I have one rule for gifts, both given and received. The person receiving should want it.
This week I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine. We were talking about this guy she knows, and how she was hoping he’d do something nice for her birthday. She wasn’t entirely sure he’d figure it out, though. He has a bad track record. In the past, he’s given his girlfriend… a cookbook, and… a vacuum cleaner.
Pause and think about this. A cookbook and a vacuum cleaner. Different years, not at the same time.
My friend contends that this is never, ever an appropriate gift, especially for a birthday.
I can think of a number of excellent reasons why they’re damn well shitty birthday gifts:
- Household appliances are a household expense. Don’t act like you’re doing me a favor.
- Don’t think I’m some 1950s housefrau who swoons at the sight of a new set of tupperware.
- There is always the subtle implication that I should use these items. Hint, hint.
In the particular case we were discussing. #3 is very relevant, as the girlfriend is allegedly very lazy and does nothing to help out. Giving her these things is a highly insulting passive aggressive way of saying, “You need to do more for this household.”
Part of my friend’s strong belief comes from the fact that her mother, upon marrying her father in the 1970s, informed him in no uncertain terms that he must never give her a household appliance as a gift, or he’d be out on his ass. He only broke this rule once, for something she wanted very, very much. And he made sure he wasn’t in the house when she opened it. Now, this was 70s, and it was very important to make such distinctions up front. I would probably have done something similar. But I don’t think this necessitates a universal ban.
When I first heard “cookbook,” my first response was, “What kind? Cuz there are some awesome cookbooks out there.” I like cooking. I like experimenting. I am a Kitchen Person. So, giving me a kitchen gift? Great way to make me happy. Those are things I want.
As for the vacuum, it isn’t hard at all for me to imagine a scenario where a new vacuum might bring tears to my eyes.
Imagine, if you will, that you are part of a youngish couple. Neither of you makes much money. You’re scraping by. The vacuum you do have is on its last legs. It won’t start. It spits out as much as it takes up. Every time you use it is an ordeal, that ends with you frustrated and angry. You are counting the days until you can afford a new one.
Your SO has a surprise for you. He/she bought the vacuum, early! Does it matter how? They went out of their way and got you something that is going to improve the quality of your life. Something you want.
My friend is unmoved. Nope, she says. Never.
As a feminist, I see a really strong argument against it.Women are not slaves to household chores, and no one should assume we all just looooove doing them simply because we are women. That is a clear indication that your SO doesn’t understand you at all. I suggest demoting him or her.
So, would you ever give a man a vacuum? How about a set of tools?
- Hint, hint, fix something!
- What makes you think he knows how to use them or wants to?
Now, on the whole, men seem to be less sensitive about these things than women. They are certainly less prone to throwing a big fit about it. They’re not the ones with the tropes about hissy fits.
We’ve given my dad lots of utilitarian gifts. In fact, all of his gifts fall into one of three categories: Utilitarian, entertainment, or food. That’s it. We do, however, give him things he wants. Like, a new, expensive, really awesome razor for Christmas. Or a new frying pan. (We go through frying pans like you would not believe!) Each time we get, at the very least, a “Cool!” An enthusiastic one.
But, hey, that’s my dad. He doesn’t mind. Would yours? Or is it a matter of age? Dads get used to the ubiquitous Fathers Day Tie, though little boys desperately want something special?
I’d very much like to know your experiences and opinions. What is and isn’t an appropriate gift?