Something she’ll remember – On Gifting

They must be two of the world’s best inventions, right alongside the light bulb: The online store Wish-list and the Wedding registry.

Surely they must’ve been the idea of some desperate woman who had had enough of receiving dessert bowls as gifts – one box for her birthday, another for her anniversary, and a third, prettily-wrapped – for Diwali.

I mean, imagine having received bowls three times in a row. Imagine your jaw going to plaster as you try to keep your smile. Imagine how you turn candidate for actress of the year as you sweetly coo, “Oh, how nice, thank you,” even while you want to let it fall to the floor ‘accidentally’.

Aah, yes, you’d take the Wish-list too – Letting people know clearly what you want and in what size and shape so you don’t have to spend twice as much returning it. That IS a good idea.

Yes, the Wish-List takes away the some of the surprise, but that’s better than the shock of opening a box that reveals a bamboo sparrow that peep-peeps to every sound in the vicinity. If ‘Made in China’ is bad for our economy, it’s particularly disastrous for the sanity of our people.

Think assembly lines carrying plastic mobile-phone holders (no, mobile phones can’t lie down by themselves), more plaster of Paris shepherdesses than you can accommodate in a meadow, vases that look like they’d survived Armageddon, frames that you wouldn’t put your dog’s picture in for fear of bad mojo.

Really, is it so tough to pick a gift that even Mensa minds and economists get it wrong? I mean, would you give a fish a walking stick?

All you have to do is think about your ‘target audience’. And ask questions. NOT her! What does she like? What TV programme gets her excited? Does she wear charms? Is she passionate about animation and movies? Or pottery and clayware? Or does she like bags in all shapes and sizes. Does she have a collection of Buddha statuettes you could add to? What’s her favorite color? Would she go sailing on a Sunday or read Rushdie in a window sill? As simple as that.

You want her to break into a big grin, jump around the room like a four year old, not stutter between ‘oh’ and ‘nice’.

Now people, hear me clearly. The line “It’s the thought that counts,” does not mean you have to have good intention. No, it means “Put some thought into it.” Ten minutes of grey matter invested equals to saving the world: less unused gifts taking up precious space in cupboards. Fewer grey boxes moving guiltily across the city from one home to another that doesn’t want it.

As an ongoing exercise you could ‘listen’. If someone points out a top or a pendant you’re wearing and says, “Nice where did you get that?” – and if it’s not her top you’re wearing – you just know something similar would make her happy. To make sure, check with her close friends. Of course, I mean womenkind.

Pay attention to what she’s been about recently. A friend got me the perfect thumb-sized Buddha statue – apparently he’d been listening to my passionate unending monologues on Buddhism. Another, knew I had Kerala on my travel-list, and gave me a book of paintings on the backwaters for inspiration.

Sometimes all you have to do is ask. “What d’you think about going to a Zakir Hussain concert?” If your target gushes, “Would love to,” you have your gift idea. Alternatively, you could go shopping with her. If she loves a skirt, step forward and buy it for her. You’ll get a hug right there in the store.

Well, if your birthday alarm goes off a day before the ‘day’, stick with the classic gift. The simple birthday card and two tickets to a movie. (One that the birthday girl would like to see) Or you could send a bunch of wildflowers. Oh yes, definitely not to that aunt who will sneeze till the neighborhood has vacated.

Or get a book. Those who know me well enough run to the bookstore as a last resort. And of course, they breathlessly ask the salesperson if it’s possible to have the book exchanged.

Which brings me to that Sacred Law of Gifting: Get an Exchange Slip. It saves relationships, the counselor said.

What would you do if a boyfriend gave you tea towels for Christmas. Of course mine mumbled they were for the family too. So there, that was justified. Then, in a wave of thoughtfulness, he pulled out another nicely wrapped gift – this one specially for me!! An imported highlighter and a Statue of Liberty paperweight. And no exchange slip. Thinking back now, that could’ve been one of the reasons he’s in the category called ‘ex.’

Of course, sisters sulk and mothers sniff when you mention the E word. But stop, don’t feel the guilt. Next time just write a wishlist.

Some folks suggest you just forget-about-it and give your sad gift to charity. Really? Take a moment and ask why a child in an orphanage would want dessert bowls, instead of a doll, or a tea set. A toy one!

Before I go, here’s something to announce at the dinner table: The perfect gift doesn’t need to be expensive. Something you painted (only if you’re more Klimt than Kindergarten art class), a CD compilation of favorite songs, a hand-knit stole could beat all the big gifts on the table. Of course, tell husband that if he sticks with thoughtful and expensive he’ll feel more loved.

Now, for all those who still feel nail-chewing desperation – especially having to gift someone who has everything – don’t worry, just smile as cockily as you can and slip them the gift voucher.


(Published in Femina. Yes, a woman’s magazine.)

Feel free to quote from this site without permission, staying within the normal fair-use conventions, as long as you do me the courtesy of linking back to the relevant permalink and also letting me know. (You can get the permanent link to a particular post by clicking the time stamp below the headline.)
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4 responses to “Something she’ll remember – On Gifting

  1. So reading between the lines, “Economic development and social change in a Japanese farming community by Mitsuru Shinpo” would be a perfect gift for you?

  2. Joan,
    What an informative site! Well done! I’ve only read the gifting essay and found it tooooooo true. I hope it gets wide press. I’ll add your site to my ‘favorites’ and try to get back from time to time. You go, girl! All the best and keep on writing,

  3. Joan,
    Kudos to you, you have touched the sensitive vein…hahah…All the articles are gems…keep the pen ink flowing and the laughter gas too. Sorry, i took so long to hit your blog. Worth every minute reading your articles. Cheers and lots and lots of love.

  4. Joan
    Well my policy is just to ask and then get the person what they want and I tell everyone to do that for me so no one gets disappointed.
    Might be too practical and not romantic but then the romance should be in how you give it to the person 🙂

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