How, I wonder, as I sip on a ‘free’ orange juice, has our holiday in Thailand wound up with the kids being shut in a kids club for two hours whilst we get cornered into buying a time-share we don’t want?
‘This isn’t for us,’ I explain, pushing the brochure back across the desk.
The young Thai lady trying to sell us 26 years of holidays on the back of a 5-minute tour around a mocked-up villa picked up on my hostile body language half an hour ago. She’s now enlisted the top salesmen, her manager, Niall (a name borrowed from my holiday read), to do some serious arm-twisting. He seems to think the more pressure he applies, the greater his chance of getting us to pay an $8,000 deposit today.
Maybe I should tell him how long it takes me to write out my weekly shopping list. It can involve hours of deliberation to calculate whether buying avocados on a Monday will be a waste for a salad on Wednesday. Will they have ripened by Wednesday? Will they have over-ripened? I don’t make quick decisions, even about salad.
‘I think this sales pitch might be more successful if you gave people more time to think about it,’ I venture. ‘We didn’t even know what this presentation was about until 2 hours ago.’
Niall doesn’t want my sales tips. He smiles at me like a snake wondering whether to attack. Not yet, it seems.
‘We’ve done the research. Only 1.34% of people who leave this presentation without signing up immediately would go on to sign up later.’
So when people have longer to weigh this proposal up they decide it’s not a good prospect? Niall’s not selling this right.
‘So it’s just $8,000 today unless you want to keep on with the sort of ‘arrangement’ you currently favour.’ (‘Arrangement’ seems to be a reference to semi-carefully-planned holidays that aren’t sketched out on the back of a paper coaster).
’26 years is a very long time,’ I offer.
‘Some decisions are for life, like your husband and kids.’
I can’t decide if my husband’s furrowed brow is because he is hating this as much as me or because he doesn’t like being compared to a week’s time share in Malaga, bunked up with the kids. Maybe both.
‘Holidays are for life, right? You’ll be holidaying in 26 years, won’t you?’
I don’t know. Does anyone? I can’t even do the Maths. My age means we are dealing with quite big numbers. 67 years old? Making me reflect on my advancing years seems a weird sales strategy unless you’re trying to sell life insurance.
‘Well, maybe give people at least until the end of the day,’ I suggest.
I realize now he’s not intending to go for the big kill with me, he’s just going to take small bites.
‘We have invited you for dinner (No, just synthetic OJ, if I am being pedantic.). You are saying ‘No’ to dinner with us but the problem is we will never ask you for dinner again.’
Good, I think.
Later, I will be invited to sign a document that acknowledges I will never ever be eligible for this horrible experience again. I write my signature extra large.
‘People need time to think through the details,’ I say.
‘I can see you brought your lawyer with you,’ says Niall to my husband. He doesn’t sneer but he manages to makes the word ‘lawyer’ sound more offensive than I’ve ever heard it intoned.
‘Sir, you’re a pilot,’ he continues (not a troublesome lawyer, seems to be the sub-text). ‘In the military, doesn’t your job require you to make quick decisions?’
‘But this isn’t an emergency!’ I object. ‘This isn’t Iraq or Afghanistan. Holidays aren’t an emergency.’
‘Do you have a house or do you prefer to rent?’ Niall asks my husband, ignoring me.
‘We plan to buy,’ my husband hedges. I hope Niall’s not going to try and sell us a family home as well.
‘And your last car- was that yours?’
Or a car.
‘We bought it,’ says my husband. Bringing up our days with that MPV, much hated by my husband, unwittingly does Niall no favours.
‘So you people like to buy, you don’t like to rent. I’m offering you the chance to buy your future holidays, not rent the interconnecting rooms you currently choose. This is a chance to stop renting.’
Niall is suddenly onto something, for a fleeting moment he is onto something. That idea of permanence in place of uncertainty, the offer to buy instead of rent, to be fruitful and not fritter. My ears prick up, momentarily.
‘So we’ll need the $8,000 before you leave.’
Unsurprisingly, we don’t take the time share. The story behind how we came to be in that aggressive sales situation is that we were promised, in return for attending the presentation, a day trip encompassing all the things I most want to do whilst here in Thailand. It seemed too good to be true (and yet still worth a look?!)
We will have to wait to see what happens with the trip but it reminds me of when I won a holiday on a free scratch card in the Sunday papers years ago. After running up a £30 phone bill to get the details, I learnt I had won a one-way foot passenger ferry ticket to the Netherlands. My parents explained, if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. But how many of us still have our heads turned by a seemingly good offer, even if the brain inside is triggering alarm bells?! A lot, it would seem- there were hordes of us at desks opposite sales teams in that the presentation suite.
Sitting back in our hotel now, where we could have been all morning, enjoying the holiday we are actually on, I have 2 questions.
The first is this: how much of my current life am I missing out on whilst I am distracted by the future, with all its unknowns? We traded a morning with our children, enjoying the blessings of this break, to be tied up in anxious knots about future holidays. That sort of waste troubles me even more than wasted avocados!
My father-in-law says humans are great at living in the past, with all its nostalgic trips down memory lane, and great at living in the future, with its mysterious worries and tantalizing hopes, but how many of us are good at living in the present? At focusing on the here and now? On living inside the grace of a day?
My second question leapt from a song that started playing in my head after this morning’s presentation: Dido’s ‘Life for Rent.’ Like Niall, the lyrics got me questioning, as I did in my twenties when I first heard it: am I a renter or a buyer? How exactly do I want to live my life?
There was something so tempting in this morning’s brief talk of swapping the temporary for the permanent, in the idea of committing fully to something rather than hedging and waiting, guessing and worrying. Until, that is, the big dollar sign reminded me that we were being massaged into a lie: the lie that the physical can always be relied upon- that with enough money, through careful reading of the small print, we can buy a share in something lasting.
My faith teaches me that Jesus has already bought my life for me, already secured a share in something that won’t spoil or fade. I don’t need to rent, to hold off from committing for fear of what the future holds. He is my future. And I don’t even need to buy- this is a done deal. I just need to accept the free gift. One that isn’t too good to be true, just true.
But today reminds that there was a cost involved. More than $8,000. My life cost him his. At such a high price, I need to use it wisely. So what am I going to do with it? As the summer holidays pass, the start of a new school year brings with it huge change for us and opportunities to grow. It would be easy to get busy making my own plans…
Before we came away, I met a man living every day as though it might be his last. A man living inside the grace of today. He is helping people in ways that shouldn’t even be possible, entering places where he’s not welcome, saving people he shouldn’t be able to meet, all because of his love for the man who saved him.
For the first time in a while, I feel hungry for faith lived like that. Not in religious platitudes and by rote but sacrificially and fruitfully.
My favorite quote of the holiday so far was an American man’s assessment of a glass of water subtley flavoured with orange slices handed to him by a hotel receptionist. ‘When I have an orange, I want to sink my teeth into it, not lick the outside,’ he bellowed disdainfully.
That’s what I want! To sink my teeth into something genuine. To taste, not a synthetic substitute, but the real deal, something sweet, possibly sharp, maybe even a bit shocking, but something ultimately, infinitely good.