Christmas in the Hypermarket

There’s an excellent Czech phrase that sums up my Christmas shopping: “Co není v hlavÄ›, je v nohou.” (If it’s not in your head, it’s in your feet.) That phrase will come in handy the next time you realize you don’t have enough mineral water or booze or butter – or Christmas lights, as was my case.

I spent some quality time in line at the local hypermarket last night remembering that phrase as I waited half an hour in a checkout line that snaked through the aisles, looking around at all the people doing last-minute shopping. Slavs celebrating the birth of a Jewish king by buying goods made in China.

Who are these people? What do they want? I asked myself.

Yeah, but who are you, and what do you want? , the little voice in my head asked me. What does any of us want, after all? The man in front of me in line had a cart full of hockey sticks and booze. The woman behind me – poor soul – had a loaf of bread and some milk.

At one point a particularly brazen teenager came up to me as I was next to the cash register, asking if she could cut in. I tried to summon up my best RuPaul impression and tell her “nu-uh, sister! You’re going to the back of the line!” But all I could muster was a Charlie Brown-ish “uh, I’ve been waiting here a long time.” The girl, whose head must have been 2/3 nose, tried another line.

If you have to wait in an interminable line in a Czech hypermarket at 10 o’clock at night on the night before Christmas, I suppose there are worse places than the CD and DVD section. So I was lucky to be able to browse while shuffling along. As I waited in the line, I tried to put together two lists of Essential Christmas Media, Czech and English.

Essential Czech Christmas media:

  • Chorea Bohemica, “Vanoce s choreou” CD – Period Czech Christmas carols sung by an ensemble with not only good musical sense but a sense of humor as well. Excellent stuff, and their live show is also lovely.
  • Bambini di Praga, “ÄŒeské koledy” CD – Even if their leader is fighting off allegations of pedophilia, you have to admit the CD is really good. It’s like Czech Christmas sweets: Really sweet.
  • Tří oÅ™iÅ¡ky pro popelku DVD- the Cinderella story told with real swing and verve. And if there is ever a better fairytale princess than LibuÅ¡e Å afranková, I’ll eat my hat. The DVD has English subtitles, too.
  • PyÅ¡ná princezna – One of the classic technicolor fairytales. A spoiled princess learns humility by falling in love with a boy she thinks is a servant, but it’s really a prince. It may even be in black and white, but my memories of it are in technicolor.
  • Essential English-language essential Christmas media:

  • The Beach Boys Christmas Album, CD – In a year that finally saw the release of Brian Wilson’s Smile, I still have to put on “Little Saint Nick” when I get homesick.
  • The Sound of Music, DVD – Even if you, like me, believe the sixth circle of hell involves show tunes, this one’ll still get you. At one point in my life, I plan to try schnitzel with noodles, just because.
  • Olive, the Other Reindeer, DVD – J. Otto Seibold’s whimsical book about a dog who thinks she’s a reindeer and has to go to the North Pole is a favorite, and the Drew Barrymore-produced DVD is excellent. While many go for hyper-realistic computer animation, it’s good to see people going in the other direction, toward illustration.
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas, DVD – It’s really a shame that Czechs haven’t really been exposed to “Peanuts”. You’ll see Snoopy from time to time – he’s a mascot at one of the malls – but he may as well be Hello Kitty; there’s no connection to anything, just another mascot. Which is a shame, because “A Charlie Brown Christmas” manages to hit the perfect note of melancholy, humor and naivete I feel at this time of year.
  • Finally, it was my turn to pay, and I was greeted by a checkout clerk who looked like she’d been around the block and then had been around the block on her head. But she was the cheeriest, happiest soul, which was a truly pleasant surprise.

    As I fumbled with everything, as is my usual habit at the checkout, she looked me in the eye and said, “you have a the happiest of Christmases.” To which I said, “And you too.”

    “Oh, I already am!” she said, without any irony whatsoever.

    9 thoughts on “Christmas in the Hypermarket

    1. You must have been in the checkout line at Carrefour. Yes? I was also there on the 23rd. 35 minutes to get checked out. Everything happened that could happen. The woman was a temp, obviously hired for the holidays. She had trouble with one guy’s credit card. Another person had an item with no bar code. Just before I got there the receipt machine ran out of paper and she couldn’t load it. Throughout, she was smiling and laughing, and despite everything everybody was smiling and laughing along with her. She made what could have been a dreary experience fun, and that was something.

    2. you forgot the xmas albums that cross all cultural and linguistic boundaries. . . like my “cardio christmas” album that’s full of musakliscious xmas carols that are playing at a really fast beat so that it makes you all hyper when settling down in a couch with a mug of eggnog and a heaping plate of carp. . . with a side of menudo. . .

    3. Have you done the Sound of Music tour in Salzberg? It surprised me; it’s actually a lot of fun. And I agree about the Charlie Brown Christmas album. It’s also, at its core, a great jazz album.

    4. Yeah, David, the Charlie Brown Christmas album, like all the Peanuts soundtrack records, were excellent jazz records. The first Charlie Brown record was the first LP I ever owned, and I played it to death. Great stuff.

    5. You got the proverb wrong: It’s Co není v hlavÄ›, musí být v nohou (i. e. What you haven’t got in your head, you must have in your legs).

      There has been a daily strip of Peanuts published in Právo for years, though apparently Garfield there is much more popular – the collections are pblished succesfully, but there seems to have been just one Snoopy book, apparently aimed at children.

      BTW, shouldn’t Mrazík count as honorarily Czech? 🙂 And I’m also rather fond of ŠílenÄ› smutná princezna, though I have no idea whether it is available, and it would take a genius to translate the songs anyway.

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