The Etiquette of Giving and Receiving Gifts.

The holidays are fast approaching. For some of us it’s already here or has come and gone (Lookin’ at you, my Jewish friends– Happy Hanukkah!), bringing joy and comfort and yes, a whole metric fuckton of stress. Because while the day of Christmas and the week of Hanukkah are fairly stress-free (unless, of course, you’re entertaining a boatload of in-laws, in which case I’m sorry), the weeks leading up to it can be a big ball of hardship. You’ve got to spend heaps of money, you’ve got to go into millions of stores or browse websites for hours just to find the right gifts for the right people, and sometimes this turns into a whirlwind of panic and despair. Usually it ends up just fine. But the act of giving gifts — and sometimes receiving them — can often feel like a burden rather than a pleasant experience.

I happen to like giving gifts. I like finding them, browsing around to find the perfect present for friends and family members. Other people find it a lot more difficult — and I get it. I really do. But for me, it’s the first step of gift-giving that always causes me the most anxiety. That’s the part when you decide who exactly you ought to be getting things for in the first place. On the surface, it’s pretty obvious: sister, check. parents, check. But then you get outside of the immediate family, and that’s where you get stuck. Should you get something for all of your friends? Or just the ones you’ve known for ages? Should you get little things for some friends, and big things for others? But how do you decide who gets what? Is there some sort of rating scale, or a Quizilla quiz you can take to tell you which friends deserve better, bigger gifts than others? Or do you not get anything for anybody — make it even?

This is a question that plagues me practically every Christmas. With some friends it’s easy. If you’ve been exchanging presents every Christmas for the past four years, chances are you’re probably going to continue the tradition. Conversely if you’ve got a friend who you’ve never exchanged gifts with, it’s a good bet that things aren’t changing. But what about new friends? Or friends who between this Christmas and last Christmas upgraded from “friendly acquaintance” to “person I hang out with constantly?” That’s when things get a little tricky. If you don’t have a large group of friends and instead tend to chill with many people from a variety of different groups, you can’t do the secret santa cop-out, and if you do have a large group, it’s difficult to get a gift for one person and not for another. How can you justify spending twenty bucks on one girl and zero on another? It’s just not in good taste. Plus with a big group it’s always hard. What if you weren’t planning on getting gifts for anyone and then you see the perfect thing for one of your friends? Can you justify buying it for that person and then have nothing for your other friends? Not really. But then it’s hard to pass up such an awesome opportunity, so that means you’ve either got to suck it up and get something for everyone, or you’ve got to let the best present ever slip through your fingers.

And then, probably worst of all, you’ve got to deal with the obvious conundrum. If you get your friend a present, and she gets you nothing, you’ll feel bad because you got nothing, and she’ll feel guilty for not getting you anything — which is not the kind of warm, fuzzy feeling that you’re lead to believe gift-giving will induce. If this friend gets you something and you don’t know about it and therefore haven’t returned the favour, same thing. But then do you get little somethings just in the event that she might get you something? Or do you just cross your fingers, get nothing, and hope she’s on the same page? It’s stressful and pretty much there’s no right answer except flat-out asking if you’re exchanging gifts, which a lot of people don’t really prefer to do since gift-giving has this shocking implication that it’s supposed to be about the spirit of generosity blah blah blah and if you make it sound like you’re only going to buy shit for someone who also buys you shit, that is selfish and makes you a bad person.

But once you overcome that first obstacle, you’ve got to actually find gifts for these people. For some it’s easier than others. I happen to have a knack for finding good gifts. Sometimes it’ll take me a lot of time to find the right gift, and for some people it’s not always perfect, but I like to think that my gifts are thoughtful and at least show that I care about the person and that I pay attention to what they like and what they want. People who say gift-giving is hard — well, yeah, sure it is. But it’s not that hard. I mean it’d be difficult if you were buying for your great aunt who you’ve only met once and you’re pretty sure she hates everything and is allergic to twenty thousand things, but how hard is it to get something for your girlfriend or your best mate or your brother? All you need to do is examine the kinds of stuff they have in their room, think about all the stuff they’ve told you they liked over the past year or so, maybe even stalk ’em a little on Facebook if you’re not a hundred percent sure. All it takes to give a good — if not amazing — gift is a little dedication, a little perseverance, and a bit of creativity, which as human beings we should all have in spades. If you know your brother’s three favourite things are coffee, Star Wars, and board games, you could get him a mug shaped like Darth Vader’s helmet, or Star Wars Monopoly, or playing cards with Star Wars characters on them. You could get him any merchandise relating to the films. It might not be the craziest present in the world, but at least it’s something that shows you know him a little bit, and although it sounds really cliché, it really is the thought that counts when it comes to giving presents.

So this is why it blows my mind when people end up just giving cash or gift cards or other generic gifts for people for Christmas. Like, dude. You can come up with something more imaginative for your girlfriend than a gift certificate to iTunes. I’m okay with gift cards if they’re for something specific, or cash if it’s for a good reason (for example, this year I expect more money than actual gifts because I’m far from home and everyone wants to contribute to the “Let’s Help Kendra Travel” fund). If you know your sister is totally obsessed with AllSaints Spitalfield, and you know it’s a pricey place to shop, then yeah, a gift card is great. Especially because buying actual clothes for people is a tricky, tricky business. But to me, a gift card to a generic place like Amazon or iTunes or Barnes & Noble says one of the following: you don’t know them well, or you do and you just didn’t put much thought into what you were going to give them.

I don’t think gift cards are a bad addition to gifts. Like sure, slap a Starbucks gift card onto a gift of a travel mug. But as a whole gift? Nuh-uh. The only people who can get away with that are older relatives who have no idea what young people like these days, let alone what their grandchildren like these days.  And come on — you’ve got to know something about the person you’re getting the gift for. Although I could be wrong. The other day at work a guy came in looking for something for his girlfriend and our conversation went a little bit like this:

Me: Hi there! Looking for gifts?

Customer: Yes, for my girlfriend.

Me: Neat! Has she shopped here before? If so, what does she like to use?

Customer: I don’t know.

Me: What kind of scents is she into? Maybe that’ll help.

Customer: I don’t know.

Me: Okay … what colours does she like a lot?

Customer: I don’t know.

Me: Let’s try something else. Can you describe her to me in a few words? What’s she like?

You can guess what his response was. Do you want to be like this dude? A dude who can’t describe anything his girlfriend likes or does not like, or even what she looks like? DO YOU WANT TO BE THIS GUY? Because if you give your girlfriend an Amazon gift certificate for fifty bucks, I am pretty sure you will be this guy.

But there’s another side to the gift exchange that people rarely think about, and that’s the etiquette of receiving gifts. I’m not talking about writing thank you notes or any of that shit. Because, yeah, thank you notes (or phone calls or emails) are important, especially if you’re thanking someone who sent you a gift and therefore wasn’t around to see your reaction in person.  But the kind of etiquette I mean is the kind where you have just been given a gift and you are supposed to react politely and enthusiastically. I do understand that not every present is one that you’ve been dying for all your life — but the thing is that the person you’re getting a gift from has thought long and hard about what to get you, and even if it wasn’t the exactly perfect gift — remember, it really is the thought that counts.

If it’s not the present you were expecting or hoping for, it’s okay not to jump up and down with joy, give the giver a great big bear hug and parade your gift around for the world to see. But you should at least show some appreciation rather than making the giver feel like complete and utter crap. Because chances are that person spent a lot of time and effort trying to get you something they thought you’d truly enjoy, and they didn’t have to. They weren’t obligated to get you much of anything, frankly, because nobody is really obligated to give anyone gifts for Christmas except their immediate family members.  And yet some people think they’re not only entitled to receiving gifts, but they’re entitled to be selective about what gifts they actually get. And hey, if you wanted exactly what you asked for, maybe you should stop relying on gifts and go the fuck out and buy shit yourself.

Let me tell you a story of The Worst Gift Exchange Ever. I decided to get a gift for a friend one Christmas, and thought long and hard about what I would get. I considered a variety of different options — books, knickknacks, clothes, DVDs — but eventually decided that I wasn’t comfortable getting her things like that because she had so many and I knew that there were a few things she desperately needed, but that someone else was getting them for her. So I decided to give her a fake gift card, allowing me to take her to her favourite place and buying anything she wanted from there. Carte blanche. No limit.  Now, if someone took me to my favourite restaurant or store and allowed me to get anything I wanted, I’d be totally stoked. And I thought my friend would be too, considering how much she always complained about not having any money and never being able to afford what she wanted to get. “Well,” I thought. “I am a genius.”

But when I gave my friend the gift, the reaction I got was not “WOAH HOW EXCITING!” or even “Oh, nice, thank you.” It was, “I don’t want this — get me something else.”

I DON’T WANT THIS. GET ME SOMETHING ELSE. Are you for fucking real? I was so taken aback that I could barely speak or even process the information I’d been given. Not only had this person not liked the gift that I thought I’d done a fantastic job of choosing, but she’d said it right to my face without any thought as to how much I’d actually thought about it, and how much I really thought she’d love it. She didn’t thank me for the thought, and she certainly didn’t pretend to be happy. Instead she told me to get her something else, which made my gift giving spirit evaporate more quickly than a droplet of water in Death Valley. Newsflash, people: nobody likes to be told that they aren’t good enough, and nobody — not now, not ever — should be made to feel like complete and utter shit about giving someone a gift. Ever.

If you do get a gift that you’re not thrilled about, just go with the old adage of “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Thank the person, smile, and move on. It’s that easy. And if it’s a really disappointing gift — say you’ve been dating someone for five years and they just give you a brick for the holidays — then you can maybe ask about it. But when it’s something that clearly showed effort and thought, why make your friend feel terrible? Is it worth the potential strain on your friendship? Probably not. You can, however, bitch about really shitty gift giving and receiving experiences on your blog many months later.

If you’ve got a horror story relating to gift giving/receiving (Christmas or otherwise) please feel free to share in the comments, because let’s face it: you as readers should get a chance to bitch about shit, too.


The Ten Worst Christmas Decorating Traditions

Tis the season to eat, drink & be merry. Tis the season for mistletoe, stockings, Christmas cookies, and decorations. Christmas decorations, on the whole, are amazing. They transform regular neighborhoods into beautiful sparkly tributes to the season. It’s really hard to be in poor spirits when looking at a house all gussied up and looking like a gingerbread house that’s been secured with twinkle lights instead of frosting. However, nothing throws a wet blanket on the Christmas fueled campfire in my soul like poorly selected, haphazardly utilized, tacky decorations. Sure, there’s a certain amount of over-the-top cheese that comes with the territory, but when done well, there is a certain type of cheese that reads as kind of magical this time of year. There’s a very fine line, though, between glitzy Christmas wonderland and looking like a drunk redneck took all of Las Vegas, threw it in a blender, drank it and spewed the resulting emanations all over your yard. Here’s a list of all the christmas decorations that make me want to spew.

10. Fake Snow
I hail from New England, which is famous for a few key things: Lobster, the Boston Tea Party, Autumn foliage and snow. Snow is a big part of Christmas in the Northeast, and anywhere else a certain distance from the equator. One night you go to sleep and all you have is cold and dreary, but when you wake up the entire world seems to be covered in pure white glitter. It’s…one of my favorite things about living in Massachusetts.  But snow isn’t always a walk in the park. We hardened New Englanders sacrifice for the privilege of such breathtaking beauty: we have to shovel, we have to drive enormous cars, we have to bundle up like the freakin Michelin man. We have to put up  with looking at what snow looks like after a few days on the ground, and that shit ain’t pretty. People in Florida, or Texas, or Hawaii, or Auckland think they have the right to grab some white fluffy insulation-looking crap, staple it to their mantelpiece and call it a day. No dice, bro. If you want a snowy winter wonderland, then you best come correct. Strap on your Uggs, layer up the North Face, and show up on the corner of Boylston and Tremont with wind chills of minus 30 degrees and see if you still want that “White Christmas.”

9. Elf on the Shelf
I feel like adding this very in vogue tradition to this list is going to make me a social pariah, but hear me out. I’m not against kids, or trying to perpetuate childlike wonder, especially around the holidays. I’m just having a lot of trouble grasping the concept of an elf that is there to spy on your children on santa’s behalf, especially when these elves get into all kinds of shenanigans. I mean who the fuck is this holier than though son of a bitch elf to judge my kids when he’s spilling flour on the floor or painting the dog’s fur or coloring on the walls or whatever the frick all those guys get into while the family has been sleeping. And by the family I mean everyone except the mom because she’s clearly up at three AM dipping a doll’s feet in chocolate making tiny footprints all over the walls or some shit. Not only that, but after the kids are delighted at the antics of the elf, the mom has to clean it up in such a discreet way that doesn’t give away the fact that this elf is clearly just a doll. how the hell are they managing that? “No honey, the elf doesn’t mind when i grab him by the ankles and huck him bodily into the washing machine.” “No honey, he won’t drown, Santa’s magic keeps his tiny lungs from filling with Snuggle detergent.” And what if the kids find him in the rubbermaid bins full of Christmas ornaments during the year? I feel like it’s just playing with fire here. Plus, it’s kind of like Alien/Monster movies. It’s always way scarier when you never actually get a good look at the creature–what’s in your mind is a million times scarier than what any makeup artist or cgi designing guy could come up with. I feel like it’s the same way with this. I want my future kids to be able to concoct their own ideas of what Santa’s workshop elves look like, and not have those dreams prematurely dashed. I’d much rather have them find out in some kind of horribly traumatizing way that Santa’s not real. That’s a real Christmas tradition!

8. Those Creepy As Carolling Dolls
I hate these things. So much. I have always hated them, unlike several things on this list which I’ve only started hating since I’ve become old, jaded, and bitter. I always thought they were the ugliest fucking things on the planet, even as a child. One of my grandmother’s friends collected them and always displayed dozens of the damn things, and I would always wrinkle my nose and silently judge because even as a child I could not see the artistic or sentimental value of dolls whose facial expressions look like someone very recently shoved something up their minuscule asses/they were getting ready to give each other blow jobs. These are probably also the only “classic” Christmas decoration that I hate. Apparently they have been around since the 1960s, and how they lasted this long. What’s worse, is each of these dolls costs around 70$. Seriously. And I imagine that’s only for new ones, not like classic or special or limited edition ones. That means to get a few carolers, because really, one is just pathetic, you’d need to drop about 280 bucks. Here’s an idea, buy your family some nice gifts instead, or spend that money on food for your dinner. Or better yet, but some non perverted decorations.

7. Anything Inflatable
I feel like it should go without saying that inflatable decorations fly in the face of good taste, but sadly this is not so. Year after year it seems like more and more of these damn things plague my eyeballs. They’re tacky and I hate them. They’re always malfunctioning too, flopping pathetically on the lawn in a puddle of terrible plastic. What is that stuff, anyway? It looks like the stuff 80s windsuits were made out of. Why anyone felt the need to bring that garbage back into the forefront of society is beyond me. I also can’t even imagine how much power they suck up through their ever whirring, noise pollution creating, crappy fan mechanisms. Some of these damn things are enormous, too, like someone shoved an air pump up Santa’s ass and used enough PSI to inflate the whole damn north pole. There’s also a certain amount of laziness to them. Throw up a few of these guys and suddenly you give the illusion of having “decorated.” This kind of brings me to my next pet peeve.

6. People who just throw Shit everywhere
These are the people who really play it fast and loose with the word “decrating.” These are also the people who stress for days about “entertaing” and then throw some Ritz crackers and a near-frozen rectangular prism of cracker barrel cheddar on a paper plate.  I really can’t understand why these people even bother decorating. It looks like crap, always. Crap is actually a bit generous of a term for what this looks like. It’s not festive; it’s not pretty. Why bother? Do you really think you’re fooling anyone? “Wow, I love the shabby chic approach to your Christmas light tangle!” said no one ever. These people need to just give up. Last february when you finally got around to taking your decorations down you were too lazy to roll the lights up nicely and now it’s time to pay the piper. If you can’t be bothered to spend 15 minutes untangling your twinkle light strands then I really don’t think you should inflict your laziness on the rest of your neighborhood.

5. “Hilarious” Decorations
Here’s another thing I don’t understand: prank or allegedly funny decorations. The one in the picture is one very specific example but there’s tons: crash landed Santas, mooning Santa butts, reindeer or snowman “poop” favors or kitchen props. It’s just in poor taste and really shouldn’t be funny to anyone. I love a crude joke as much as the next gal, believe you me, but some things are sacred. Christmas is meant to be a special sentimental time of year, and that gets obscured enough by present buying and commercialized BS, we don’t need to put any more nails in the coffin of sentimentality, people. Are we really so immature as a culture that we collectively need to use humor as a defense mechanism against sharing a nice holiday with our families? Heavy. Also, awkwardly violent decorations like the one featured above are really selfish in nature. Do the people that construct these affronts think about who has to look at them? Bare with me, because I know this is a cliche, But seriously, WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN? If I had small children who still tolerated me enough to let me drag them around town on freezing cold evenings to look at lights and decorations, I wouldn’t want them to have to look at some jack-ass’s idea of a hilarious joke like the one in the above picture. Not cool people, not cool.

4. Lights that Don’t Match At all
This is one of the most irksome practices of christmas decorating. Lights are strewn haphazardly, yet at the same time with some kind of deliberate purpose. These people are different from the people who don’t bother untangling their lights. The one better thing about these new Christmas crime perpetrators is  that they do get into the spirit of the holiday, and I won’t knock that. However, this type of  horrendous eye sore is equally offensive to anyone with taste. Lights should match. Period. I’m not saying they all have to be one color, but there should be some kind of color scheme, some rhyme or reason, some method to the madness. Most specifically, I hate when people use different types of multicolored strands. It looks so bad that I can’t understand why more people aren’t more embarrassed  If your drapes were neon plaid, and your couch was classic floral, people would think you’d gone out of your tree, yet for some reason when your door is rimmed in classic white, one of your bushes is blinking spasmodically enough to send the neighbor’s dog into an epileptic fit, and you have multicolored lights strung around your lamp post, and a DIFFERENT KIND of muliticolored lights on your walkway, everyone thinks you’re totally sane.  What kind of sense does that make?

3. People Who Indiscriminately Cover EVERYTHING with Lights
Similar to the above offenders, these jamokers are an enormous tumor to any street they happen to plague. Their entire property becomes a beacon, that, at the very least of my list of grievances, must waste an absolute fuckton of power. On top of that, they are a heinous eyesore. And not only that, but it demonstrates a complete lack of originality and original thought. Like, there is no personality to these fucking set ups, Like there was no opinion, no decision making whatsoever.  And I can’t even imagine how much all that shit costs to buy. Tackiness does not come cheap, and no, the irony of that is not lost on me. All these plastic snowmen, and spastic christmas lights that strobe in time to your Christmas carols cross many a pretty penny. These kinds of horrendous displays always make me physically wince as I walk down the street. It should not be almost as bright as daylight during the night time. It confuses the birds.

2. Plastic or Otherwise Tacky Nativity Scenes
Now, I’m all for really classic Christmas decorations, regardless of my personal religious affiliations. It is Christmas, after all (regardless of Jesus’s actual brithday and/or the celebration’s pagan roots). However, I really hate tacky looking Nativity scenes. I feel like it completely defeats the fucking purpose to have a chipped plastic jesus in your yard, looking like he has nothing but Satan in his eyes. Seriously, look at those eyes. They are dead inside. There is no Holy Spirit in there my friend. None. Also, there is something not right about inflateable or plastic jesuses. First of all, it’s creepy. Second of all, it’s just kind of…disrespectful. If you care enough about church and jesus to put his whole extended family onto your freakin front lawn, you should care enough that he doesn’t look like he’s been through the garbage disposal. He’s not jesus from the block, people.

1. Unnaturally Colored Christmas Trees
First of all, if you need me to explain why this is terrible, I hate you. But sadly, these items are still sold, so I feel I must. These are the epitome of trashy decorations. I understand if you don’t want to use a real tree, because it kind of bums me out to see all those dead trees lying on the side of the road after christmas (and by kind of bums me out I mean I actually cry when I see this); I’m not knocking the fake tree as a concept. But I really don’t understand where the decision to make trees into crazy colors came from. I mean, maybe I could make my peace with white or silver, because those are at LEAST christmas colors. Who the hell decided to start making them pink? Seriously. I want a name. I want a name so I can go to his house and paint other things in his life pink that have no business being that color. Like maybe his dog. Or his wife, and see how the fuck he likes it.

So there you have it folks, in case you needed another reason not to invite me over for the holidays: more shit I will criticize around your house.