The Art of Gift Giving

by d

What if I want a Quicker Picker Upper?

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:

  1. Household appliances are a household expense. Don’t act like you’re doing me a favor.
  2. Don’t think I’m some 1950s housefrau who swoons at the sight of a new set of tupperware.
  3. 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?

  1. Hint, hint, fix something!
  2. 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?

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4 Comments to “The Art of Gift Giving”

  1. Eh. I don’t think there’s anything universal about what is and isn’t appropriate, despite how much people attempt to make it so. Each person is an individual. You should get to know that person, or at least what they’ve been staring at or talking about lately, and get them something you’re pretty sure they’d like. I don’t understand why men think vacuums are something women will think are teh shiz. I don’t think I’d be upset if I got one, but I wouldn’t be thrilled, either. I’m generally happy to be getting a gift at all, though. :p Last Christmas (and also last b-day since they’re close together) I got absolutely nothing from anyone, because nobody could afford to buy anything. :p

    I have to wonder WHY this girl does absolutely nothing to help out, but that’s none of my business. <<;; Still, there is one sure way that she can know that he will get her what she wants; tell him she wants THIS and if she sees another item like the last two years…well he doesn't even wanna know.

    • Poor V! Gifts aren’t the be-all and end-all but I hope someone at least did something nice for you, like make a dinner you enjoy. There should be some kind of celebration. And that’s what I’m talking about–it’s the thought, the effort.

      Yeah, I’m never, ever understood this idea that another person should ‘just KNOW’ what you want. So they’re mind readers now?

  2. Worst present ever: red and gold beaded head-dress, from my mother.
    Intention I did not recognize at the time: It’s a costume accessory! My daughter loves dressing up and creating characters, doesn’t she?
    It’s just that red and gold beads… together… no. And the thing fell apart and sprayed beads everywhichway when I first pulled it out of the bag.
    But, that’s being picky. Costumes are not something she understands. We have *very* different ideas of what makes for good color combination, what makes for a flattering cut, etc. etc. Finnicky stuff.
    Best birthday gift ever (from my mom, lets streamline this comment): a birthday card that read: “…Most of all, that you feel loved. Because you are.” Now, how do you top that? And during the year that we had our falling-out, no less!
    Personally, I’m of the school that teaches: Cards is where it’s at. Not everyone has the insight or resources to choose/buy/make the “right” gift for the receiver; but a card is a little symbol that you care. Even when you don’t know what to write, if you put some thought into picking the card (when they don’t, it’s really obvious) or making it (oooh hand-made cards!) then that tells me what really matters to me: that you care.

  3. Although anyone who gives me well-chosen supplies (and/or tools) for my various crafts will get many good points in my book!

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