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Yuletide greetings from China

The Local · 20 Dec 2009, 16:16

Published: 20 Dec 2009 16:16 GMT+01:00

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I don’t need an Advent calendar to tell me that Christmas is hurtling towards us like a runaway train without brakes.

No, all I have to do is glance at Germany’s best-selling sensationalist newspaper Bild.

Precisely three weeks before Christmas – same procedure as every year – it carries an article with the headline: “Cancer-causing toxins found in children’s toys! How bad is it really?”

All Bild wants to do, of course, is protect our children. “Don’t buy any toys that smell strongly of chemicals,” the paper wisely warns us. Or is it perhaps a subtle attempt to persuade grandmothers to buy boring but non-toxic German-made wooden toys rather than Chinese plastic junk? Whatever the reason, the annual toy-horror-show is a fixed part of Germany’s holiday calendar.

Other dates to note: November 23-30, the pre-Advent week, when 32 percent of German women buy their Christmas presents. And of course December 23, when 20 percent of German men – OK, I don’t have an actual survey, but I’ve chatted with the shop assistants at Berlin’s fancy KaDeWe department store – buy presents for their partners. On average they take 12 minutes to decide on the gift for that someone special.

In any case, the national Advent calendar should be extended to December 27: the day Germans rush back to the shops to exchange their unwanted presents. Open the doors to that calendar window and you would probably see a picture of a frustrated shop cashier tearing out her hair.

Now I am not claiming that Germans turn into robots, consumer-automatons, at Christmastime. But there are, shall we say, distinct buying habits that can be tracked just as biologists follow the migration patterns of birds or the hibernation behaviour of grizzly bears.

But this year, pre-Christmas strategy seems to be a little different. People are busily mobilising their financial resources in order to fund their Yuletide habits. The reality is that most Germans feel that they are worse off than a few years ago – Christmas is just the moment when you realise it. As a result many people are cashing in their reserves in order to spend on presents.

Pawnshops are springing up everywhere; I keep expecting my local Kebab shop to set up a stand buying and selling gold any day now. The prices of the precious metals are going through the roof and jewellers will tell you that more and more women are selling their bracelets.

Story continues below…

At my supermarket in western Berlin, the notice board has become a snapshot of a hard Christmas. Somebody is offering a biography of former chancellor and local hero Willy Brandt for a measly €8, another person is parting with his beloved lambskin coat, and even children are selling their Barbies and Playmobil sets. It’s as if the whole community is on a leaking lifeboat and needs to shed weight quickly, as if everything has to be converted into cash before December 24.

Is this not what Merkel’s government wants? Spend, spend, spend – boost domestic demand and keep up growth in the coming months? Well, yes. Except that a lot of this money is being spent on goods made in China. The German consumer Christmas is Chinese; 75 percent of the toys being sold are made there. One factory outside Shanghai produces 10,000 Christmas items for Germany. Plastic snowmen with plastic carrots for noses, Santa hats with bells on, and tin angels with harps.

The only German item in German living rooms this Christmas is likely to the Christmas tree. But if you get a practical plastic one with flashing lights that will, of course, be made in China. Here’s hoping your Tannenbaum wasn’t made in the same factory as the toxic toys underneath it.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

23:46 December 20, 2009 by lordkorner
Roger Boyes is an idiot,what a stupid article,nothing more nothing less,stupid stupid stupid. I can't believe that this man writes for The Times,unless of course its The Springfield Times.
23:05 December 21, 2009 by piper1
But it's true !

Germany must be one of the last bastions of locally made products.

In Australia, USA, Canada, Asia, UK... ( and thats just the places I have been in the last 2 years to notice this ) ... everything you touch and buy is Chineese, not just the toys.... just take the time to look at the label...

Germany.. soon it will be your turn..
13:31 December 23, 2009 by Mick Dee
'Germany must be one of the last bastions of locally made products"

No its not mate, the Germans are ecologically educated and dont want this cheap chineese crap under the tree! But who realy does? Oh sorry mate,

" In Australia, USA, Canada, Asia, UK... ( and thats just the places I have been in the last 2 years to notice this )"

No it will not be our turn, we care!!
05:23 December 26, 2009 by kaysera
Hooray! Locally made products! What an idea. I would like to buy all I need made in Europe.
22:34 December 26, 2009 by Logic Guy
Well, certainly a mostly domestic economy is provides the most stability. The biggest problem with the global economy is that it is actually based on "local ideas". And so, when there is huge slowdown, like right now, then everyone suffers.

This is true, simply because because the nations involved do not function under a single agrement. (ie the Copenhagen Climate Summit)

Germany has high standards. It could opperate more efficiently by producing more things locally. As the world's largest exporter, Germany is therefore the most vulnerable.

The Danes are Germanic People too. Did you know that Denmark is one of the most efficiently run countries in the world?
01:28 December 30, 2009 by Fredfeldman
Avoid buying Chinese products for any number of reasons. Its that simple.
05:02 December 30, 2009 by richard_vijay
First of all this British Prig should stop calling the Germans "Krauts". I woinder if the would like to be called Island Monkey. I studied in England, and the British are pathological racists. Since they can't call Asians and Blacks; "Pakis and Niggers" , they turn on their own white kindred and racist. And mind you the English are in particular of Germanic origin.No wonder English women are good looking and very good to take to bed wuink..wink.
11:56 January 4, 2010 by loz_adele
steady on richard_vijay, there's no need to tar all us Brits with the same brush - sure the UK has problems with racism but we're not all racist. There are problems with racism over here in Germany but that doesn't make every German citizen 'pathologically racist' now does it? Stop making stupid and offensive generalizations.
22:15 January 18, 2010 by Thomas Paine
Oh, if you folks knew what chinese junk we Yanks put up with in America. It's everywhere.

I wrote a song about the Chinese schrott we have here. It's pathetic. We have stores of WalMarts and Target that are row after row, shelf after shelf, aisle after aisles of cheap Chinese communist slave-made garbage of such tenuous quality. 3months to a year and it's broken for good. Even when Volkswagen brought the Beetle to America in 1957, as cheap as it was, it was still quality. Like all the other German products I try to buy. I look for locally mad, but, it's harder to find than the German.

You germans make wonderful products and we americans, who love quality buy the products. It's just after the Japanese invasion, we lack any manufacturing. Since the "feel-good" mindlessness of Ronald Reagan, our main product is rich executives. All of our factories are in China.

As for being called a Kraut, we Americans are called "Yanks" the world over because of the Limeys. Oops, wait. Maybe we all have sobriquets for each other. I don't mind the moniker of "Yank," knowing it's congenial origin, but I could certainly understand objection to being called "Kraut" considering it's pejorative origin. However, I think it's more of an affection term used by Mr. Boyes. In America, the bitter, acidic attacks on web pages like this has just made us all hate each other. Frankly, I hoped you Germans and the German imports would not stoop to this.

I'm coming over from Tampa in two weeks. You guys make nice before I get there and get in a good mood.
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