... is my term for the occasion when you receive something that is really not 'you', but you think you are obliged to wear, display or serve. I have a drawer stuffed with Giftwhacks.

Some are real head-scratchers. How is it that my in-laws see me as someone who would wear gauze harem pants? Others are clearly something that the giver thought was nice, but not remotely something I'd wear: oversized, lifelike bird earrings. (What bird, I am not sure, maybe a condor?)

Then there are the simply
badly-made items, like a necklace that always turns itself wrong side out, and scratches so badly that my chest looks like a TB test site.

The answer of course is Goodwill. But what if they visit, and look eagerly for the tole-paper cat collage?
My illogical solution has been to keep some of these items, but not display. That way, if SIL asks about the cats, I can say, "Oh, it's right here..." But SIL has not visited in the 15 years since she gave me that gift (she lives far away; we meet in Florida) and has in fact forgotten it. I've also offered a few jewelry items to my sons to re-gift, because, though appealing, they are simply too young for me.

How to avoid Giftwhacking?

1. Give the right thing
The simplest way is to
tune your ears like a bat and listen for what the recipient longs for. Your sister may mention, leafing through a Garnet Hill catalog, that she "loves that Simon Pearce". Never mind if you find the designs bland; this is for her.

For more thoughts on attuned and artful gifting, read my series of posts under the label "There Will be Gifts".

2. When in doubt, give comestibles
It helps to know
if the person loves Grand Marnier, is allergic to nuts, or mad for milk chocolate, but not dark. They'll enjoy a treat, and won't be subjected to your scanning gaze as you clock their kitchen for that cute cookie jar.

3. Give an experience
A manicure/pedi
cure, theatre tickets, dinner for two, a river raft trip... endless possiblities. My office mates gave me a cut at my salon.

Just be sure they can swap a service if, say, they'd rather have a facial at the spa, and that there's a long enough window for booking; a year is good.

4. Desperate times call for desperate gift cards

The bottom-feeder of the gifting world, use these only if, for example, your opera-lover craves more CDs but you don't know what's in his collection.

If I absolutely have to give a GC, I will write a very personal note to accompany it. Teens are enthusiastic recipients of GCs, but anyone over 25 should learn conscious gift-giving.

Whoops, I Whacked

I gave a friend a set of bath products, and saw that a year later, she gave them to her mother. Turns out she only showers. Le Duc has a petrified bag of Starbucks chocolate-covered espresso beans in his sock drawer, from me. Apparently there are some things a wife does not know. Live, learn and do not take it personally.

Make gifting a guilt-free zone

The Whackee is free to do whatever with your gift, which is another way of stating my mother's advice, "Give with an open hand".

I gave my
SIL an exquisite hand-bound journal. She told me later that she had given it to one of her students, to support the girl's writing. I was initially irritated, but then accepted that it was hers to do with as she wished.

In some cultures the recipient is obliged to display a gift, wanted or not. (One of my friends said she was grateful for the small house fire that destroyed her former mother in law's gifts of her sculpture.)
I'm happy to see this rule melt away along with not taking the last cookie on the plate.

As we vow to decrease clutter and "more" becomes a questionable goal, guilt-free disposal of Giftwhacks is finally coming out of the overstuffed closet.


Imogen Lamport said…
Excellent advice Duchesse. I have many clients who have been giftwhacked garments that they have no interest in ever wearing. My advice is to stop cluttering up their lives with the item (wouldn't you rather Le Duc threw out those beans?), and get rid of it. If anyone ever asks - the item got ripped or stained whilst wearing and couldn't be salvaged (so the knick knack was broken by a clumsy cleaner etc).

Regift to someone who actually likes it.

Have you ever asked someone what they did with a gift you gave?
Duchesse said…
Impogen, I've never asked! Was surprised that SIL volunteered that she gave my gift away, but she's a straightforward women. I think Le Duc is seeing if the beans will petrify if left for a decade.
metscan said…
The topic is an interesting one. It is indeed difficult to buy a perfect gift, unless you know what she/he really likes. Personally, a box of Swiss chocolates would be fine for me. I too have a drawer for storing the not-so-me presents, and eventually I pass them onwards. I have a friend living in the States, actually she is the god-mother of my eldest daughter, who visits us when she is around. I´m a bit sad that only once, has she gifted my daughter with something. It was a tiny, tiny plain silverish bracelet wrapped in a huge present bag! We invite her every time to our house, when she´s around, and not once has she brought anything along. She has been living abroad now 30 years, and I thought that in the States it is a custom to bring along something when you visit your friends? Is she being just frugal or what ? I, myself, have given her gifts, but now I think I´m done too.
lagatta à montréal said…
I think you have to be careful of the "experience" gifts too - more than one simply winds up unused.

Hint, do NOT buy me anything "thrilling" like a whitewater raft experience.

I once had a major fight with a friend who was compulsively giving me (and presumably others) little junky gifts from dollar stores.
Duchesse said…
metscan: In North American etiquette (and in that of other cultures with which I am familiar) a visitor brings a house or 'hostess' gift or takes one's hosts out for dinner or other entertainment. Gifts might also be given to individuals, or the hosts' children. For example, it's a nice idea to arrive with books for children. You need not then, also provide a 'hostess' gift'

Alternatives, depending on visitors' talents and host's willingness, is to cook for the host (in the home) or contribute their talents in other ways. A friend who is a guitarist gave a classical guitar concert when visiting.

lagatta: OK, I won't! The key to all gifting is to be conscious of the preferences of the recipient.

I wonder what your friend was hoping to convey with those gifts.
Anonymous said…
Duchesse ~ I enjoy your blog immensely. Could you please do a post on Capri pants. Are they still considered stylish? I have a feeling I should retire mine for gardening only.
Anjela's Day said…
Years ago my well meaning sister sent me a huge box of shoes. They were size 6 or 7... too small for my size 10 1/2 feet!
She had sent me vibrant turquoise boots with platform heels! Really a gaudy shade. I am more a beige, taupe, white or cream colored person. Maybe even black or brown(in shoes or boots) but vibrant turquoise tinged with green is my least favorite shade.
My sister-in-law in Ireland who takes size 6 or 7 opened her box and received several pairs of enormous(for her) size 10 1/2 shoes and boots!!!
I can relate.
Duchesse said…
Anjela: I am guessing she mistakenly swapped boxes since your sister got your size, and vice-versa.

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