Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"I hope you like it!" On giving a gift.

The purest way to give a gift is from your heart, with great joy and love. This is true giving.

Gift giving appears to have no strings attached. At best, it is. But in reality, gift giving is full of strings attached: emotional strings, political strings, hidden agendas. Payback gifts, bribery gifts, impersonal gifts. Interesting once you start to think about it.

Gift giving can be political. People give gifts for many different reasons. They can give gifts out of their own sense of guilt. Or to inspire guilt in you. They give gifts out of fear ("every else is giving one") or out of politeness. Some people give gifts out of obligation. Some people give only because they want one in return. Others give you something to annoy. Some give gifts begrudgingly.

How do you choose a gift?

Do you give something you love? And because you love it so much, you hope the other person will love it too?

Or do you think only of the other person and buy something you know they will love? Your friend collects watermelon folk art and you don't particularly like it. But you see a nice watermelon salt shaker, so even though you don't like it, you select it as the gift.

The best gift giving is when you combine the two: something that the other person will like, that has a little bit of you in it. Your taste, your style.

A few of the finer points...and some stories.

At Christmas, when I was a little girl, my mother would ask me what I would like and I would proceed to tell her. But then she would buy me something only if she liked it. No matter that I liked it. Her gift giving modus operandi was if she didn't like it, I wouldn't get it. Of course this made me feel as if my opinion didn't matter.

As a result, I have always made it a point, ever since my kids were born, to get them things on their lists especially if I don't like them.

Because the whole point is to give pleasure and delight when you give a gift. Your pleasure is my pleasure.

I learned a few things about gift giving as founder of The Merida English Library. Our entire collection of books is donated. Over time, we learned we had to institute a policy on how to receive the book donations because because we learned we were hurting feelings. In the early days, a person would come into the library with a bag of books, only to have the volunteer librarian say, "Oh, we have that book," or, "This is a trashy novel," or, "This is in such bad condition, we'll have to throw it out."

We learned that quite often, people weren't giving us their books to make us feel good. They were giving us their books to make themselves feel good. So, our job was to welcome them, be thrilled no matter what the book or the condition of the book, and to thank them for thinking of us. In private, because we had a book policy, we could dispose of the books anyway we wanted: feature them on our shelves, sell them, throw them out or givie them away. The lesson learned was: if you burn out the giver during the gift process they would never give you another book again.

"You can return it if you don't like it." If someone says this to you while you are opening their gift, never say in front of them, at that moment, that yes, you will return it. Accept the gift, let it delight, and return it privately and quietly on your own time, knowing you have the blessing of the donor.

If someone brings, unrequested, a dessert or an hors d'oeuvres to your dinner party and you already have your menu planned and ready, it is not correct to leave their dish in the kitchen and serve only what you prepared. Put everything out.

However, if you bring a bottle of wine to the dinner party, don't expect that it will be opened. If there isn't any wine, or not enough wine, your bottle might be opened. But if the bottle is put away to be enjoyed at some later date, that is perfectly appropriate.

I don't agree with people who say, "Don't bring flowers to your dinner party hostess, because she doesn't have time to arrange them." Flowers are always a lovely gesture and a delight to receive. However, if you do bring flowers, don't expect the hostess to rush into the kitchen, clean and prep them, find a vase, arrange and display them. She might stick them in a bucket of water in the kitchen and save them to enjoy the next day.

What to do when people keep giving you gifts you don't want or like? Well, the first thing is to remember: it really is the thought that counts!

If the "bad" gift givers are business contacts, you might say, graciously of course, "You are so kind! But my company doesn't allow me to accept gifts. So, thank you for your consideration, but please, no more, because I simply can't accept them." They might even be secretly thrilled.

You can always preface your birthday party invitation with "No gifts please!" I'm laughing here, because...if you say it, you should mean it! I recall one woman who threw herself a 40th birthday party and specified, "No Gifts Please" but it was clear, to all who were invited, that she meant, "If you don't show up with a gift I'll be sad."

A gift that's always appreciated?

When in doubt, give a gift that can be consumed. Sometimes people "have everything" or have difficult tastes and are hard to shop for. In this case: a box of lovely French soaps. A bottle of fine Chardonnay. A box of Swiss chocolates. A beautiful candle. A tin of English tea. A jar of home made jam. A luxury handcream. A cellophane bag of Italian biscotti. A plant. Little luxuries are always in good taste and welcomed. You use it up, and it's gone. Pure delight and no clutter.

And then, there's the issue of "regifting" or gift recycling of gifts that you don't want. Never regift to friends. Only to a charity organization please!

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