The Art of Gift-Giving

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November 30, 2013 by lucieromarin

A friend visited me some weeks ago, to show me her newborn. “Here’s your present!” I exclaimed, and she grinned, thanked me, and said, “You love giving presents! There’s never an occasion for not giving presents!”

I thought nothing of it until, a week later, another friend was due to visit. Half an hour before she arrived, I thought, Oh no! I don’t have her present! Then I realised that her visit didn’t mark any particular occasion, and, thus, did not actually require a present. Then I remembered the first friend’s words. Then, Advent drew near, with its attendant thoughts of Christmas gifts, and I decided to share some thoughts on the art of gift-giving.

Let’s begin by noticing that for some, the choosing of gifts is a chore, while for others, it’s a delight. Let’s also admit that some people give great presents, while others do not. Why is this so?

First, you have to understand what a gift is. It’s not just a kind of social obligation or pressing tradition, though at times it may feel like one. It’s a chance, not only to make another person feel loved, but to make them feel understood. And for you, it’s a chance to delight in that expression of understanding; to see the light on the other’s face which isn’t just the vulgar sheen of satisfied cupidity, but the more translucent light that comes with feeling understood. If you love seeing that light, it’s easy to spend half a day travelling to the one place in your entire city that sells that Exact Right Thing. (It also prevents you from making the obvious mistake of seeing gift-giving as a chance to amend real or imagined defects in the other person’s life, so that your impoverished friend who would love a gift of fancy cheese doesn’t find herself looking for a home for the fancy jewellery that she would never in a million years have chosen for herself.)

Second, you have to understand that soaps, teas, candles and chocolates send a very clear message, and that message is, “I don’t know you at all,” or, “I only know your most obvious and public side.” Remember, if you’ve noticed that someone drinks tea, the chances are that everyone else has noticed it too, and that means that tea is likely to be the default gift for many persons. This is fine if you’re just trying to discharge an obligation, but not fine if you want the person to feel like you know her better than the local coffee shop does. Paradoxically enough, these gifts are only going to be really loved by friends who know one another so well that they can be certain that the recipient really does want twenty bars of chocolate in her fridge, or really does have a thing for goat’s-milk soap, but, unable to afford it herself, loves to receive a year’s supply of it each Christmas.

Third – though this suggestion, coming on the cusp of Advent as it does, might be considered too little, too late – a good gift-giver doesn’t confine her searches to a couple of weeks every year. If you’re always thinking of your friends, and if you look at everything around you as a potential gift, you find more and better gifts than if you set out for one day with a list and a deadline.

It’s also important to keep in mind the three categories of persons upon whom you should never waste gifts. They are as follows 1) those who say, “You shouldn’t have,” and who never reciprocate, 2) those who take all their gifts to the local op-shop on Boxing Day, and 3) those who care about how expensive the gift is. In other words, there’s an art of receiving gifts as well as an art of giving them, and you’ll make your life a lot easier by knowing who to eliminate from your lists.

One of the best gifts I ever received was a whisk in the shape of a squid. I would never, ever, ever, have thought to want one. I would never have even thought to wish that someone would manufacture one. When I looked at it, though, I couldn’t imagine living without it, for it captured our strange mutual sense of humour so perfectly that it was almost uncanny.

I mean, of all things- a squid!

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