Buying gifts from his travels is stressful, says Jackson Biko, who tries to get the measure of his family
The bit about travelling that I find harrowing now is the bit about shopping for the family. Because you are always buying something the wrong size. Or something you already bought the last time. Or something that looked useful on the shelf but now looks like something even Wilma Flintstone would not wear. Or something the wrong colour. I always somehow cock it up.
So I have two kids. Boy and girl. Shopping for the boy is easy: I will buy him what I think is cool. I dictate cool to him. He doesn’t know cool until he runs it past his dad. Cool is what I say is cool. I’m the Samuel L. Jackson in his life. Of course, there’s that little fact that he’s only one year old and probably still colour (and cool) blind. So that helps.
The girl is a bit trickier. She’s seven years now. Which means she probably has started suspecting that I’m not that cool. Before I travel I sit her down and place my palms against her feet (she has big feet but I have bigger palms) and measure her size that way, because I suck at numbers. So next time you see someone in a store in South Africa placing female shoes against his palms, someone wearing a beleaguered look – that will be me. Come rub my back reassuringly. Tell me it’s all going to work out in the end.
Then there are her dresses. Just over a year ago she received any dress I bought her with open arms. Now I have to WhatsApp the image to her mom to confirm if it’s cool enough for her to wear or not. The rule of thumb, I have gathered, is that she likes them short. (She has nice legs… takes after me, naturally.)
Then of course there is shopping for the Missus. The worst ordeal of them all. I have bought the usual easy things to shop for: watches, handbags, scarves, hairpins, cosmetics (aided by images), shoes, wallets and an occasional inspirational book that has a bookmark lodged firmly on the first chapter many months later.
Now I have gotten into the ‘creativity zone’ which is the truest test of a gift buyer. And which I completely suck at. Once I bought a hat with a feather sticking on it and it really seemed great in the lighting of the store, thousands of miles away, but when I got back to Africa it looked like something an extra would wear in a circus. It still remains hidden in my boot. I have also bought sleeping socks (don’t ask). And a fancy gym water bottle. (“You bought me plastic from Europe? Wow! How did you know this was exactly what I always wanted?”)
Buying clothing is the hardest because it’s like a trick question – you get a smaller size you are grilled; you get a bigger size you are cooked. And then grilled. So I will always be the guy looking around the store, pointing at a woman’s posterior saying, “There, that one… her ass is that size.”