One of my friends is doing a multipart blog series about the neighbor across the street, in the time frame of the first days/weeks/months after my friend bought his house a few years back. And the post on Sunday — speaking of, this is what I’d have posted on Sunday had I not been attempting to binge-watch Who and getting bogged down trying to transfer files from my old laptop to the new one…but I think that gets its own post.
Anyway, the title of the blog on Sunday is “Gift horses have really big teeth”. And as many things as it brought up in my head, I figured my comment would have been as long as a blog post, so why not just make it a post from the start?
Here follows an exploration into the concept of gifting, including why what might look like a gift from the outside, isn’t.
First, let me admit that I enjoy receiving gifts. And I enjoy giving gifts.
Under certain parameters.
A year or two after my mom died, I was having a bit of a tight time financially. I think I might have had to have the sprinklers redone and new landscaping put in, but whatever it was, I was short on funds heading into the Christmas season. By that time, the only people I was exchanging gifts with were Steve and his folks, and while I didn’t have much trouble buying for Steve, I’d run completely dry on ideas for gifts for his parents. I’m pretty sure they were in the same boat with me. So I suggested that they give me the gift of not having to shop for them, and I’d give them the gift of not having to shop for me. And everyone agreed, and it was one of the least stressed, most relaxing holiday seasons ever. Maybe a little something for birthdays, taking his folks out to dinner for their anniversary, and that was pretty much it.
After Steve died, I got out of the habit of exchanging gifts at all.
I believe I mentioned my choice to step away from the Secret Santa thing at work last year (egad, LAST YEAR. Even if it’s only a bit more than a month ago, it’s still LAST YEAR. Why is it I’m still trying to figure out what happened to 2013? Never mind… ***sounds of screeching tires as the blogging vehicle is dragged back on track***). My reason was that I sweated over giving gifts that would be appreciated, or at least useful, and I never heard they were either, except once where my giftee happened to mention really hating his gift but maybe his wife would like it. It took my giftee from last year until this year to say she liked my gift, and that was only to try to keep me in the Secret Santa thing, otherwise I doubt she’d have ever said anything. So, waste of time and money and energy and emotional investment in something that might as well have been dropped into a black hole for all the difference it made to the recipient.
And on my side, as the recipient, I mostly got things I couldn’t/wouldn’t use (an LED light strip for inside a closet) or, if I used the general product (say, hand lotion), the particular brand I was given was scented with something I’d never buy for myself (“wild cherry” that smelled like a cross between bathroom air freshener and…well, smelling like bathroom air freshener pretty tells it all, doesn’t it?).
And yet, I do like giving gifts, and I do like receiving gifts. I’ve come to some conclusions about the whole gifting thing, though. As with everything else on this site, my opinions are mine and no one is under any obligation to agree with me. I’ll be happy to hear some alternative views, in fact.
- A gift is freely given — no expectation, no coercion, no “But if you liked/loved me you’d give me XYZ/do ABC for me”. Example of the opposite: a gal I worked with back in Corporate America would start “reminding” us about her birthday a month or so in advance. She would essentially appoint someone as the organizer (never me, thank Ghu) and tell them — not ask, tell — where she wanted to go for lunch and on which day and who she wanted invited and on and on and on. I’m not saying you can’t be enthused about your birthday, but demanding someone be your party planner isn’t cool, and it isn’t them giving you a gift. Had she waited until someone asked, and then said all the same stuff, it wouldn’t have been nearly so off-putting. And this is why I will rarely mention my own birthday unless I’m asked a direct question. 🙂
- A gift should “fit” the recipient, not the giver. There was a story told quite often in the networking group I used to attend, about a conversation the founder had with a chapter member about some gifts she’d received. One was a scarf, quite beautiful and, based on the brand name, quite expensive, given either by a woman in the chapter who herself wore scarves quite often, or a man whose wife was a scarf afficionado. The recipient, however, never wore scarves, and wasn’t much interested in them as a fashion accessory. The other gift was a travel book about French wine regions, given by someone in the chapter who had paid attention to the fact the woman spoke often about enjoying French wines and planning to travel to France for an extended vacation in the next year or two. The gift of the scarf, though obviously well meant, had more to do with the giver than the receiver; the gift of the travel book reflected the tastes and interests of the receiver, not of the giver.
- Gifting isn’t a transactional exchange. And here is where I kick myself a bit about something I said a few paragraphs ago, because the people on the receiving end of my Secret Santa gifts were under no obligation to say or do anything in response to my gift. Something for me to work on, it appears. 🙂
- If you’re giving a gift hoping someone will notice/be impressed by the monetary value of said gift, what you’re really giving isn’t worth having.
- If you’re giving a gift with the idea of building a sense of obligation in the recipient, that sure as hell is no gift. It’s a bribe.
These days, I find the best gifts don’t have a monetary component, or that’s the least important part of it. Hugs, for example, are an awesome gift (assuming everyone’s on board for it — boundaries should be respected). Back rubs. Conversations. Time spent. That’s a big one for me because I don’t get to spend time with my friends very often.
Burning Man, for those who haven’t investigated the event, is a gifting economy: yes, you have to pay to get in, but one inside the gates the only things you can buy are bags of ice, and coffee at the cafe in Center Camp. Everything else? Gifts given, gifts received, but without any expectation of return, which would make it a barter economy.
This past year, my friends and I were doing some wandering one afternoon and stopped at a camp with a trampoline out front. While some of my bunch headed right for the trampoline, I ended up talking with one of the camp members. When I admired a necklace he was wearing, he smiled, took it off and put it around my neck.
Gifts. They can be small, they can be large, they can be fraught, they can mean the world. I’m grateful for all the gifts I’ve been given, and I hope to learn how to give good gifts. The sort that have meaning.