For many, enduring a pandemic has meant adjusting expectations.
As our lives became smaller, our ambitions and plans shrank with them. Expectations around school and around work were adjusted. So, too, were expectations around trips and weddings and first birthdays and funerals.
What’s supposed to be the happiest season is here and, like everything else about 2020, expectations for the holidays will have to be managed — in many cases, lowered significantly. This will not be holidays as usual. Also, because we can’t ignore the capitalist element of this particular season, it will not be shopping as usual, either.
Code red restrictions in Manitoba have placed some limitations on how people can get their holiday shopping done. That, too, is another tradition kneecapped by the pandemic; sipping a warm, nutmeg-dusted beverage while browsing for the perfect gift at a local Christmas market or boutique is not happening this year.
Still, Winnipeggers have heeded the call to buy local, so that small businesses have a fighting chance to keep the lights on in January, February and beyond, and to at least try to make up some of the income lost during an incredibly difficult and uncertain year. And that’s great.
What’s not so great is that the era of overnight shipping and multinational e-commerce giants such as Amazon has completely warped expectations for how fast one can get something after we click "add to cart" and how much stock of any given product is available. This has placed completely unrealistic demands on local retailers, who are often one-person or few-person operations — especially right now.
Several local retailers and makers have taken to social media to thank Winnipeggers for their support, but also to offer gentle, often apologetic reminders that they are doing their best to keep up with an unprecedented number of orders in an unprecedented holiday shopping season. By the way, what’s online is what’s in stock and, please, be mindful of ordering deadlines and curbside pickup protocols.
The subtext, of course, is that they’re dealing with grumbling, otherwise they wouldn’t need to make such posts. That’s really disappointing.
We live in an on-demand, everything-now culture — we want what we want when we want it. Yet, bricks-and-mortar stores are not online warehouses and distribution centres. They don’t have a seemingly unlimited stock of their products.
As well, figuring out how to conduct business while being closed to customers is added labour. Remember, a lot of these shops were not designed to be online.
Moreover, your failure to plan is not someone else’s emergency. This is not the year for last-minute gift buying.
Holiday shopping has always had a way of bringing out people’s less-than-best selves; recall the so-called Cabbage Patch Riots of 1983, in which people were willing to punch each other in the face over a doll.
Anyone who works in retail has seen this Hulk phenomenon first hand. Let me describe a dance I had to do every single year I worked at a Laura Secord shop while I was in high school. Inevitably, someone would come in on Dec. 23 looking for a box of French mints.
Trying to find a box of French mints on Dec. 23 would be like trying to find toilet paper this past March. Not going to happen.
"I’m so sorry," I would say, with all the contrition of a teenager making minimum wage. "We are completely sold out."
If you’ve ever worked in retail, you know what sentence comes next. "Can you check in the back?"
Ah, yes, The Back. That mythical place where we hide popular wares from the people who want to give us money for them. Look, there is no secret stash in the back. Of anything. Anywhere. Ever. You know what’s in "the back" of a seasonal chocolate shop at Christmastime? Valentine’s Day. But, I would dutifully head back there, talk to whoever was on break for five minutes, and return to say, "I’m so sorry. We are completely sold out." Cue the harrumphing, and sometimes yelling. (I mean, French mints are very good, but wow.)
"Keep supporting local ‐ but please be patient with and kind to business owners who are doing their best while running on fumes." – Jen Zoratti
Of course, what we’re really talking about, here, is disappointment. It’s disappointing to miss out on the hot toy or the perfect gift. It’s disappointing to not get the mints you like, or be able to pick your own tree, or have gifts arrive after Christmas. The expectation of holiday magic has always placed undue stress and pressure on those who are tasked with creating it. In a year punctuated by disappointments and compromises, well, you can see how fuses might be extra short.
So, manage your expectations. Be realistic about what you can do and what others can do. Keep supporting local — but please be patient with and kind to business owners who are doing their best while running on fumes. And instead of taking your disappointment out on someone, try expressing gratitude instead.
After all, that’s what the season is all about, isn’t it?