in the house. When I went home later that evening, our daughter was all goggle-eyed and excitedly told me about her special conversation! She was equally excited the next morning when the doorbell rang and as we heard that familiar “Ho, ho, ho!” she rushed out to claim her special present. Just outside our main door we found a single hooped rugby sock, stuffed with chocolates, some candy and other assortments to delight a child’s heart. Apparently, out until late the previous night DM was unable to buy either a gift or the wrapping paper and had used what came to hand! This story has been recounted many times over the forty years that I have known DM and still raises a few chuckles.
Christmas tends to bring out the child in us. How wonderful it would be if we could retain this mood and continue to spread goodwill and cheer all year long.