Cartoonist Michael Leunig, in his lyrical way, sums up here the way I feel about the strange, materialistic force that impels some people to own the next big shiny thing or to be the first to experience something. In those moments when I feel overwhelmed by the maelstrom of everyday life, I also feel suffocated by the stuff I already own, so I can’t imagine queuing overnight to be the first to get a new techy thing or elbowing other people out of the way to get a cut price something or other.
I’ve been thinking about this since I read the story of the so-called Nutella riots in France last week. My favourite headline was “Nutella riots spread” (chortle). While the footage I’ve seen looks more like a bit of argy-bargy than a full-scale riot, it is extraordinary that people would fight so hard to get a couple of jars of hazelnut spread at a reduced price. In that situation, I would rather go without or make my own. It’s pretty easy to make and there are many recipes out there in internet land.
Why did those people do that? I know it’s a delicious spread, but I really can’t understand their actions. A colleague told me that she experienced something similar in a supermarket in Greece just after the Chernobyl accident. People were fighting each other for tins of milk because they were so worried that the nuclear fall-out would affect Europe’s cows. I can imagine the level of panic, and I understand it, but that certainly wasn’t the case in France last week.
When I was a child there was a lot of queuing. So many people wanted to be the first to see a movie or to buy the number one record. Perhaps that’s why I don’t do it now. We queued to see ET at the Odeon in Leicester Square and didn’t get in. I still haven’t seen it and I sometimes wonder whether ET ever got to phone home, but not knowing hasn’t impaired my life in any way.
Many years ago, I went to New York unintentionally when my plane was diverted. I had a few hours to spare and, in my jet-lagged state, thought it would be a good idea to go and see the Statue of Liberty. I joined the queue down there in Battery Park…and waited and waited and waited. At some point it dawned on me that if I stayed in line I would miss my connecting flight, so I gave up and went back to the airport. On that occasion I missed out. But what I didn’t know then was that I’d be back in under two years for a wonderful New York holiday. So missing out in one way resulted in an even better experience later.
One of the many things I love about living in Canberra is that people here generally don’t feel the need to be first. Also, you almost never have to queue. If a new cafe opens and there’s a buzz about it then perhaps there will be a queue or it will be booked out, but after a couple of weeks it will be queue free. I find it very relaxing not to be bombarded with hype and buzz. An added bonus of not being first is that any kinks in a new restaurant/show/performance have generally been worked out by the time you experience it.
Recently I heard someone on the radio say that he had stopped buying presents for people and instead invited them to join him in experiences, such as going for a walk somewhere scenic, followed by a nice afternoon tea. I thought about that comment yesterday when a colleague retired and was given a present that I hope I’m never given. It’s a tech object that you give orders to. You can tell it to turn on the lights or to play music or movies. You can ask it how long it will take you to get to work. (What if it’s wrong? Will that make people disappointed, frustrated, angry? Possibly.) You can even ask it to tell you about your day. If you own this gadget, there’s no need for you to get off the couch or to use your mental faculties. Harumph!
Perhaps we’ve reached a point now where we need to take a breath and think about what we really want, rather than what we’re told to want. Everything is overhyped now. Every sandwich is gourmet. Every coffee is expertly roasted. I like a gourmet sandwich as much as the next person, but I’m just as happy with bog standard cheese and tomato.
I really think it’s okay to be second or third…or to go without. It’s okay to perhaps be considered behind the times because you don’t have the latest thing. It takes the pressure off. It’s much less stressful. There’s a freedom to it. And, oh, the joy of missing out!