I spent a few hours this evening looking for last-minute gifts at the Nový Smíchov shopping mall, which was actually more pleasant than I was expecting.

Czechs love to give and receive books for Christmas – more so than I’ve seen anywhere else in the world. The VD Konsorcium bookstore was packed to the gills with holiday shoppers buying anything with pages and a cover – serious literature, celebrity memoirs, guide books, coffee-table books.

While looking for gloves, a harried-looking mother asked my advice on what kind of gloves to get for her 15-year-old son. I didn’t really have an answer, partly because my first advice was to look for good materials like Gore-tex. “Think about it, though,” she said. “You’re not so far away from 15, are you?”

That gave me a good laugh.

The stores were well-stocked, had good stuff (better than a lot of US malls I’ve been to), the prices were good, and the staff was helpful. It was another sign of the new normalization taking place here.

The only sour note was struck at Carrefour, which insisted on playing Christmas music at really excruciating volumes. Now I love Christmas music as much as the next guy (my favorites being The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album, and Sinatra’s Christmas records, but I digress), but this was pain-inducing. Shopping at a Czech hypermarket is never a relaxing experience, but this gave the impression of being something like a sound and irritation experiment being performed on lab rats – the kind of experiment that measures how long before they start to devour each other alive.

I was surprised, then, to see this story being picked up by wire services about Czech hypermarket employees complaining about Christmas music.

The only reason I can think of for hypermarkets to have the music up that loud is that they’re trying to mask the din being created by all that money going into their cash registers.

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