Posts Tagged ‘gift-giving’

A gift shower – for yourself

June 4, 2010

Long before thirtysomething Sex In The City character Carrie Bradshaw threw herself a shower, another single New York writer, Helene Hanff, did the same (except it happened for real – Helene was penniless and about to move into a humble unfurnished studio apartment), as follows:

“What you need,” she [Helene’s friend Maxine] said finally, “is a kitchen shower.”

“I’m not getting married,” I said.

“You’re marrying New York,” said Maxine.  “You’ll have to write a cute invitation.  We’ll have the shower at my house.  A luncheon.  A Saturday luncheon.”

“I couldn’t!”  I said.  “I can’t send out invitations asking people to furnish my kitchen!”

“You’re not sending the invitations.  I’m sending them.  You don’t know anything about the luncheon,” said Maxine.  “It’s a surprise.  Showers are always surprises.  You’re just coming to my house for lunch.  When you get there, be surprised.”

[A list is drawn up and invitations duly despatched.]

And so on the appointed Saturday I wandered into Maxine’s parents’ apartment for lunch – and there was my sister-in-law come all the way from Garden City and a simple host of friends.  And sitting in the middle of the floor in a large wicker basket, each item brightly wrapped and tied with flossy ribbon, were frying pans and double boilers and mixing bowls and kitchen knives and pot holders and dish towels and a roasting pan and a Revere Ware teakettle that sang.

Helene Hanff, Underfoot in Show Business, 1961, Andre Deutsch Ltd

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.

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”!

Gingerbread musings

April 19, 2010

Paying their way: my numeral cookie cutters make a batch of "2" biscuits

I did it!  I made a batch of “2” shaped gingerbread cookies for the slew of second birthday parties coming up, using the numeral cookie cutters I bought a couple of months ago.  

I frosted them in different ways and personalised some of them with messages like “Cory is 2” and “Happy Birthday!”.  I thought they looked great, and suitably festive, especially when packaged.

However, my confidence dipped when I went to the first party.  It turned out to be a full-on, almost-no-expense-spared sort of children’s party.  (I mean, there wasn’t a clown or magician, but I think next year there will be).  I had felt pretty good about my special cookies gift, until I saw the hordes of other people all turning up with big flossy parcels.  Then I began to feel…cheap.

I couldn’t help it.  But then again, I reminded myself, this little boy is little more than an acquaintance.  We haven’t seen Cory in probably four months.  It seemed like madness to rush out and buy a $15 – $30 toy for a child we barely know.  Plus, his wealthy parents seem to have purchased him every toy his heart could possibly desire.  What on earth could I have found that he didn’t have already?

So I found myself in a “But it’s the thought that counts!” kind of moment.  Maybe the gift was a little cheap (?).  Certainly it only cost me a few dollars instead of the dozens I’d normally have to have shelled out. 

But despite being relatively inexpensive, it wasn’t an easy gift.  Baking the cookies, frosting them in various ways, including hand-frosted messages…that took a lot of time and effort.  It would have been much simpler to just visit a local boutique and have them giftwrap some puzzle or train or something – done in a matter of moments. 

All the same, I couldn’t help wondering what the parents thought about it, later on after the party trimmings had all been swept up.  Did they comment to each other, What a charming and original gift, and that homemade gingerbread sure does taste good! 

Or did they say, Cheap bitch!

Gift quote

April 13, 2010

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

Old proverb – pointing out that it’s rude to look for defects (such as the signs of age revealed by a horse’s teeth) in a gift you’ve received.

Gift lists: keeping tabs

April 9, 2010

Some people might recoil from it, but keeping lists of presents you’ve given, and even received, is a really useful thing to do.

I keep informal lists at the back of my diary, and add to it when I’m writing in it at night.  It’s an easy and convenient way to record the latest gifts and greeting cards in my life.

It may strike you as a little over-organised, even mercenary – how calculating, to keep score of something so personal!  You get or give a nice gift and think, Of course I’ll remember it!  But six months or a year later?  Not so much.  Life is busy and there is so much else going on.  I frequently can’t remember the gifts I’ve given or received, or the details (I know this vase was a birthday gift about five years ago, but who from?  Sylvia or Aunt Barbara?)  It’s also handy for when you’re wavering about whether or not to send a gift.  (Should I send a gift for Rebecca’s birthday?  Let’s see…did I send her something last year?  And if you’re into reciprocity: Did she send anything for my birthday?)

Keeping a nice simple list means you always have a ready reference.  As well as a memory jog, it can also be a source of inspiration – sometimes I ‘rediscover’ good gift ideas just by looking at lists of gifts I’d given. 

All in all, I can’t recommend this little system highly enough!