By Helen Ovbiagele
Whatever your circumstances, Christmas invokes some excitement, the degree depending on how many Christmases you’ve celebrated. Naturally, the young are more excited than the more mature people because they look forward to having a good time of foods and drinks and entertainment, more than usual.
Once upon a time, sending/receiving Christmas cards was a big part of the Christmas season. The more we received, the more our joy, because we feel it’s a demonstration of the goodwill people have for us. We proudly display them in our living room. Sadly, with the advent of the gsm, sending text messages have so largely replaced cards, that very few shops sell them, and those who do, no longer have the ones with soul-stirring illustrations/messages we used to cherish.
We thank God that text messages cannot replace Christmas gifts. These make the festive season sizzle for many people, for even if you’re a zillionaire and can afford everything on earth, you may still enjoy receiving presents at Christmas. How times have changed the choice of presents!
Gradually, hampers of all sorts have replaced in many instances, those book gifts, clothes/shoes/accessories gifts, perfumes, toys, etc., that we used to wrap up nicely and send out, or receive. Christmas hampers have become such big business that they form part of the services that many business outfits provide for individuals and the corporate world.
Mid-way into a new year, hamper-makers begin to canvass for business, going round with samples/catalogue of what they can assemble for you, depending on what you want to spend. The competition is fierce, as anyone can turn a hamper provider. All sorts of devises are used to make offers attractive.
Sturdy and pretty plastic containers are gradually replacing the traditional cane hampers which could sag or even break under the weight of their contents. Hampers used to consist of provisions, drinks and some household items, but these days, their contents are becoming more sophisticated and upbeat – expensive drinks, cosmetics, designer towels, footwear, materials for outfits, iron, sandwich toast maker, table top oven, plates and cutlery, as well as the usual provisions.
Some hamper-makers are quite imaginative and gifted in their selection of products that will excite you. The funny thing is that in their bid to make you appreciate their selection, they go for foreign-produced items, whether their quality is inferior to the locally made versions or not.
Some tell you, ‘we use only imported items in our hampers’, and thus they have the perfect excuse for overpricing the hampers.
Then comes the Nigerian factor! At times, expired items are stacked in the hampers. I used to think this was a mistake on the part of the suppliers, but when this keeps happening every year, I began to believe that something funny is going on.
If you get a contract to supply hampers, or, if you’re selling hampers, shouldn’t you go the extra mile to ensure that what you’re supplying are safe for the recipients? A friend told me that expired products, or those on the verge of their expired dates come cheaper for these shylocks, so, they buy them.
It’s advisable not to use tinned/bottled products like – milk, sardines, corned beef, sausages, baked beans, salad cream, mayonnaise, without first checking that they haven’t reached their expiry dates. If you don’t check, you and your family could be in for serious food-poisoning.
A hamper-maker of integrity, who has the interests of his/her customers seriously at heart, would use only products that have at least one more year before their expiry dates. This is because many hamper recipients don’t get round to using the items in them, till much later in the year, or, even the following year.
Unless you’re in the catering business or have a large family, you’re most likely to store away those cans in your pantry, and forget about them. When you stumble on them later, you discover that their sell-by-date was long over. You shouldn’t trust the ‘three month grace’ some people say manufacturers ‘build’ into the expiry date.
It’s best to dump the whole expired lot, no matter how much you feel you could be losing, than consume them at the risk of your health/life. What’s more, don’t dump them where other people are likely to find them and eat their contents. You don’t want it on your conscience that people fell ill because of what you dumped.
Another Nigerian factor in the items in some hampers here, is the presence of empty containers/packages. I know several people, including myself, who have been victims of this. In my case, several times. I removed the sellotape on a tin of imported cookies, and found the tin half-empty!
Same thing with tins of springles, crisps, chocolates, etc. A relative found a strange bottle in the beautiful package of Remy Matin brandy. You hear all sorts of stories about missing items in packages, substituted items, etc. You wonder why cheating has become our second nature here.
“Madam, it’s greed and the poverty mentality” a colleague offered in explanation.
“But that’s stealing,” I remarked. “A hamper should contain exactly what was ordered. Anything otherwise, should be actionable.”
“True, madam, but unless it’s a hamper you ordered and examined yourself, the supplier cannot be charged with fraud. This is because most hampers are gifts, and one would be too embarrassed to tell the person who sent you the hamper, that all wasn’t in order with it. One tends to keep quiet, and it’s on that that the suppliers play on; knowing that there would be no complaints from their clients. So, the fraud will always be there.”
This is true, but I think it’s time to change tunes. First of all, when you place an order for hampers, go over the list of the items, and tell the supplier that all items should have at least one year sell-by-date left. You or your assistant should be shown samples of what would be provided.
Next include a note in the hampers that says that the recipient should please report any foul play in the contents. A close relative once reported to his friend that the drinks in the hamper he sent him had been tampered with. The friend was very grateful for the information, and asked for the bottles, which he sent back to the supplier with a stiff word. She apologized profusely, and replaced them with genuine ones.
Understandably, not all hamper suppliers are bent. Some are quite honest, but if they’re not vigilant when their staff are packing the hampers, items could be removed/swapped for inferior versions. An acquaintance who’s in the hamper business confirmed that there could be foul play in supply, but added that this is usually not to the knowledge of the owner of the business, as he/she wouldn’t risk losing clients. Also, some suppliers don’t actually pack their hampers, but place orders with market women, who make the selection.
Well, whatever the case, we should desist from portraying Nigeria as a country full of crooks. We’re not the poorest nation in the world. We can easily make honesty and integrity our watchword if we want to.