There will be gifts, part two

Gifts fall into three major categories:
1. Delightful
A gift that celebrates, thrills, elevates, engages, intrigues, indulges, or expands the recipient's world
Example: An invitation to a reading by her favourite writer, and a signed copy of the new book
2. Appreciated
A pleasant or useful gift
Example: Scented drawer liners
3. Cringe-inducing
The gift is a burden, or even worse, irritates the recipient, who perceives thoughtlessness or indifference (even if unintended).
Example: A pair of earrings made from recycled spoon (left) and fork (right)

Category One is an art whether an acquired skill or innate talent. It's not that hard to hit Category Two (see yesterday's post).

Below, the behaviours and mind sets that nudge a gift towards Category Three.

1. Cloning

My friend R.'s long-time BF routinely gives her (a woman of 55) the identical items he choses for his college-aged daughters: they get a cashmere turtleneck, so does she. You might not look a gift turtle in the mouth, but after years of clone gifts she does not feel special.

2. Fit failure
H. gave me a glamourous black lace top
that I swooned to wear till I looked at the size tag: I haven't been that small for 15 years.

No tags and a borrowed box (see below) meant exchange was impossible.

3. Box pox

wing" a box from a high end boutique, in which you present your more modest find, makes you look cheap even if the gift is not. The absolute worst is the orange Hermes box with nothing remotely from H-Heaven inside.

Note frozen smile of recipient.

4. Regifting
Bad karma. Give the unwanted item to charity, to someone who could use it (but not as a gift) or sell it.

There may be an escape clause if you know your sister in law would be crazy for the Hummel figurines you think are hideous, but look in your heart first.

5. No option to exchange

Sometimes you find the perfect item (those leopard mules!): "I know she will love them... but would she wear a 9 or 9 1/2?
" A gift receipt tucked in the box saves the day.

Some people find them tacky, but for a locally-purchased item that needs to fit, I'd do it. I also appreciated them when I received four copies of a book from various friends.

6. If you have to persuade her it's "right", it's wrong

Joan and I, traveling in India, found a pair of large blue topaz studs of fine quality. We th
ought they would look stunning on Carolyn.

But the lovely Carolyn wears only the most minimal plain gold jewelry. Perhaps she would bling up and love them, but they'd as likely sit in lonely exile in the bottom of a drawer. There are times to take a chance, but this, with zero opportunity to exchange, was not one.

7. You adore it- but does SHE?
"Don't you just love Dixieland!"
M.'s cousin gushed as she presented her with a boxed set of eight CDs. No, M. is a bebop girl all the way.

I'm amazed at how many gifts are actually wish fulfillment for the giver.

8. It is NOT the thought that counts

can have thoughts. Open your heart, then open your wallet. Don't make excuses for being cheap like "What do you give the person who has everything? I just couldn't figure it out."

Life is not about the stuff, and the best gift is enduring love. But gifts are symbols,
and the more 'symbolic' the occasion, the more an acknowledgment of the milestone counts.

I am not saying you have to spend a lot of money, but if you've got it, share it. Nothing is more graceless than a prosperous person who gives a stingy gift. My GF B.'s BF bought himself his second Jaguar and gave her a coffeemaker.

9. Seek professional help
If you want to delight but are not sure what that might be, call someone close to the recipient, and say, "What would Audrey absolutely love?"

10. Give gift certificates only in specific situations
OK for group office gift, for a just-married couple who needs many things, or for the teen who likes bands you've never heard of.

Fine too when the gift is an experience: theatre tickets, spa visit, whale-watching expedition.

But flat and unexciting as substitute for the object: a Banana Republic gift card is far less fun than the sprightly skirt.

Exception example: Each year, my DH's elderly aunt sends him a cheque and requests that the family dine at a great restaurant. We toast her and reminisce about our visits to her distant home.

Another exception: My in-laws had a reno project going that coincided with their 50th wedding anniversary. My gift idea was a weekend at Brandy Pot Island lighthouse B&B, but I was voted down, and their children gave them gift card for Home Depot. They were appreciative; you have to know the recipients. (I still like my idea better.)

11. Good works rarely thrill
For several years, I informed my closest women friends that since we all had enough stuff (my opinion), I was donating to breast cancer research and womens' shelters.

They put up with it for two years and then asked that I "do both". They were not ready to go the purely philanthropic route and I'm glad they told me so.

Exception, again: My friend Pearse turned 50 and told us all he wanted was our contribution to the foundation that supported him in his recovery from colon cancer.

12. Don't give anyone over twelve a gag gift
Years ago my friend Nan turned 40, with a huge party. About 70% of the gifts were ageist items that givers thought were hilarious: wrinkle creams, tummy-tuck jeans, every jokey, hokey card about sagging body bits, cougars... you name it.

My gift was a cocoa silk chemise edged with cream lace, a sexy Sophia Loren number that she wore to great effect at a party for two soon after.

The "funny" gifts were in the trash before the glasses were washed.

Enough about "what not to give"! Tomorrow I'll post examples of Category One, highly-evolved gift-giving.


Nancy said…
Marvelous series! Can't wait for Part 3.

I am known among my friends as a thoughtful and creative gift-giver, with one glaring exception: wedding gifts. For some reason it's much more than twice as hard to buy gifts for a couple as it is to buy for one person. I generally relent and go to the damn wedding registry and order the Le Creuset casserole or whatever.

Absent nuptial pressure, I love to give unique and literally priceless gifts only I can give. In my case--I'm a writer--I often give my nearest and dearest a poem, a rhyming toast, or a song parody.
materfamilias said…
You are doing a wonderful job of covering the elements of gift-giving -- important work! I think it's helpful to realize that givers lacking good instincts can nonetheless learn. In fact, I'd say that bothering to learn is the first step because giving well is really about caring and trying just a little bit harder rather than just crossing something off a list.
Anonymous said…
I am loving this series. It should be part of the Life Skills curriculum in high school, right in there with balancing one's checkbook and how to drive a stick shift.
Duchesse said…
Nancy: Wedding gifts are a bear and the pressure is intense- admit I default to what they registered for. Oh I would LOVE a poem or song.

ma: School for the Gifted Gifter? Yes anyone can learn; men start from farther back in my experience.

kmkat: When he was about six, my son Jules gave a boy a marble he loved so much he wept as he presented it. Yes, a life skill.
Deja Pseu said…
This is a wonderful series, but makes me realize that I was born into a family of lousy gift-givers and married into another one, so much so that we don't do much gifting either of my families anymore. We do a lot of charity donations in each others' names around the holidays, which seems to be a relief for all concerned. When it comes to structured gift giving (birthdays, holidays) I generally suck as well, usually because I just don't have the time to do the kind of shopping that excellent personal gift giving requires. I try to make up for that with being quite adept at the spontaneous gift, seeing something that I know someone will LOVE and giving it to them just because.

I've come to expect most gifts I receive to disappoint, and am surprised and thrilled when they don't.
Duchesse said…
Pseu: The spontaneous gift is the BEST! Next to that I like birthday gifts (because it's not a commercial, legislated day) or anniversaries of all sorts.

I believe gifting, like cooking, can be learned. Am really prejudiced: IMO a man who is an indifferent gift giver is not likely to be able to give of himself, either.

I called a GFs BF to ask him to peek in her dressing table and tell me what perfume she was wearing these days. HE REFUSED to walk 80 feet and look- I even said he could 'get back to me'. I took this as a metaphor for what he was willing to do for her, and I stand by it.
Giftex Blog said…
Gag gifts can be a lot of fun for both giver and receiver. They are an excellent idea for making a home or office festive party that much funnier. Laughter that they generate is always a great return gift without you asking for it. But remember that gag gifts are more for fun and the receiver should be light-hearted enough in realizing their playful tone.
Duchesse said…
Giftex: It seems you place responsibility on the receiver who "should be light hearted enough in realizing their playful tone."

I appreciate this post because it describes a rationale for gag gifts: "Making a party 'that much funnier'".

If that is one's reason for giving a gift, it's a very different goal (and resulting shopping trip) than that of celebrating, honouring and delighting the recipient.

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