Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category

On being prepared

June 7, 2010

In stock now: a rainbow of ribbons

From time to time I’m told, “The presents you give are always so beautifully wrapped!  You’re so good at it – but I’m hopeless!”

Whereas the reality is: I’m not especially talented at gift wrapping.  Although I do try to ensure the gifts I give are attractively wrapped, I wouldn’t say I have any special skill at it.

What I do have is: organisation.  I keep gift wrapping paper in stock.  Also ribbons for trimming the parcel, and some greeting cards – birthday and general purpose.  And a dedicated place to store all of them.  It’s easier to have presents beautifully wrapped if you actually keep some supplies on hand at all times.  (This is a no-brainer, of course, but it’s amazing how people can overlook the need for this, and are then disappointed that the presents they wrap look either dull or incomplete.)

I’ve been noticing that my stocks of gift-wrapping ribbon were running a bit low recently.  So this weekend I snapped up some new stocks at a local haberdashery store that was having a sale.  Five metres apiece of eight different colours of gauze ribbon totalled just $17.40 (at 40% discount).  That’ll help replenish my stocks for another year, and ensure I have a enough range of colours to complement whatever wrapping paper I happen to be using.  I do like to use a variety of ribbon types, but for me, gauze ribbon is a basic staple – always looking festive. 

Having good wrapping supplies is similar to being well dressed.  It reminds me of a fashion quote I once read: “The more clothes you have, the better dressed you can be” (or words to that effect).  In essence – the more options you have on hand, the more combinations you can put together.  Which works equally well for fashion or gifts.

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Personalisation – taking it further

May 31, 2010

A popular gift idea is to get something made with the recipient’s name on: as a rule, people love name-personalised gifts, especially if they have unusual names or names with unusual spellings. We all like to see our name in print.

I like to take it one step further, when possible, and personalise a gift with the recipient’s nickname. For example, many years ago I had a gift for a friend personalised with his family nickname, “Romanoff”. He adored the gift – much more so than if I had simply personalised it with “Michael”.

The only catch here is that the gift recipient should actually like their nickname. Not everyone dubbed with a nickname necessarily relishes it, and they may not be outspoken about their dislike of it – they may simply be resigned to it. So do check this angle out first.

How to plan that gift

May 28, 2010

Good gift planning focuses around the recipient’s likes.  A way to focus your thoughts on an upcoming gift-getting occasion is to make a list of what that person likes, over a broad range of options.  For example:

  • What do they like to eat?  (Not every day, necessarily, but as a treat.  Think: gourmet food; traditional food; sweets; fruit; cheeses)
  • What do they like to drink? (Both alcoholic and non.  And for alcoholic, think beyond beer, wine and spirits; for example: boutique and imported brands, mixers, liqueurs, glasses).
  • What music do they like?  (Think: CDs, DVDs of live shows, tickets to performances; posters or T shirts of favourite performers).
  • What movies and TV programmes do they like? (both currently and in the past – for example, DVDs of a favourite TV series or classic movie)
  • What sports do they like to watch or participate in?
  • What books do they like to read?
  • What do they like to wear? (T-shirts?  Silk scarves?  Sandals?  Earrings?)
  • What hobbies or interests do they have?

Grab a notepad and start making a list.  Just five minutes of your undivided attention, devoted to recalling that one person’s particular likes, will often be enough to get the ideas flowing.  I think the dearth of gift ideas we sometimes experience is because we expect the perfect gift idea to simply pop into our head without any effort on our part, or be conveniently glimpsed in a shop window display as we pass by. 

The other part of this exercise is to not only consider what does the recipient like, but what might the recipient like?  Push out slightly from the known, and gauge whether you can take a leap of faith and try out something that you think might work.  Your best friend loves Rieslings?  Try getting her a Pinot Grigio for a change – close enough for comfort, but introducing her to something a little different.

Sweet enough

May 24, 2010

One of the great failsafes of gift-giving is, as everyone knows, something sweet – a box of chocolates, candy or the like. And nothing wrong with that at all.

But I’d like to make a case for the other team: savoury treats. Or at least the non-sugary kind. For not everyone has a sweet tooth.  And a box of candy, especially if of a leading brand, can be both an ‘easy-out’ (“Gee, how much thought went into choosing that gift?”) and a cliche (“How original, a box of chocolate creams”).

A good friend of mine, for example, regularly hankers after salty, savoury snacks – which is why (note to self) I must buy her something yummy in this line for her next birthday.

Some other examples: a friend of mine once mentioned in passing that he is so crazy about the taste of passionfruit, he reckons he could eat dozens in a single sitting, given the opportunity. I sent him a kilo of the fruit for his next birthday.

And another friend, who had a penchant for grinding startling amounts of black pepper onto her meals (I’m serious – the woman was like a crop duster with the stuff) received an ‘in joke’ gift from me of a half kilo of black peppercorns, giftwrapped.

Other suggestions: caviar, pate, cheeses, olives, chutneys, pickles, pesto, beef jerky, fresh steaks from one of those gourmet meat delivery services, or fresh in-their-shell oysters from a similar service, edible snails for lovers of French food, tropical fruit baskets. Mmm – I’m getting hungry just writing this stuff! 

Take a stroll along the shelves of your local delicatessen and shop for some inspiration – and pay attention to the kind of food (rare treats especially) that your loved ones adore.

Label required

May 21, 2010

Somethimes I think that gifts ought to come with explanatory notes, so you know what the giver had in mind.  (Indeed sometimes they do. I can’t be the first person who’s ever jotted inside a gift card: “I thought you might like this because…”)

I wish there had been such a note on a gift of children’s clothing I received about a year ago, passed on from a friend of a friend, whose children had outgrown the garments.

I was delighted at first, to receive a big box of kids’ clothes.  Yippee, some freebies for my daughter!  But as I began sorting through the items, I became increasingly appalled.  These were terrible clothes!  Although originally of good quality, many of them had stains, buttons missing sometimes, occasionally even rips.  “I’d never give away clothing like this,” I thought.  “Not even to charity.  I’d throw them out, or use them as rags!”

The small pile of “keepers” grew slowly at my side, while the towers of “rejects” loomed like fabric skyscrapers.  Uncharitable thoughts swirled in my head about this slovenly woman who clearly thought it was okay to pass on stained, damaged clothing.  What had she been thinking? 

And there’s the catch.  A year later, I know.

You see, my two year old daughter now attends playcentre three mornings a week.  It’s a messy business: there’s paint, a big sand pit, water play, playdough, baking, and much more.  Her clothes often get filthy.  You don’t want to send your kid to playcentre wearing her regular clothes, believe me.  They’d never look nice again.

That’s when I had that “Aha!” moment, when I realised that all along the clothes had surely been intended for use at daycare / kindergarten / playcentre / messy play at home.  I just didn’t know that at the time!  My daughter was still a baby when I was given the clothing, and wasn’t up to the kind of clothes-wrecking activities that she now delights in.   Now I would loooove to have that big box of third-best clothing, to dress Sammie in on playcentre mornings.

All I can do is make silent apologies for the mean thoughts I’d had a year ago about that anonymous giver.  But I do wish that she’d included a note that said: “This stuff is well used, and is ideal for messy playtimes.”

When ‘regifting’ becomes ‘offloading’

May 17, 2010

I think we’re all familiar with the practise of ‘regifting’ – passing along unwanted gifts to someone else, oftentimes without disclosing the fact that the item was once yours.

Regifting has its fans and detractors, but that’s a whole different debate. What I want to comment on today is the unsavoury practise of what I call ‘offloading’: where you take an unwanted gift and dump it on someone – almost anyone – else, just to be rid of the darn thing. I should know: I’ve offloaded (shameful hang of head) and have been offloaded onto (you can just tell).

The difference between a regular regift and an offloaded regift is twofold:

1. The offloaded item is not a very suitable gift for the recipient. But hey – it’s their birthday, you’ve got this thing you want rid of, and…it’ll do, right? Plus you won’t have to spend a cent or go out shopping or anything – hooray!

2. The offloader may refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer. For example: I’ve had clothes offloaded onto me, and despite my protestations that the garments really didn’t suit my style or colouring, or even my size, the ‘givers’ stridently overruled my protestations – they were so anxious to have the extra wardrobe space. In the end, it was easier to just accept the clothes than have an argument. (My passive revenge: I passed the items straight onto charity – which is where they should’ve gone in the first place, instead of being foisted onto someone who didn’t want them and passed off as a gift.)

A regifted item can still be a great gift – if it truly suits the recipient’s needs and taste. But if you’re offloading, to save yourself time, effort or money – and you know when you’re offloading, oh boy do you know – that’s no good at all.

Give good gratitude

May 14, 2010

It’s a simple premise: if you like the presents you receive, and would like to receive more on future occasions, let the giver know!

In recent years I’ve given up on sending gifts to two close friends, because they simply don’t bother to acknowledge them.   Maybe, months later, they’ll say in passing while on the telephone, “Oh!  I meant to say thank you for that birthday gift you sent!”  But it’s a pretty feeble effort, all things considered. 

It’s not that they’re not caring, warmhearted people, it’s just that somewhere along the line they lost sight of the fact that sending thanks (and ideally, feedback) about a gift is an important part of maintaining your relationship with the giver – ‘closing the loop’, as it were. 

Years ago I remember one of them receiving a big parcel from her family overseas.  It was full of the most divine new clothing, and we onlookers were all green with envy at the wonderful gifts she got.  She shrieked with pleasure as each new garment was pulled out of the box, and modelled them for our approval.  But months later, despite much nagging from her mother, this generous gift was still unacknowledged to the givers.  I always wondered: did they ever bother to send her anything further, after that episode?

I know you, dear readers, would never be so thoughtless as to let a gift go unacknowledged.  But I do think, when someone doesn’t respond to a gift, it’s a good time – especially if it’s not the first time that’s happened – for the giver to take stock.  Usually I will “take the hint” (whether it’s a hint or not), to switch to sending just a greeting card in future.  After all, what can the recipient do?  Phone to demand: “Where’s my present?”  And although that’s technically possible, you have the perfect response all ready and waiting:

“Well, I never heard from you about last year’s present, nor the one before, so I thought you mustn’t like my gifts, and had better stop sending them.”  Cue – one hopes – embarrassed silence.

Postscript: the above post assumes that the giver values and expects reciprocity or thanks with gift giving.  Generally this is part of the accepted etiquette in Western society.  However, at risk of sounding petty or grasping in my gift-giving habits, I would also mention that I often give gifts where I do not anticipate any form of thanks or reciprocity.  But with close friends and family, I generally do.

The last unicorn

May 3, 2010

A popular piece of gift-giving advice is that collectables (such as charms for charm bracelets) make good gifts, with – in theory – giver and recipient enjoying many happy years of new additions to the collection. It’s a convenient solution, reducing the risk of an unwanted gift.

But what if the collector gets a bit tired of it all – or hadn’t in fact set out to form a collection in the first place? It happens. Case in point: my friend Esther once bought a little unicorn figurine she admired. Sometime later, a pretty unicorn painting came her way. Friends and family visiting her house noticed the two charming unicorns and made the connection: Esther likes unicorns.

And so it began. A trickle, then a deluge, of unicorns. At every birthday, Christmas and Mother’s Day: unicorns. People even started referring to her as “the unicorn lady”. But the thing is, Esther wasn’t really a unicorn nut at all. In the end, she had to politely ask her loved ones to cease and desist: it was getting out of hand and the house was filling up with unicorniana. Plus it was probably getting a bit boring and predictable for her, receiving yet another unicorn thingamajig each birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day etc.

So if you’re in a bit of a ‘giving habit’ (even a rut?) because “so-and-so likes [cats/ teapots/ orchids/ whatever]”, maybe check in every once in a while to see if they still feel the same way about it. They’ll appreciate your consideration. And likewise, if you’re “over” a perceived hobby or collectable, let it be known.

Gift giving and ‘moving on’

April 26, 2010

When is it time to call a day, gift-giving-wise? 

Friendships can grow stale over the years, as we grow in different directions.  Yet it can be hard to know when – or how – to bring the gift-giving years to a close.  Will we be perceived as rude?  Heartless?  What if the other person sends a gift when we don’t?

Consider: are you still in touch with the person fairly frequently – say, more than three times a year?  Do you write or phone each other, or keep in touch via Facebook or other social networks, to share news?  If living locally, do you ever meet for coffee or a meal?  If the answer to these is ‘no’, then I think it’s reasonable to ‘downscale’ to a more modest gift or maybe just a greeting card.  If the gift-giving has become arduous rather than easy and joyful, that’s another clue that maybe it’s time to change.

If you’re still reasonably close to the person, and feel you can raise the matter of gifts for this Christmas, chances are they will be just as relieved as you if you agree to downscale or even cease the gift giving. 

With family friendships, what started out as a few cute gifts for a new baby  may become harder to sustain as the children grow in both age and number.  It can be a burden trying to purchase a gift for each child, particularly if you’re no longer as close to the family and are less familiar with their needs, wants and current possessions. 

My suggestion is to gradually move away from individual gifts, to one ‘family’ gift that everybody can enjoy, like a variety box of deluxe cookies, chocolates or a fabulous cake.  Perhaps a gift hamper, a family movie pass, or a board game that they can play together.  And in time, the family gift may itself become more modest in nature, and even move down to just a greeting card.

Biancheria intima – a tale of mistaken identity!

April 23, 2010

Here’s a cautionary tale about buying lingerie as a gift when in a foreign country – although I’m not sure exactly what the moral of the story is!

Alan, a 50-something former colleague of mine, went on honeymoon to Europe with his new bride.  While in Italy, he was taking a stroll when he noticed a lingerie boutique that had some rather lovely ensembles in the window. 

As a romantic gesture to his wife (who was not present with him at the time), he went into the shop and tried to purchase one of the garments.  Although his Italian was poor, he figured that the international language of money would suffice.  Surely all he had to do was point to the shop-window dummy that was displaying the item he wanted to buy (in my mind it’s a violet silk teddy, trimmed with beige lace), and indicate with his credit card that he’d like to purchase it?

Well, you would think so.  However, the shop staff put up strong objections, which Alan of course couldn’t understand.  Why on earth wouldn’t they just wrap up the damn garment for him?  Weren’t they in the business of selling lingerie, after all?  Eventually, the answer become clear.  What they were trying to say to Alan was: But Sir, it’ll NEVER FIT YOU!!!  (Alan was/is a portly gentleman.) 

Evidently the shop was frequented by transvestites, and the shop staff assumed that Alan wanted the outfit for his own use – thus were encouraging him to buy a much larger size than the one on the display dummy!

Alan was sufficiently amused by this episode to share it with his friends and colleagues when he returned to work.  All I can advise, by way of learning, is that if you are a male purchasing gift lingerie while abroad, perhaps also teach yourself the local words for “It’s for my wife”!