Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Free, free, free

Do you know what I love? Free samples. I love free samples more than almost anything. It's pathological. That was how I ended up in Céline's tentacles yesterday, the lure of the free sample. She wasn't even that generous, presumably reasoning that I was wearing several kilos of free make up by the time she finished with me.

I love anything free, actually, and would argue that this is a basic human instinct with some important evolutionary basis that I have not entirely thought through. Give me time though. Have you ever been at a mainline station when they are giving out unspeakable flavoured new crisps or banana and tofu cereal bars, or tiny samples of men's deodorant? And there are inexplicable hordes of people queueing up for fizzy strawberry yoghurt drinks? Well there I am, right at the front of the queue, ideally angling for two or three, and coming back a few minutes later from another angle to try and inveigle them into giving me even more. That's more: STUFF I DO NOT LIKE. But like I say, it's pathological. A typical Wednesday (my day off) when we lived in Spitalfields would involve me taking both boys on a lengthy tour of Liverpool Street station and its environs to see how much free crap we could accumulate. I even once signed up for a gym induction (I KNOW) so that Lashes could get a free frisbee. I love free.

There is a hierarchy of free, though, and my favourite kind of free is free cosmetic samples. This is an area where France effortlessly outclasses England. In England, obtaining the smallest pathetic vial of carpet cleaner scented perfume requires a rigorous vetting process akin to a job interview. Do you LIKE the brand? Are you committed? What are you buying today to merit our mililitre of synthetic bird sick? Or course, this also plays on our natural British reticence. We would not dream of actually ASKING for free samples, so the sadistic sales ladies in Boots, or at beauty counters the length and breadth of Britain withold them, only opening their magical drawer of promise when you have already parted with large wodges of your cash on some piece of pricey snake oil.

The extension of this, of course, are those "free gift with two purchases (of which one skincare)" offers that act on my cerebral cortex like some kind of a class A narcotic, removing all sense, judgment and inhibitions. I MUST HAVE the bronze pleather beach bag with the pearlised pink lip gloss, the hand cream (hand cream, you are simply pointless, sorry) and the blue eyeshadow, dolly sized. It's pre-rational. I have to have it. I queue up with my fellow zombies to select the cheapest combination of product that gives access to free gift nirvana, ignore the scorn of the saleshags, snatch my dainty padded lurex pochette and run away, cackling, to admire my spoils. They are invariably 85% horrid and pointless to 15% useful, but somehow the total economic idiocy of these operations never discourages me.

It's not like that in France. For France is the land of Sephora. As a nineteen year old arriving in France, Sephora was like the land of milk and honey for me. Not only did it have the joy of self service shelves (no need to talk to drag queen faced gorgons to buy a bottle of cleanser!) and testers, but as a matter of course, whatever tiny item you bought, the girls on the counter would nonchalantly open their magic drawer, sweep up a handful of precious tiny magic items, and put them in your bag. Most of the fun of buying any kind of make up was in the bag of esoterica you would get with it, things you could take home and stroke gleefully. Usually, I wouldn't even get round to using them, or would discover they smelt like Dettol, or brought me out in a rash, or were a shade of foundation best described as 'baby poo'. That was Not The Point, however. The point was the freeness. The freeness extends even to French pharmacies,where they are quite liable to hand over whole fistfuls of treats even if you are only buying a toothbrush. Sometimes the samples you receive are quite puzzling, admittedly. I remember a work trip to Monte Carlo (this was before the credit crunch reduced us to cycling trips to Knokke la Zoute, ah, happy age of innocence) where after buying a facial scrub, I got a cream for cracked nipples and a mysterious nasal spray whose instructions were entirely in Italian. Not to mention this incident.

Of course, if the free samples are actually good, even better. My absolute best ever holiday was at Les Sources de Caudalie*, not just because it is a spa in a vineyard (and let's just take a minute over that. A Spa. In a VINEYARD. Does it get any better than that?), or because it's outrageously beautiful and stylish AND you get to fight with a giant homicidal swan and you might get to see someone halfway famous in their dressing gown. No. Because in the spa changing rooms they had giant baskets of free samples. And I mean GIANT. Every morning I would go down there in my robe and come out, pockets bulging with small tubes and phials. Then I would go back and do the whole thing again, and again, and again until the basket was empty. The massages were fantastic, sure, and the scrub with grape pips was an experience, but the real pleasure was sitting on my bed afterwards and gloating at my ever growing mountain of product samples. I still consider it one of my most cost effective holidays ever, since I didn't need to buy any skincare products for eighteen whole months thereafter.

There isn't really any point to this post except to say look!

Look how much FREE STUFF I have accumulated, and this is only at pharmacies, and from Céline. Never mind the quality, feel the quantity. Oooh. Free.

*For the avoidance of doubt, sadly Les Sources de Caudalie are NOT paying me to say this. Hardly surprising since I have basically just admitted to stealing most of their inventory. And I wonder why noone offers me free stuff on this blog? Pah.


theharridan said...

i, too, am a free stuff lover. my parents were all about chasing the free, so as a child would endure strange evenings in appliance shops while we quaffed the free toasted sandwiches, politely listened to the man demonstrating the new kettle/deep fryer/WAFFLE iron, and then crept home, all self-congratulatory and full. All for free. Sigh. what memories. of course, there was less to do in a small town in NZ in the 80's. and I had a mullet, but that's another story.

Artichoke Queen said...

Jo Malone is a surprisingly good free stuff emporium. And, they will even give you the flavours you specify so you don't end up with anything vile. Last time I was there I got four perfumes, two bath oils, a body cream and a face cream. All in reasonable weekend-away sized glass containers. Heaven.

Can we go to the spa in a vineyard, now, please? Maybe that is the right place for the WaffleCrone Retirement Home?

bevchen said...

Yay for free. Free is good!
German pharmacies give away free stuff as well, but all I ever get are packets of tissues, while the boyfriend manages to get things like tubes of those multi-vitamin thingies you dissolve in water and random cough sweets. It is most unfair. I want free multivitamins!

redfox said...

The Sephoras here have started an obnoxious frequent-buyer program where you get access to "deluxe" samples only by racking up points at a rate of one per dollar spent. By accepting ONE of these puny items (available in some rotating system where there are three different ones on offer each time you shop) you spend a HUNDRED of your points. Bah and fie, I say.

Kate said...

the last 2 nice hotels i stayed in, i took every bottle of shampoo and soap i could find, plus, when the cleaning lady had her cart in the hall and had walked away, i nicked several others. No, i have probably never used any of it and even was stingy enough that i didn't want to give too much of it to my SIL who tried to take it all, but it was DAMNED GOOD STUFF - aveda and annick goutal!!!

Veronica Wald said...

Oh, you would like our neighborhood supermarket ("Treasure Island, Chicago's Most European Grocery Store!"). I shop there even though I can't afford to because you can eat your entire dinner for free, starting with fruit slices in the produce department, moving on to FABULOUS Romanian stuff called avjar (http://www.chow.com/general_topics_digest/5888) (pronounced no one knows how) smeared on little slices of slightly stale euro-bread or multigrain flatbread, sensational cheeses to be stabbed with toothpicks and lifted to one's happily waiting maw, and bowls of peanut butter-flavored granola (really!) with plastic spoons for shoveling samples into your mouth. The only terrible thing is that they no longer have the chocolate fountain with strawberries. I guess because shoppers, once they finally got to the head of the line, just stood there, holding berry after berry under the streaming chocolate until people behind started to get kind of snarky about it. Oh, I almost forgot, there's also always first class (i.e., $35/liter) balsamic vinegar with dipping toast to test. Take it from me, this is *even better* than useless cosmetic samples (which I also love). Come visit any time!

westendmum said...

I am unbelievably impressed by your use of links as opposed to Lynx a cheap English boys afterchav.

AND a makeover in Paree with Ladurée, although I agree one is supposed to eat the cake not sport it.

Good work double O seven.


Completely Alienne said...

I love free too, though being a tightwad, there are limits to what I am prepared to pay for it. Oddly, I draw the line at clearing out the hotel bathroom but my daughters don't, so what the hell.

A spa, in a vineyard. I shall dream about that tonight.

Artichoke Queen said...

Oh, yes, speaking of hotels: Four Seasons resorts. 4 oz bottles of L'Occitane (shampoo, conditioner, bath gel, shea butter lotion, and after sun lotion), plus full sized bars of soap, twice a day. That's about $100 worth of cosmetics daily. I like to mentally deduct it from the room rate to make myself feel better about how much my holiday is costing me.

Mya said...

Everytime I go into Sephora I just sit on the floor and weep...it's the best beauty sweetshop ever.When they see me they just call security, which cuts down on my browsing time.And of course, I always get paranoid and over analyse the free samples - why did she put in pore refiner? Hair removal cream? Nuclear deodorant? Something called a 'disposable cosmetic hood'?

Mya x

Metropolitan Mum said...

HA! It was you, I knew it. I was one of the poor gals handing out free samples of absurdly flavoured instant soup/cigarettes (yes, back in the days...)/yoghurt drinks and nescafe. I was regularly run over by free-lovers, poked and pulled and shouted at for MORE MORE MORE.

Helena Halme said...

The question is: do you ever later buy the stuff you got free? Obviously not the tofu drinks...

Ps. There's a free sample award for you on my blog.

mysterycreature said...

I am yet another addict of free stuff. My particular favourites are the number 7 freebies from boots - I use the contents religiously!

expateek said...

Good thing you didn't go to BlogHer. The freebies might have fried your brain! And I'm sure the combination Microsoft Office & Spa would have finished you off.

everybodysaysdont said...

oooh I LOVE freebies too - my major weakness in this direction is magazine freebies, I think I have an illness, I get every bag (never use them) every t-shirt, lotion, note book etc etc....I confess. Oh god.

Red Shoes said...

Sephora finally moved to New Orleans last year and it's really just the best thing ever. I love how they will let you try anything in the store. Is how I know that Hourglass foundation is really nice but way too much coverage for me, while YSL is perfect, perfect. Now, I just have to stop abusing their sample system and actually purchase a tube which is unlikely to happen anytime soon as I totally can't afford it.

Jaywalker said...

harridan - oh, I would have been there, shoving extra toasted sandwiches in my pocket for later. and probably the plates too. Hmm, the line between free stuff and theft is a grey one.

AQ - oooh! But do you have to demonstrate your purchasing credentials in some way?

bevchen - my hunch is that this is how pharmacists get their fun. That, and when people come in wanting something for piles.

redfox - my jaw genuinely, literally dropped when I read that. SOSOOOO WRONG.

Kate - it comforts me more than I can say that you also raid the chambermaids' carts when their backs are turned.

Veronica - I would actually like to go your supermarket right now. Is that ok? Will you take me?

westendmum - as so often I sort of feel the makeover happened in spite of me rather than because of me. but thanks anyway angel.

CA - you don't clear out hotel bathrooms? your restraint shames me.

AQ - can't we just have the hagretreat in a four seasons resort? we could be their pro bono project or something.

Mya - It is. It really really is. You just need to vary your branches a bit.

Metropolitan Mum - no, I was sneaking round the back while you were fighting them off and stealing all your stock.

Helena - interesting. I think the answer is no, but I do actually rather like the bois encens scent sample from armani. Not for myself, but I could imagine buying it for someone who wants to smell like a dusty old church (and I can think of several people I know who would).

mysterycreature - free stuff from boots? proper free, or you have to buy something. tell me tell me.

expateek - I would. I would have been one of those terrifying freebie vampires.

everybodysaysdont - cover mounts! Ah, how I love cover mounts. Even horrible ones.

Red Shoes - nah, just enjoy the sample goodness. Saaaamples... Mm.

DameEmma said...

Not too proud to say that, the ONE time we were upgraded in a good hotel, I discovered the toiletries were Bulgari Green Tea. I nicked them every single day for a week.
The shampoo, conditioner, hand soap, bubble bath, lotion... the lot.

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