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Archive for the ‘Shopping’ Category

Christmas glee

Each year I take pains wrapping all my presents in a chosen style, and this Christmas was no exception. I went for recycled paper, yellow ribbon, and an individualized Sukie sticker. It almost made up for the fact that I cannot for the life of me wrap items in a neat way – especially if their shape is anything but square – so that I need to distract whichever family member is being honoured from the parcel’s quasimodesque aspect. Gifts are, in turn, a way of distracting said family members from the various issues they take from their daily lives to the Christmas tree, and I believe that in spite of their aesthetic ambiguities, mine did a pretty good job.

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I bought these snow-white Urban Ears headphones to celebrate the end of my probation period at Berlitz and the confirmation that I would get the uni job. At first the idea was simply to listen to podcasts on my way home from work without letting the clamour of cars and people quell the soundtrack, but progressively a new field of possibilities made itself known. I can share music. I can hide the voice of my Skype correspondent from a nosy landlady. I can put the end of the string in my pocket and not only will it drown loud noises out, people will refrain from addressing me thinking I must be absorbed in something important. Amazing. And have I mentioned style? If connecting very large headphones to a tiny iPod is counterproductive, one might as well choose a funky version of the former and accessorize. My only concern is that they may not remain white for very long.

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Admittedly, this picture was easy for me. Just another excuse to use polka-dot-patterned adhesive tape, really. The ad shows how countercultural elements are appropriated by companies in order to sell products. And the problem is that I really like it – these things never fail to work for me. I remember many of Camel’s ads from years past – so influential were they – even though I never became a regular smoker. Spray cans represent customers’ power to participate in the brand’s image by designing packaging, thus supposedly making it more DIY and empowering. There is something fishy about the idea of selling freedom in the form of addiction that still does not hinder it from being appealing. I believe the illusion is achieved here by a call for liberatory creativity which, unfortunately, happens to serve the purpose of glorifying a brand that solely has its own interests in mind. And yet, as health is increasingly invested with ideology, I wonder whether smoking cigarettes isn’t becoming an act of resistance again.

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I’m not sure whether Geneva’s calvinist seriousness and reverence for the demands of business are starting to get on my nerves or if it’s only about these amazing adhesive tapes with lots of different patterns I found in a hip little shop in Berne, but lately I have been listening to female punk bands from the 80s and 90s, learning everything there is to know about zine culture, and feeling like the teenager I never truly was. I’m probably recovering from the shock of finally being registered as a PhD student – having to study as a doctoral student whenever I can and teach French to diplomats the rest of the time is too much pressure. When the day is over, I re-imagine myself as some sort of creative activist whose life is all about counterculture. Tinged as they are with schizophrenia, these slightly traumatic transitions from one state to the other (meet Anne: scholar and anarchist) are seldom convincing.

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Shoes are always a problem for me until I find one pair and wear them until death do us part which, if I’m lucky, happens 2 to 3 years later, and not to me. My old Converse are expiring and, given that my dad has recently started wearing the brand, I needed an alternative. An ethical alternative, as it turned out. My new shoes, I am eco-happy to announce, are made of recycled or organic material, with either BLC or ISO 14001 (whatever that stands for) certified suede. I was about to jump around the shop in glee when I saw the dreaded label, “Made in China”. I hope that the workers who made the “shoes for a happy planet” don’t feel left out, but I really can’t guarantee that they don’t.

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It is no easier to find shops that will allow me to stray in the men’s aisle without informing me I’m in the wrong section than to find a safe place to practice nunchaku; although to be fair, in the second case I tend to gather more admiration, and appear less threatening, as a woman. In contrast, wearing a tie in this post-Avril Lavigne era is more likely to help me secure free seats on the train than gain admirers. Then again, while the tie cannot get me in trouble with the police, I am not allowed to weave my nunchaku in public spaces, even though many of my attempts at manipulating the weapon at home have proved unfortunate. Food for thought. These are merely a few examples of the ways in which ties and nunchakus differ, both in their intrinsic qualities and their socially-constructed functionalities.

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When I see the gift ideas that are advertised for girls and women before Christmas, I’m always amazed at how limited/limiting they are. Even as a child I was more into Lego than Barbie (I had one, but a friend’s brother ate her hand… it’s hard to rehabilitate a disfigured Barbie). Fortunately for me, there is more variety in my family’s Christmas than in ads. What is more, because my birthday is on the 31st, I can often combine gifts to have a more interesting one (hence the snowshoes). On the 25th, my extended family offered home-made edible gifts to one another as we’re all foodies, and it seems that men and women alike prepare and receive those gifts. It’s encouraging to see that my male cousins are more likely to do this than my uncles – and that good food is still a strong “family value”!

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