common threads #9: gift giving

Posted: May 15, 2012 in Observations and Commentary
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Ahhh, gift giving. The art of showing a person how you feel by negotiating the tricky minefield of buying tangible goods for them. Gift giving, in all of its manifestations, is a capitalist’s wet dream.

Gift giving comes in four flavors. Certainly multiple offshoots exist within each flavor, but when you strip it down to the nub every single gift ever given has its genesis in one of the following motivations.

1) Mandatory Gift Giving
2) Obligatory Gift Giving
3) Guilt Ridden Gift Giving
4) Sincere Gift Giving

Mandatory Gift Giving (MGG)

You know it, you hate it. Some circumstances absolutely demand bestowing a gift. No getting around it. If you find yourself on the giving end in one of these situations and do not cough up a gift you will be labeled, quite frankly, a douche. Worse, you won’t get gifts from the offended parties when you are the person on the receiving end of an MGG situation. MGG is non-negotiable on the following occasions:

– Wedding: If invited to a wedding and all you bring are your hearty congratulations you can be assured you will be photo shopped out of every wedding picture by the dissed couple. Often this would be a good thing as 20 minutes into any reception most of us have begun the inevitable slide towards embarrassing behavior, what with the all the goodwill being tossed back. Still it would be nice if one photo of you congaing with the bride’s 2nd cousin from Altoona remained. How else would you remember her supple hips?

– Birth of a child: When a child enters the world, all wrinkly and weird looking, you are required to reward the parents with a gift. Baby clothes are always acceptable, although the new mom would prefer a painful vasectomy for the new father, presumably her husband.

– Birthday party: Generally this is only mandatory when attending birthday parties for children under 10, but don’t get caught short if invited to a birthday party for one of your mates. If a person over 30 decides to make a big deal of their birthday by throwing themselves a party, don’t be a dolt. Bring a gift. Alcohol works, but a photo collage with pictures contrasting their 18 year old self with their last week self is much better. Whichever you choose you can be assured by the end of the evening they will be weeping alone on the bathroom floor.

Obligatory Gift Giving (OGG)

Although it sounds a lot like MGG this is not the same thing. While not giving a gift in an MGG situation makes you a douche, falling down on the gift giving in an OGG situation simply makes you an inconsiderate bastard. I admit we’re straddling a fine line here. You can differentiate between an MGG and an OGG situation by answering one simple question: If you show up without a gift will people scowl at and ignore you or will they continue to smile, then trash you behind your back? If it’s the latter you’re in OGG territory, my friend! The following are typical OGG occasions:

– Dinner invitation: This is one of the easiest OGG’s to identify and remedy. It’s all about location. Do you show up with gifts if you’re going to meet friends at a restaurant? Of course not. But when you invade someone’s turf, someone’s home territory, to eat food they consciously decided to serve – even if it is catered – that’s different. Invasion of personal space carries with it an obligation to show you appreciate the gesture. Many folks resort to a bottle of wine. That’s fine. However, I suggest you try something different, something a bit more memorable. Like an expensive imported cheese. Or a stripper.

– Retirement party: You’ve got to admire a person who works for decades to meet their obligations. When they finally decide they’ve done their bit, I suppose they’ve earned a gift. But by no means is it an obligation. I’ve seen people come to retirement parties armed with nothing more than a few one liners to lighten the mood. While some may say humour is a gift (a spot-on observation by the way) it doesn’t fall under the “tangible” characteristic inherent to most gifts. So you can come to the party ready to bring the house down with laughter, but frankly the retiree would prefer comfortable slippers.

– Valentine’s Day: I know many folks believe giving a gift to your sweetie on Valentine’s Day is mandatory, but it’s not. That’s because many others think Valentine’s Day is a manufactured holiday designed to suck hard-earned dollars out of our collective wallet. You’re all right. But since there are basically two camps of thinking on this one – and they sit at polar opposites – it’s impossible to label gift giving on this day as mandatory. Be forewarned! If you decide to buck convention and not give a gift on this day, even if your significant other has vehemently railed against the phony nature of this day, you may end up taking more cold showers than an Eskimo in winter.

Guilt Ridden Gift Giving (GRGG)

This is by far the worst gift giving motivation, yet it tugs at us with the urgency of a baby calf at his mother’s teat. Unless you are devoid of conscience you will surely end up giving more guilt-based gifts during your life than any other. It’s unavoidable. Like Ryan Seacrest but without the long-term damaging effects. GRGG is also simple to spot. If you wonder, “Does this situation require a gift?” and your immediate reaction is crippling guilt that you even asked the question, that’s classic GRGG. Among the situations brimming with GRGGness:

– Holidays, especially those falling around winter solstice: Tradition and advertising mix together in a lethal combination that will inevitability throw you into long term debt. It’s like giving Paris Hilton a credit card except you’re not Paris Hilton and you don’t have the family fortune to pay the astounding bill. Don’t scoff at the Paris Hilton comparison because when it comes to holiday gift giving we all sit at the same place on the IQ scale as Ms. Hilton. Something happens to our common sense and we become reckless in astounding fashion. That something is Guilt. Big, ugly, capital G’ed Guilt.

– Hospital visits: God, there are few things more guilt inducing than taking your perfectly healthy self to a hospital to visit some poor sod who is anything but healthy. While you’re certainly thankful you are the one with the freedom to come and go from the hospital at will, you are also unsure how to deal with the inevitably awkward visit. One very prevalent strategy is to come bearing gifts. Flowers, books, chocolates, newspapers (although this is pretty lame). Anything to show you care. You even tone down your conversation. You won’t tell the sick person how absolutely fabulous your previous evening was, even if you did something remarkable and life-altering. Instead you dial it back several notches. “So you have a nice time last night?” asks your sick friend. “It was okay. Nothing special,” you shoot back as you recall with absolute clarity every stunning detail of skinny dipping with those four supermodels. And that’s when you tell your friend how great they look, ensuring your eyes do not wander to the six tubes attached to their arm. At that moment you are often compelled to run down to the hospital gift shop and buy more gifts. Anything to show how deep your concern is while carefully plotting your exit strategy.

– In thanks for a past gift on a similar occasion: This is the absolute worst. You’ve never exchanged Arbor Day gifts with anyone, but last year your friend decides to surprise you one. Then she proceeds to talk in great depth about the importance and significance of this day you never knew existed until she placed that bonsai tree in your startled hands. Her eyes shine. Man, you had no idea how much she loved Arbor Day. Now since it’s not a traditional time to swap presents she thinks nothing of it that you didn’t give her a gift. This time. But come next Arbor Day you know that excuse ain’t gonna fly. So now you must perpetuate this new, idiotic ritual. One of many problems with giving gifts to reciprocate your receiving a past gift for an occasion is that it never ends. Actually, once a full cycle has been established this type of gift giving quickly moves from GRGG to OGG, on a fast track to MGG. It’s hideous.

Sincere Gift Giving (SGG)

There’s nothing remotely funny about SGG seeing how it is all from the heart and stuff. So not much to say other than it is as nice to give as receive in any SGG situation. Makes one all gooey inside is what it does.
Learn more about The Common Threads Project.

  1. rangewriter says:

    Oh this is a great post. Great topic, wonderfully parsed! I love your fine line between MGG & OGG! And then there are people like me who are simply lousy gift givers in all situations. Even for the SGG, I wrack my brain to find the perfect gift, but what I end up giving usually comes off looking really stupid. Gifts. What a conundrum!


  2. I love this post!! Great descriptions – all of it is so true!


  3. I think the American Indians have the right idea. Everyone distributes gifts to everyone else, then keeping the gifts for the next distribution.




  5. Nothing better than a cheerful giver!


  6. kayjai says:

    The mandatory gift giving is important to the little kiddies when giving it to special friends at birthday parties…that borders the sincere for them. It’s sweet to see them take such joy in watching a friend open something he picked out just for the birthday boy. And then explain how it works in infinite detail.


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