Saturday, December 13, 2008

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

'Tis the season. In the past, I've talked about What to Get Your Psychiatrist for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. Today, I'm going to talk about gift-giving and gift-getting in general. But this is Shrink Rap, you say, what do presents have to do with psychiatry? Pretty much nothing, except that gifts are often a topic people talk about in psychotherapy. Over the years, as both the listener of many gift-related stories, and outside the office as both a gift-giver and gift-receiver, I've made some observations. If you wanted psychiatry, try another blog and check again tomorrow with Shrink Rap...

Okay, so gifts are always a complicated issue. Before you buy anyone a gift (with very few exceptions, the major one being sweet young children who sometimes actually are excited and surprised), here's what you need to know: you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. I'm sorry if I sound kind of cynical. I read an email today from a dear friend and when I mentioned I might bring a local specialty food that I've mailed her before, she responded "We don't really like the Maryland thing." Okay, I guess it's good that I'm not wasting my money and time, but it kind of came off as "I didn' like the gift you sent last year." It got me feeling a bit snarky.

I've collected a lot of gift stories over the years, including one guy I knew who would only give his mother gifts embroidered with her initials so she couldn't return them, only to be disappointed when she never wore them. Oy. Gifts often have an edge of control about them.
Sometimes people feel the gift is something the giver thinks the receiver should want, or be interested in, or learn about, or have for his or her own good. The other spin on that would be that the giver has an interest he wants to share with the receiver.

So here is what I've learned:

  • Some people like to be surprised, and mostly they want to be surprised with the thing they want, and if the gifter doesn't know what the giftee wants, that's hard.
  • Some people want practical gifts and hate the frivolous.
  • Some people want frivolous gifts and hate the practical.
  • It's awkward for many people if you give them a gift that is more elaborate or expensive than what you gave them.
  • Gift-giving often gets saddled with all kinds of unspoken expectations
  • If your wife wears a size 18, don't give her a size 4.

I don't have any really great suggestions about gift giving. I do have one suggestion about receiving gifts-- there is one response and only one response that works: "Thank you." Oh, a little more effusive is fine, too. I believe that if you don't like a gift, you should quietly return it, and not mention that fact. If someone is in your face asking if you like it, well.... that's difficult. If it's not returnable, re-gift it to someone on Mars (--and yes, I've had someone casually mention to me that they re-gifted a gift I'd given them...was that necessary?) If it's not returnable, if it's not re-giftable, if it can't be donated to a charity that might appreciate it, then quietly throw it out. If you already have one, if it's the wrong size, if you're allergic to it and will die if you open the box, the safest thing is still to leave it at "thank you."

And if you'd like to check out an amusing clip, try: