ANNA BELFRAGE

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Archive for the tag “consumerism”

Happy Christmas!

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In difference to preceding generations, we live in the age of globalisation. Most of us have gadgets in our homes produced on the other side of the world, we wear clothes made in India or Bangladesh, we eat fruit and vegetable and fish that has been transported from very, very far away. That’s how we can eat tomatoes in winter, avocado all year round and munch our way through a bowl of scampi.

Globalisation also impacts our cultures. I recall the first time I travelled to China on business. The adverts that stared down at me from various billboards promoted stuff I’d never heard of before. (And in Chinese characters, which sort of added to the exoticism) Western food chain eateries were few on the ground and the music blaring from the radio was in Chinese, however modern the beat.

Some years later, and the adverts were for Gillette, McDonald’s, KFC, BMW. The music playing on the radio was no longer exclusively Chinese. In fact, most of it was in English. Not necessarily a bad thing, but how does this affect the local culture? Actually, how does it affect culture, full stop?

Sometimes, I fear we’re mistaking consumerism for culture. Take Valentine’s Day, until recently not much of a thing in Europe. Now we are bombarded with adverts suggesting we buy gifts and flowers and chocolate (yes please) for our loved ones on February 14. But in those countries where Valentine’s is an imported holiday there are no cultural roots to link all these gifts to, no traditions of homemade Valentine cards to somehow mitigate the “buy, buy, buy her stuff if you love her” message.

In Sweden, we’ve seen an upsurge in Halloween celebrations in the last decade. We’ve never celebrated Halloween. We’ve celebrated All Saints, a religious holiday when we’ve visited the graves of our dead and lit a candle for them. These days, we don’t do that anymore. We carve pumpkins into toothy grins and embrace artificial spiderwebs (and spiders), decorating our homes in orange and black. Not because it is part of our cultural identity, but because it is part of the new “global” culture, disseminated through various shows/movies & social media and eagerly spurred on by all those who make money on selling us yet another celebration.

These days, we even have a major Black Friday craze here in Europe. Not because we’ve suddenly started celebrating Thanksgiving, but because the commercial powers that are recognise yet another opportunity to make money. And we, dumb consumers that we are, fall for all those special offers, buying stuff we probably don’t need or much want. Most of us have too much stuff and too little content in our lives.

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Tomorrow it is Christmas Eve, and for the last four weeks or so, we’ve been in the grip of Christmas shopping. From every store blares Christmas music, most of it of the Anglo-Saxon kind. Very little of it is traditional – rarely does one hear Oh Come All ye Faithful, while José Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad seems to be on constant repeat. I suspect up-beat music stresses us into buying more stuff, the spiritual message of Christmas (God sending us his Son to deliver us all from evil) submerged by the “All I Want for Christmas” varieties which focuses on the presents. As I write this, the television in the background is informing me I can still buy my Christmas presents—at a bargain price, as this particular store has already started its After Xmas sale. (Most illogical: if it is an After Xmas sale, then how can it start before Christmas?)

It seems to me we’ve lost our way, somehow. For me, the weeks before Christmas should be about lighting candles to brighten the winter gloom while preparing for those few days when our family is reunited. Do I buy presents? Of course I do. But they’re not central to my Christmas and I rarely have a wish-list of my own. After all, I don’t need more things.

For me, the high point of our Christmas celebration is early on the morning of December 24 (In Sweden, Christmas Eve is the thing) All our children lie sleeping and hubby and I tip-toe around, lighting candles and preparing hot cocoa. We whip cream to go with the cocoa, heat the mandatory saffron buns and then, once we’re done, we crank up the volume so that the whole house echoes with “Hosanna, David’s son, blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord” (One of my favourite X-mas psalms). One by one, our children emerge, sleepy-eyed and tousled. And while they are all taller than me, all of them adults, in that precise moment they are all still my babies, for all that they have to bend down for me to kiss them Happy Christmas.

jul Carl_Larsson_Brita_as_IdunaI hope you all have someone to kiss this Christmas. I hope there are moments when you sit in the glow of candles and enjoy the peace and quiet of the winter night, a little bubble of golden light in a world that sometimes feels very scary and dark. With that, I wish you all a Merry Christmas. Or just Happy Holidays and a fabulous New Year. And when life gets confusing and difficult, may you all have a star to guide you, a little beacon to light your way!

Shop until you drop

It is five thirty on the Friday after pay day, and I’m stupid enough to be at IKEA with a shopping list long as my arm and droves of people equally equipped. Of course, the reason all of us are there at this same time is because our lists exceed our end-of-month wallets, and so, now that there’s new, fresh money in the account, here we come to spend.

For those of you not Swedish, IKEA is (perhaps) a recognised brand of affordable furniture that you must assemble yourself. For Swedish people, IKEA is an institution. I’d dare to hazard that there’s not a Swedish person below the age of sixty who hasn’t at some time or another assembled bookcases, cupboards or tables from this our favourite supplier. As a consequence, we’ve cursed when we but the drawer fronts on upside down only to realise what was easy to snap in place is impossible to take apart, we’ve counted nuts and bolts and wondered why there are seven when we only see six holes (this doesn’t happen anymore, and it was much worse when there were six holes and only five nuts & bolts) and most of us can do a bookcase assembly in fifteen minutes flat, without looking at the instruction. 

Anyway; here I am, half jogging through the meandering path that takes all visitors through all departments. This time I keep my eyes on the list, so no spontaneous additions of candles, new sheets, practical paper napkins or why not a new lamp make their way to my trolley. But hey, people do load up  the strangest things, and as a consequence the queues to the tills are long and time consuming.

By the time I make it home, I’m exhausted. I’ve torn a nail on one of the bigger packages, and what seemed a manageable weekend project (new bed) now just feels impossible. Enthusiastic husband is still bounding about with energy. It makes me even more tired just to look at him.

Next day, new shopping challenges present themselves. Despite my gender, I am not a shopping person (well, except when I need to comfort myself) and the opening of a new shopping centre leaves me cold. Besides, it’s always same-same. Same shops, same restaurants, same general layout, same teenage girls fingering lingerie i n H&M, same boys thronging round the computer game store. However, this centre, dear people, is different. Oh yes, this centre caters to those of us who “have everything you need but one thing; choice. We give you choice – a lot of choices.” Hmm. Not really, as its standard brands in standard shops. I don’t think there will be a shop selling herbalist cures for depression and insomnia, or a shop offering sleeping hammocks (okay, okay; yes, a bit exaggerated as such hammocks are an awful strain on the back) and not one single shop that sells exotic African prints. (Or maybe there is, but if so, it’s very tucked away) But wait! I have a choice, remember? So my choice will be … taa-daam … not to go there. Phew. That was an easy way out, wasn’t it?

Seriously, there are times when the expectations on me – us – to consume more and more despite having much more than enough get me down.
“The wheels of the economy will only turn faster if the middle-class consumes more.”
Oh, so it’s our fault if people lose their jobs, if the economy totters and fails? Why not turn that around; maybe there’s something wrong with the basic hypothesis that economies must always grow, perhaps the fact that so many states/institutions/pension funds base their strategies around growth is wrong. It resembles one of those gigantic pyramid scams, where the top third of the pyramid is enriched at the expense of the lower half. But maybe this is me having a blue day, a day when I can’t quite get the equation of finite resources, global poverty and increasing riches in the hand in the few to add up. Or maybe this is much, much simpler: I haven’t BOUGHT anything today and therefore I feel down! And heck, if I don’t want to buy things I can buy massages, or facials, or holidays, or adventurous experiences, or … Agh!

“It’s because you’re middleaged,” one of my colleagues says when I share the above with him. “You already have all the stuff you want, it’s easy for you to clamber atop this particular pillar of self-righteousness.”
Ouch. Double ouch. Is it true? Anna takes a deep breath and goes inward. When I resurface after a couple of minutes spent trawling through my convoluted interior I sadly have to admit this colleague of mine might be right. This is a sobering though, to be labelled a hypocrite is not an entirely comfortable feeling.
“I’ve turned a new leaf,” I say, nodding eagerly.
My colleague looks at me over the rim of his oversized coffee cup and snickers. “Sure you have. And what about those new red boots you’re wearing?”
I retract my feet under the table, and hate it that my face heats into bright pink. In actual fact, I needed new boots, but it sure helped that they were such a beautiful shade of red.
“I can afford to,” I say defensively and my colleague bursts out laughing. Still laughing he hurries off to his meeting and I sit for awhile awash in guilt. Not because I’ve bought the boots, but because for an instant there I believed myself to be more insightful and better than my fellow consumers.
“Middleaged, middleclass, middle everything – God how boring!” I mutter with a sigh. I take a bite out of my apple, thinking that I should do that new leaf thing for real. Unbridled consumption is out, carefully planned purchases is in. I am somewhat re-energised by this decision to put my money (or not, in this case) where my mouth is.

As I read my way through what I’ve written I snuggle into my ten year old hoodie. It’s faded and worn, the logo is no longer legible, and it is a rather unfortunate brownish hue that is anything but fashionable. But it still keeps me warm, the seams are intact, and I dare say there’s a couple of years worth of wear in it still. This is where I opt out of buying a new one. This is me making a choice based on the fact that I don’t really need a new one. See? Totally new leaf, right? Now I just have to make sure I detour round the shoe shop presently selling those lovely, gorgeous high boots in delicious green…

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