"Who couldn’t use an AA battery? You had this one in the junk drawer."
November 20, 2019 4:23 PM   Subscribe

“What to do about deliberately bad gifts?” Captain Awkward tackles the subject matter of deliberate bad gift givers and how to handle them, etiquette-wise.

"Last year on my birthday, A and D gave me a bunch of used DVDs. They got me slightly damaged copies of a couple movies and every season of a TV show my parents liked in the 90’s that I have never expressed any interest in.

They got me individual seasons of a TV show that is available in its entirety on Netflix and that I have had conversations about with them in the past where I said I did not like the show. They got my parents copies of DVDs they already owned. All of these were slightly beat up from being previously owned."


This reminds me of my aunt and uncle (who I no longer speak to and vice versa) who would give me stuff like a fancy nail file and a copy of a computer game that came by default on all computers. My dad threw out the ugly sign they gave him one year.

The Captain has some great suggestions as to what to give them next year, such as a random battery, or just oh, NOTHING....
posted by jenfullmoon (104 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
Totally worth following through the post to the Patreon post (open to all) about the cursed ET figure!
posted by epersonae at 4:28 PM on November 20, 2019 [3 favorites]


I think this brings up an important distinction - there is a difference between people who give bad gifts because they're really not good at figuring out what people want, and people who give bad gifts deliberately.

This deals with the latter.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:29 PM on November 20, 2019 [6 favorites]


if Emily Post were alive today she would 100% haunt the Am I The Asshole Reddit in her free time exhorting people to come correct even if they are tragically reduced to wearing last season’s gloves and keeping only one manservant. Believe it.
brilliant.
posted by theora55 at 4:38 PM on November 20, 2019 [10 favorites]


I feel like this is actually a "How do I deal with people who are ostensibly friends but are actually assholes?" question.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:38 PM on November 20, 2019 [29 favorites]


I just read the ET thing and about DIED when another one turned up at the end of the story! God laughs, man.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:40 PM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


Also, the hand-painted ET in drag figurine is awesome and this person is dead inside for not appreciating it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:41 PM on November 20, 2019 [6 favorites]


Luckily nobody in my life is like this, but on the second "joke" gift I'm burning your fucking house down.
posted by axiom at 4:41 PM on November 20, 2019 [9 favorites]


I mean, if someone gave me a gift of something I'd had actual nightmares about, I might not appreciate it very much either.
posted by epersonae at 4:44 PM on November 20, 2019 [6 favorites]


"I got you terrible crap!" is not funny. "Here is my idea of a great gift [which is actually terrible crap]. Just kidding! I didn't really get you terrible crap! I love you and appreciate you and here is something thoughtful and special" is mildly funny in a C-level dad joke way.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:47 PM on November 20, 2019 [7 favorites]


Uncle I-Put-The-Eugene-In-Eugenics

That's just brilliant.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:55 PM on November 20, 2019 [8 favorites]


My old friend circle used to do a round-robin, random draw holiday gift exchange with a low price ceiling. People got each other hats or socks or music. One year, the year Mervyn’s was going out of business (this will be relevant later), “Teri” drew my name. She messaged me for weeks telling me how she couldn’t wait to see the look on my face, because she saw this gift and she immediately thought of me! She just knew I was going to love my perfect, perfect gift!

Finally, after weeks of pretending to be enthusiastic and giddy with anticipation, I got her message that it was ready! She invited me to come over and open it at her place...which made sense when I got there, as the box was too big for her to carry anywhere.

She bought me an effing headless, armless mannequin of a male torso. She howled with laughter when I opened the box.

I donated it to the old fleabag playhouse where I used to work. Never even took it into my house. Still trying to figure out after all these years what the eff was wrong with Teri.
posted by armeowda at 4:58 PM on November 20, 2019 [17 favorites]


I am OK with joke gifts, as long as they are bundled (or at least proximal) with a well-intended gift.

One of my joke gifts went awry a couple years ago. I gave a signed limited-edition book about local history, which I hoped was in the recipient's wheelhouse as both a librarian and somebody interested in local histories. And I also gave them a stupid gadget that I'd gotten for effectively free (as an item in a box full of random stuff during a Woot-Off type sale): the Quirky Egg Minder, an internet-based appliance that holds up to 14 eggs in your fridge and will notify your smart phone of which eggs had been stored the longest. It's a surprisingly bulky thing I would never want or use, and I assumed anybody else would feel similarly.

Since then I've heard multiple times about how they had been trying to optimize their use of the battery-powered egg tray, and they brought it out to show off to guests when I visited one of their parties. But I've never heard a word of how well the book went over. I'm still not sure whether they were genuinely more interested in the egg tray, or this has been some kind of long-form counter-prank.
posted by ardgedee at 5:04 PM on November 20, 2019 [61 favorites]


I could have written this letter myself. My hubby had a habit of getting me for christmas a giant pile of dollar store garbage, individually wrapped. Meanwhile I was scouring the ends of the earth to get him just the right thing. Basically I just put the kibosh on presents. No more presents. I don't like getting them (well, I LIKE getting presents A LOT, I don't like unwrapping garbage), I don't like giving them, and you apparently don't like giving them, so you're not getting them. It sucks but it is what it is. The number of presents I've gotten from anyone that were as thoughtful and nice as the ones I've gotten for other people is like..nil. I wish we could just end this shitty custom once and for all.

I can't imagine my brother doing something like this to me but I think I'd probably be like "Yo, what the fuck?"

Also regarding this line: A Rule Most Of Us Were Taught: “It’s rude to interrupt.”
I wish that as a kid I wasn't taught this but instead was taught how to interrupt appropriately. Because as an adult I found out I was expected to interrupt, in a certain way that I had not been informed of, and it's an incredibly important skill, especially for kids to have.
posted by bleep at 5:05 PM on November 20, 2019 [21 favorites]


My sister gives really, really bad gifts. I have no idea why. Now she doesn't, but before she earned double up of the rest of us. She bought very expensive stuff for herself. But somehow when buying gifts, she is both miserly and has bad taste.
I don't think she is joking, but that might be the thing. If so, it's very private. My brother and SIL have much less money, and are just the opposite.
That said, I sometimes find gifting very difficult. I never know what to give my nephews, and my own kids know to give very accurate instructions at birthday and Christmas times.
posted by mumimor at 5:08 PM on November 20, 2019


Our family decided on not giving gifts, except to the kids, at Christmas. I am very happy about this, but my sister refuses to comply, and buys gifts for everyone. I tell people "no gifts" for my birthday, too. I'm just not about it. But there's always someone who makes it awkward.
posted by Chuffy at 5:12 PM on November 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine my brother doing something like this to me but I think I'd probably be like "Yo, what the fuck?"
posted by bleep at 5:05 PM on November 20 [+] [!]


Hear hear!

"This is getting lame... why don't we skip to desserts now"

I would not put any further energy into the situation. I am neither going to fall victim to a shitty joke - or put more meaning into the situation beyond the brother and his wife have a crappy sense of humor and love shitty jokes. Save the nice gifts for Mom and Dad - and give Amazon cards for the jerks.
posted by helmutdog at 5:16 PM on November 20, 2019


Also, if you’re the guy who brings “funny” white elephants to the office gift swap (ignoring the specific instruction that it is NOT A WHITE ELEPHANT), well, I’m glad you got fired this year, “Todd!” Nobody misses you! You were never actually “the funny one around here.”
posted by armeowda at 5:20 PM on November 20, 2019 [11 favorites]


I think this brings up an important distinction - there is a difference between people who give bad gifts because they're really not good at figuring out what people want, and people who give bad gifts deliberately.

This deals with the latter.


I think those often overlap, though. I often find it difficult to choose good gifts for people, and sometimes I'm tempted out of desperation to give them a dumb gag gift in the hope that they would at least appreciate the joke. To be fair, I can't recall actually going through with the dumb gift, though there's a good chance I did so when I was younger and I just can't remember it now.

I think it's easier to call people out for giving you bad gag gifts, because it's clear to everyone around that they deliberately gave you a bad gift. It's more difficult when they give you something cheap or tasteless that isn't a gag, because even if they know it's bad, they can always pretend that they genuinely thought it was good.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 5:20 PM on November 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


I would very much like to hear more about this: Because as an adult I found out I was expected to interrupt, in a certain way that I had not been informed of, and it's an incredibly important skill
posted by bunderful at 5:26 PM on November 20, 2019 [8 favorites]


even if they know it's bad, they can always pretend that they genuinely thought it was good.

Heh! Cue my mother-in-law watching me unwrap a tote bag that read ONE CAT SHORT OF CRAZY:

“I knew it would probably offend you, but I had to get it for you anyway because I thought it was so funny.”

She hates cats. I have a lot of cats. One of the cats peed on the bag. I thanked him for the excuse to throw it out.
posted by armeowda at 5:30 PM on November 20, 2019 [24 favorites]


I would very much like to hear more about this: Because as an adult I found out I was expected to interrupt, in a certain way that I had not been informed of, and it's an incredibly important skill

Well like when you walk into someone's office and they're talking to someone else, you can't just skulk there because they're definitely not going to acknowledge you, you can't walk away because it looks like you're walking away in a huff, you're supposed to actually say "Excuse me" and then briefly state what you're there for. At a party, you're apparently also not supposed to just skulk around until someone acknowledges you, because nobody is ever going to do that unless they're pitying you for a few minutes until they find someone else to talk to (which I know for a fact because I have tested this theory extensively), you're supposed to just go up to people and start talking to them, even if they're talking to someone else! It's wild.
posted by bleep at 5:38 PM on November 20, 2019 [49 favorites]


Joke gifts only work when people get each other’s sense of humor. Like when my son got me a thing from ‘Think Geek’ called a ‘ tactical sock’ it actually is cute and funny and sort of practical. It had D - rings and buckles and zippers. You are meant to use it as a Christmas stocking. So it’s funny in a guy humor way but practical. Then again, lots of people would have found this gift totally weird. It’s actually something I like. I have used it as a hand-bag a couple times.
A GOOD joke gift is like that.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:46 PM on November 20, 2019 [12 favorites]


pink flamingos blaring Judas Priest
posted by clavdivs at 5:47 PM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


My *for real* rich grandmother used to give everyone but my cousin (her favorite) perplexing, shitty gifts. I’ll never forget the year Favorite Cousin got a car and i got a bunch of clear marbles in plastic mesh (which i learned, months later, were for flower arrangements or something) and a check with my name spelled entirely wrong for $15
posted by thivaia at 6:13 PM on November 20, 2019 [31 favorites]


Meanwhile, I'm planning on sending my nephew a whole bucket full of random crap that I don't use, or have too many of, was conference swag, Kondo-ing my kitchen drawer, or come from the dollar store. It will be glorious! Because I'm the only uncle (and evil at that), and he's just flown the nest to university and doesn't have his own collection of kitchen drawer shit that you didn't even know you needed until you did. And then... it's going to be "shit, I've got that in that random bucket of crap my evil uncle sent me."

muahahaha

It's also going to be the welcome to adulthood, "we don't really do presents" notification.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:20 PM on November 20, 2019 [4 favorites]


I get around this by making it clear that I only give gifts to minors and am only ever going to be enthusiastic about receiving gifts to charity in my name and absolutely nothing else (that’s a bit of a lie—socks, a very specific kind of underwear, and one summer sausage is sometimes appreciated), and after a few years, folks just get used to that and stop trying to convince me I should have a better attitude. I will nonetheless write a florid thank you card for every gift, no matter how wretched, on account of I got couth.

And man, if you want real resentful side eye from me, just try to force me into the Lord Of The Flies shitstorm that is “Yankee trader” or whatever they call it ‘round your parts. I would rather burn in hell forever than to suffer through those fakefun suburban torture sessions.

Of course, you’ll think I’m kind of a dick on the holidays until you take a bite of one of the array of full-fat all-cream quiches I cook for family gatherings and realize how I choose to give my best to those I value. There will be no jokes.
posted by sonascope at 6:24 PM on November 20, 2019 [9 favorites]


pink flamingos blaring Judas Priest

No no, we're talking about bad gifts here!
I mean I don't even like Judas Priest but c'mon, that'd be awesome
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:30 PM on November 20, 2019 [10 favorites]


for me this would just be the perfect opening to never have to worry about giving these people thoughtful gifts again. Think it's funny to get me some crappy gifts? oh it is ON. Enjoy your bag of moldy potting soil, asshole.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:59 PM on November 20, 2019 [8 favorites]


Joke gifts are fine, in fact they arguably show more thoughtfulness, as long as you ALSO give a "real" gift on top of the joke.
posted by zardoz at 7:01 PM on November 20, 2019 [3 favorites]


I don't like exchanging gifts. It seems like too much obligation is involved.
posted by ovvl at 7:04 PM on November 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


Joke gifts and bad gifts are not the same thing. You can give someone something funny, something they will think it's funny too, and that's a joke gift. just giving them crap, though, isn't a joke, it's just crap.

When we were kids, my mom was in the habit of saying "I don't know" when we asked her what she wanted for Christmas. So one year, my brother went out and bought her something he was certain she would not recognize, a tiny strawberry huller, which he wrapped up in a huge box. The joke turned out to be on him, because she recognized it right away. But whether she had or hadn't, everyone would've agreed that it was funny because we all knew about the I don't knows. It was funnier this way though, we still laugh about that sometimes, all these years later.

Just giving someone used DVDs that you know they don't want, though, there's nothing jokey about that. And even if the giver finds it funny, the joke is at the expense of the recipient, so it's just shitty.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:06 PM on November 20, 2019 [6 favorites]


Reasons I hate gift exchanges:

1. A "Secret Santa" gift exchange at a long ago job. We each drew a name, and along with the name we received a short list of gifts the person would like to receive. I don't remember what-all I wrote on my list, but "cat-related items" was on there. Day of the gift exchange, the whole office is together in a room, everyone opening their gifts. I brought a nice gift for my person (well, as nice as possible within the small budget we were allowed to spend), but after all the gifts were passed out there was no gift for me. Which in itself was not a big deal, I wasn't really upset about it and I certainly didn't say anything... except that people kept asking me what I got and then pitying me, and announcing to the room that I didn't get a gift, and more pitying would ensue, and it was just mortifying. So after like half an hour of this, a loud woman I never met before comes rushing in, saying how sorry she was to be late, that she had totally forgotten about the exchange and so she had run to the drugstore and just bought the first thing she saw that had cats on it! (Which as I recall turned out to be a dumb calendar or something.) Well thanks a fucking lot, lady, for not only embarrassing the shit out of me but also letting me and everyone else know that you put absolutely zero thought into my gift! What a super special day!

2. Different workplace, white elephant gift exchange. We were told that "nice" gifts and gag gifts were ok. I was sure the gift I brought would be popular due to the delightful awfulness of it. I had purchased a small resin steer skull and tarted it up by gluing on sequins, feathers, a purple boa and garish makeup. I thought it was funny, cool and maybe slightly creepy. I couldn't wait for the person who got it to open it up and admire it! Except, not so much. She fucking hated it. She screamed when she opened it and pushed it away in horror. I heard her telling someone she thought it was demonic. Just totally creeped out and wanted nothing to do with it. Our sales manager adopted it and placed it atop the genuine steer skull in his office, so at least it was appreciated by someone. I felt bad for scaring the person but also annoyed, because I never expected that anyone would be a baby about it. I mean, it was wearing a boa and glitter eyeshadow! How much more fabulous could it be?

Meanwhile, my own gift at the white elephant exchange was confusing. It was a cheap, cutesy, boring Santa Claus statue, and I didn't know how to react. It was tacky and cheap enough that it could have been meant as a gag, but also the kind of thing that maybe a grandma-type person would think was a nice gift. And here I am all socially anxious with the whole room looking at me, sweating over not knowing if I'm supposed to make fun of it or pretend to love it. And this just after having terrorized the receptionist with a demon skull.

3. Other office gift exchanges where I have put real effort, thought and money into getting a nice gift I thought that particular person would like, and yet it is clear from their lukewarm reaction when they open it that it somehow missed the mark.

I now live with the reputation of being the office grinch because I decline to participate, but it's a small price for the amount of Christmas peace I gain from abstaining.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:09 PM on November 20, 2019 [31 favorites]


Similarly, Ask a Manager: my team sent me a bag of garbage while I was recovering from surgery

Also, kind of the reverse of this happened to me once. I don't remember mentioning to my partner "it would be really nice to own a lint roller!" (I'm bad at actualizing thoughts like this into purchases); but I do remember unwrapping an unexpected and greatly appreciated lint roller on Christmas morning in front of his family while they looked on in confusion.
posted by What is E. T. short for? at 7:10 PM on November 20, 2019 [12 favorites]


I just tell every friend that all of our mutual friends have a weird obsession with parrots. It solves all gift giving questions.

(But, also, anyone who doesn't treasure the ET statue didn't deserve gifts.)
posted by eotvos at 7:13 PM on November 20, 2019 [4 favorites]


Meanwhile, I'm planning on sending my nephew a whole bucket full of random crap that I don't use, or have too many of, was conference swag, Kondo-ing my kitchen drawer, or come from the dollar store. It will be glorious!

Marie Kondo did specifically say that you're not meant to offload your decluttered junk to relatives if they didn't ask for them.

If I was your nephew I'd just not bother maintaining a relationship with you ever again because wow, what the hell.
posted by divabat at 7:14 PM on November 20, 2019 [28 favorites]


I appreciate things that are actually weird/funny, like the toy parakeet that would say whatever phrases you recorded. Or yeah, pink flamingos that played Judas Priest songs. Gag gifts that are deliberately tacky/cheap or scatological seldom land well, though.

I really don't get the garbage-as-gift gag, though.

(I would have dug that glittery deer skull for sure)
posted by emjaybee at 7:26 PM on November 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


When my niece went off to college, we bought her basically the "kitchen drawer". Batteries, chargers, cables, box of pens, flashlight, scissors, rubber bands, etc. But it was all new and wasn't a Christmas gift, so it was greatly appreciated.

With that same niece, I had the rare opportunity of giving a Christmas gift that was loved and that caused nightmares. When she was 14, she loved zombies more than anything. I bought her a (from ThinkGeek) zombie head cookie jar. Cartoonish, ceramic, highly detailed. More cute than scary, or so I thought. She absolutely loved it. But Christmas Night rolled around, and she ended up having nightmares that this head was getting closer. Closer. Closer. And then it started gnawing at her leg. Zombie head cookie jar ended up in mom & dad's closet. For the longest time, I think zombie head was a permanent resident on top of the box of ties that dad no longer wore.

Fast forward four years to the new dorm room. I'm helping her move in. Box gets opened. Zombie head comes out and ends up in a prominent place in the room. She had a good laugh about it. One of my better gifts, I think.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 7:27 PM on November 20, 2019 [19 favorites]


Joke gifts are fine, in fact they arguably show more thoughtfulness, as long as you ALSO give a "real" gift on top of the joke.

This. When I turned 13, my father and brother had spent the previous several weeks asking me what I wanted for my birthday. I couldn't think of anything, so I would joke that I wanted "a new car and a fur coat". So they presented me with a shoe box containing a scrap of fake fur and one of my brother's old Matchbox cars, grinning and teasing me that "that's the new car and the fur coat you wanted!"

...And then they made sure that I saw the three Genesis albums on cassette they'd also placed in there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:29 PM on November 20, 2019 [9 favorites]


Best joke present I ever got: when I graduated from high school, my now brother in law gave me a "college emergency kit" which was supposed to solve the problems I would face in college.

It had little items with the emergency written on them.

"Broke" ($1)
"Bored" (mini streamers)
"Forgot to study" (notecard with 2+2=4 on it)

The card was a birthday card his grandma had signed for him. He crossed out the birthday references and made them graduation references.
posted by Emmy Rae at 8:29 PM on November 20, 2019 [8 favorites]


She bought me an effing headless, armless mannequin of a male torso

Whereas I was like, man, I'm never gonna find someone who will give me a used department-store mannequin for Hanukkah...
posted by limeonaire at 8:35 PM on November 20, 2019 [17 favorites]


I had a great aunt who never liked me, and for most of my life expressed her dislike in mean gift form. To be clear, this wasn't an upsetting topic for me, and I hold these as hugely beloved memories, mostly because they're objectively the funniest things that ever happened to me.

For instance, for my sixteenth birthday she gave me a subscription to a dieting magazine (I was not overweight or trying to diet) and a dried up mascara sample that (she explained) she'd found in her underwear drawer. The best was the year the whole family got together for Christmas, and she made hand-knit sweaters for my sister and our cousins, and for me, she wrapped up a partially eaten bag of pfeffernusse cookies.

God, what a legend.
posted by jameaterblues at 8:39 PM on November 20, 2019 [35 favorites]


My Mother habitually buys me Christmas gifts that are utterly wretched and betray an apparently intense lack of concern for whether I will enjoy or use them. Now that I have a smart phone it's become a Christmas tradition to snap a photo of my presents and send it to all my friends so we can at least laugh about it together.

Sample year:
  • Twinings chamomile tea (20 bags)
  • Twinings decaffeinated Earl Grey tea (20 bags)
  • a $7 box of low quality assorted chocolates
  • a tiny Royal Bank desktop calendar in a plastic stand
  • a box of 5000 staples
I have always despised chamomile. My Mother later "borrowed" the Earl Grey tea and never returned or replaced it. The chocolates were a brand that I'd recently specifically told her I didn't like. Our bank gives the calendars out for free. And the staples? I still had 99% of the last box of 5000 staples she'd given me for Christmas on a previous year.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:51 PM on November 20, 2019 [19 favorites]


I have to admit there's this moment in the question where after noting a few times what a thoughtful gift-giver they are and how careful they are to get gifts that reflect the inner wossname of the recipient, it comes out that BadJoker Brother discarded the Coke sweater she'd given him. And I'm scratching my head and thinking, isn't this the universe's way of telling you you're not as thoughtful as you thought?

The closest I've ever come to an actual prank/gag gift was the time I put something real (was it a specially designed fancy-ass dremel bit for dog nails?) in a Nap Sack box.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:56 PM on November 20, 2019 [11 favorites]


There is a very simple rule for joke gifts (and really, jokes in general) - Make sure that the person on the other end finds it funny.

Both find it funny? Perfect.
Only the recipient finds it funny? Rare and weird, but still perfect.
Only the giver finds it funny? The giver is an asshole.
posted by MysticMCJ at 9:31 PM on November 20, 2019 [6 favorites]


Oh, and this only applies in the "actually finds it funny" way, not the "I'm laughing because you are in a position of power over me and i am afraid to do otherwise" sort of way. If you are in a position of power, best to avoid this unless you are DAMNED sure.
posted by MysticMCJ at 9:32 PM on November 20, 2019


This thread of wonderful people with objectively heinous (or occasionally awesome) family members/"friends"/coworkers is the best-ever gift I didn't know I needed for Christmas. Thank you all, from the bottom of my Metafilter account.

Also: ...Staples. Staples!? WTactualF.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:37 PM on November 20, 2019 [5 favorites]


Also also, a dried up mascara sample and open half-bag of cookies is so flat-out bullshit that one couldn't really even take it personal anymore, right? That's just their own crap shinin' through.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:46 PM on November 20, 2019 [4 favorites]


Used goods are not bad gifts in my opinion.

I love giving presents but I hate capitalism's impact on our natural resources. The holidays is just a miasma of "ooh cute, wait no, those are rare earth minerals obtained from conflict zones and omg all the packaging."

So I am that person who gives thrift store gifts for Christmas. I have spent a truly staggering amount of time on shopgoodwill.com looking for just the right thing for my friends' kids, our niblings, and my parents.

Legos, in Lego-brick-shaped tubs, for 4.99 and shipping. How much do kids care about the slightly battered box in which the Lego set came in? Nothing because they have ripped into the box as they were taking off the wrapping.* Canon digital cameras, with all dongles and doohickeys, in the original box, but five years out of date. Niblings ran around taking photos of everyone for the rest of the day. Ursula Vernon's Nurk, with nary a scribble on the pages, but a little banged up on the spine. 100% huge hit last Christmas.

There are a ton of those kids microscopes and lots of binoculars, but I've learned the hard way that things with optical lenses are too easy to scratch up and things that require proprietary bulbs are even more dicey.

Right now I am cruising the thrift store (ecommerce site) for the perfect zip-up sweater for my dad and a warm cardigan with pockets for my mom. Oh and animal-shaped brooches. They raised me, so they know that I am a tree hugger and had to wait for me to sort recycling after middle school.

*I am that person who buys recycled paper wrapping paper. Or scrounges Sunday comics for months ahead of time to collect enough to wrap gifts.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:11 PM on November 20, 2019 [13 favorites]


Oy such a sore subject. Burned on gift exchanges over and over again. My favorite was when we actually caved and participated in a white elephant as a family and received a set of party favors for a neighbor’s previous party that we were the only neighbors not invited to. Awkward much? Also had a great aunt who wrapped up basically trash. And would bitch and complain if she didn’t get a prompt thank you note.
posted by gryphonlover at 10:23 PM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


I guess I have always seen all books as acceptable gifts, as long as they are in good shape. Better World Books really changed up my book giving game once I vowed to avoid Amazon as much as possible. But I will concede that I mostly give used kids books as "just because" gifts, to friends' kids when I visit their house or meet up with them for a meal, or as "we miss you" packages to my honorary nibling.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:35 PM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


Holiday gift giving is so wrapped up in relationships and societal expectations that I feel like I often get the etiquette wrong, both as giver and giftee.

What are you supposed to get your daughter in law the first Christmas after she marries your first born son? Is it a wedding present type gift? Did your son exclaim "what on earth mom?"

What are you supposed to get your in-laws the first Christmas you stay with them. Did you go overboard and force everyone to chip in for a Vitamix that lives in the back of a cabinet all year until you come visit for the holidays and then pull it out to make the holiday cucumber cocktail?
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:36 PM on November 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


Our bank gives the calendars out for free.

Reminds me of the time I was at my friend's house when her shitty parents were over. They gave nice toys to the kids, a Nylabone for the dog, a piece of paper picture they got for free at a museum to her husband, and nothing whatsoever for their despised daughter, who they despised for having come out a third girl instead of a boy. (I think the only reason they even talked to her was that she was the only one to produce boys.) I was just sitting here going, "Is anyone else here noticing this?!"
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:41 PM on November 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yeah, 2016-onwards has really been the era of No More Letting People Exploit Social Conventions To Be Mean To You. These days, I would probably pick up a mean joke gift and dump it right on the giver's lap, then walk out (or get their coat for them).
posted by praemunire at 11:01 PM on November 20, 2019 [11 favorites]


Gift giving on Occasions in front of an audience is an embarrassing, guilt-making kabuki where one person person performs their 1. wealth or 2. knitting ability and the recipient performs gratitude for shit they will definitely never need.

Giving gifts on occasion, spontaneously, is lovely.

I'm definitely not going to Christmas this year.
posted by Sterros at 12:09 AM on November 21, 2019 [6 favorites]


Gifts give me palpitations -- I am genuinely terrible at them. I don’t have good taste, I don’t understand other people’s taste very well, and I don’t spend a lot of time in shopping places so I also don’t have a good sense of what’s out there to buy. I can’t even work out which generally-useful stuff is okay to give someone without a specific request (obviously batteries are on the wrong side of that, but lots of stuff feels ambiguous to me). I feel like this must be a learnable social skill but man, I sure have not achieved it. If anyone has a good gift giving primer for the clueless I’d love to read it.

The office tradition where I work is also uncomfortable because it is one of those White Elephant things that is a mix of genuinely good joke gifts, really high quality stuff people are passing off as “oh that old thing, it was just lying around my house,” and trash like a single grass stained tennis shoe (really). I kind of think it’s so terrible that it crosses over into sociologically amazeballs, but that doesn’t mean I want to sit through it again. I think this year I’ll come for the potluck and leave discreetly before the swap.
posted by eirias at 4:06 AM on November 21, 2019 [10 favorites]


Going to a thrift store to get used goods as a gift is completely fine, and especially for toys and other gifts for kids. Giving, as a gift, a bunch of your old stuff that you don't want anymore has a very different connotation.
posted by jeather at 4:28 AM on November 21, 2019 [10 favorites]


I have a lot of well-intentioned but clueless family members, and I've become good at responding graciously and enthusiastically to all kinds of weird gifts. Joke gifts are really embarrassing for me because by the time they reveal it's a joke, I'm already yammering about how thoughtful they are and how much I've always loved E.T. or whatever.
posted by moleplayingrough at 4:32 AM on November 21, 2019 [5 favorites]


I have just been spending three days a week helping my employer, an older woman with end stage cancer wrap this kind of crap. Once upon a time she aspired to be someone who gave those thoughtful gifts with multiple layers and careful meaning and relevance. And now she is giving broken angel figurines and 1960's paper Christmas decorations from the basement and dusty dollar store stuffed toys that were probably put away for Christmas, not months ago, but years. I am carefully positioning the tape to hopefully hide the previous tape marks on the boxes and patching the torn wrapping paper that we are reusing. Her family is dodging out of seeing her because they find it so painful, so she is about to spend what is probably her last Christmas, alone.

The path from the wonderful carefully thought out gift to the you've-got-to-be-kidding-me-I-am-grossed-out gift is a slippery slope. If the family expectations are high the crash will be all the harder. There are a lot of people who get to the week before Christmas and only then muster the organization to look at their budget and their time available and realise that they can't do it. But showing up and saying they lack the executive ability to exchange gifts is not easy - especially when you suspect that someone probably bought the gift for you in October. And if you suggest not exchanging gifts, as well as causing the same kind of reaction as suggesting that Dave has been molesting the kids, it sometimes breaks up the family because Gifts at Christmas is the definition of relationship to some people, the way that when a couple stops sharing a bed it may mean nothing but more restful sleep but it may also been an inevitable divorce.

So someone gormless in that situation is apt to go with the gag gift, and try to get into the spirit of things and completely fail. It's usually not malicious, I suspect, but rather a desperate attempt to participate and steer the ritual into something they can actually manage. And it's awful to watch and awful to participate in.

So if I were the person who hand knit a personalized sweater who was given a used DVD I'd assume that the entire ritual was failing and not just my gift recipient. The love languages suggest that for some people gifts are their language of love - and for some other people gifts are the language of failure. If you spent your whole childhood opening gifts like a pink plastic easy bake oven and a magenta plastic barbie corvette and matching twin baby dolls and only wanted your family to hug you and accept your gender identity and tell you that you were good at what you do, gifts are the language of not being loved. So I am guessing that those jerks are giving as good as they got - complete with a definite side of hostility. Most people who give really wonderful gifts that are wrapped perfectly are not nearly as good gift givers as they think.

My aunt knew that my mother liked puzzle books and would faithfully give my mother a crossword puzzle book as a side gift every year. But crossword puzzles are often trivial questions "Hollywood Monroe?" and "Young and Restless hearththrob" and my mother was relentlessly into obscure etymology and mathematical logic and the trivia made her feel contempt. She never did crossword puzzles. My aunt was gently informed that a different type of puzzle book would be better, but since she didn't do puzzles ended up unable to remember what type of puzzle book would be the not-as-good one. So just like the person getting DVD's for a show they don't watch, the gifts my aunt gave made my mother feel unloved and unrecognized, and left my aunt wondering why my mother was always so hostile.

People who give perfect gifts often want perfect gifts in return and clearly feel disappointed when they get a hardware store gift card in the hardware store smallest size plastic bag after lovingly spending hours choosing, constructing, decorating designing and wrapping. I'm pretty sure that the problem here is such a serious mismatch of expectations and needs because the person who wrote the letter either wants incredible beautiful gifts, or wants tons of recognition for all the work and planning they did, but the other side can't even begin to meet their expectations, and is feeling so inadequate to meet those expectations that they resent it.

What I am seeing in this post is that the person in the letter is feeling hurt and unrecognized by the gift they are getting and that the person giving the gag gifts is probably feeling the same way over the gifts they are getting and are retaliating. Even if the gifts received were perfectly chosen and were things that they wanted, they are signalling that the whole ritual of gift giving is not working for them. If people are ending the ritual feeling bad then the ritual is not working. If people are going into the ritual determined to brazen out and make a mockery of the thing, then something is wrong in the family and the ritual is failing to make everyone feel like they belong and are loved.

Maybe the people who give the gag gifts would rather be disinvited. Maybe they would rather not exchange presents. Maybe they would like to go with the gifts becoming really low key, not a significant part of the gathering. Maybe they only show up for the booze and would really prefer to have a nice comforting traditional round of domestic violence for the holidays instead. But shoving everyone into a gift giving ritual and then complaining that some people are inadequate is failure to recognize that Aunt Sophie in her dirty boots and jeans is equally a blessing as Uncle Chris with his matching homemade ornaments; it's as un-loving to be offended by Aunt Sophie and her terrible clothes as it is to reject Uncle Chris's crocheted angels. That relative of yours who always gets drunk and starts bickering at Christmas doesn't belong at a children's party, so perhaps the thing to do is take them out to a bar, buy them the first round, hug them hard and go home.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:07 AM on November 21, 2019 [54 favorites]


Jane the Brown, as a person who struggled for many years in a nuclear family with lofty, impossible gift-giving expectations beautifully wrapped and ribboned over metric ton of complicated passive-aggressive subtext, i’d like to thank you for your comment. It was perfect and I feel heard. It was an actual gift.
posted by thivaia at 5:20 AM on November 21, 2019 [17 favorites]


In our family (me, my partners, the kiddo), we require gift consent. There's less in the way of surprise, but way more gained in not having unpleasant surprises that we then have to deal with.

I just bought my spouse, for our 6th anniversary, a 30cm pillow that looks like a loaf of bread. You can't buy true love like that.
posted by XtinaS at 5:33 AM on November 21, 2019 [4 favorites]


I do want to state, as I should have before, that I think "used stuff I no longer want" is different when it is from ill/elderly members of your family. My grandmother has gifted me many lovely purses because they are leather and too heavy for her to carry; I don't find this even slightly offensive. (She has given other things to other family members -- some is wanted, and some we just lie about.)

I don't actually think bad gifts are always malicious, but they often are -- many people here have given examples, my paternal cousins (well, their parents) used to do a big Chanukah party and they got their other side cousins lovely, well-thought out gifts and they gave my family used notepads. (Eventually this was too overtly rude and other people started commenting and they switched to gift cards, which my side had done for a while, and eventually we just all gave up pretending we had a relationship at all. But this was very clearly malicious.)

I've had really well-thought out gifts that were bad gifts, and I've had malicious gifts that were bad gifts, and I can tell the difference. (I haven't had good gifts that were malicious.)

I am a bad gift giver, myself, and try to give in other ways (time, energy, baked goods), because I just can't regularly choose good, thoughtful gifts. Though I AM pretty good with gifts to kids.
posted by jeather at 6:06 AM on November 21, 2019 [4 favorites]


And I'm scratching my head and thinking, isn't this the universe's way of telling you you're not as thoughtful as you thought?

Well, she did say this: I don’t mean to seem like I’m bragging about being super great at giving gifts or I’m entitled to lots of cool presents. I only meant that I try to put a lot of thought into their gifts and save up for them for a long time.

I'm not sure why she still feels some obligation to give them gifts, though. Hopefully Captain Awkward helped get rid of that tendency.
posted by Emmy Rae at 6:50 AM on November 21, 2019 [7 favorites]


I used to give gifts to a giant collection of people and their kids every year, and then I got divorced, couldn't afford it anymore, and I quit. Now I send cards to 40-50 people/families every year, and I get presents for my SO, my life-long best friend, and my parents. My mom asks me what I want, I tell her, she gets it for me. Sometimes I go shopping with her to pick it out. We have fun.

I am so glad this shit has been simplified for me now. I spend almost no time at the mall, I have the leisure time to think of and pick good stuff for the few people I do get a gift for, and I don't spend a fortune on wrapping paper anymore. Win, win, win.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:59 AM on November 21, 2019 [4 favorites]


What's fascinating about this story is that the letter-writer is also a bad gift-giver! She is doing a ton of labor that is not for anyone. The primary fault, though, is with the sister and brother-in-law. What they want to say with these gifts is "We see you expending lots of time and energy and thought in a way that you think of as being for us, but it's not, we don't want those things and we end up feeling responsible for the trouble and expense you underwent. And we would rather have a protocol where we don't give gifts, or where we give "gifts" in a "light-hearted" way that is clearly meant to forbid excessive labor" -- but they are too uncomfortable to just say that and instead engage in this ritual which they think of as an obvious signal but which just comes off as mean. I am more of a Guess person than an Ask person but this is one of those situations where you really see the pitfalls of Guess.
posted by escabeche at 7:35 AM on November 21, 2019 [7 favorites]


Oh man, I actually really needed this advice. My family is wrapped up in the 'have to exchange gifts but make the process as painful as possible for everyone involved' cycle, and has been for as long as I remember. It's the fun combination of needing to fulfill societal expectations of a loving family but not willing to display any actual emotions or preferences because they'll only be used against us later.

The worst one was the sausage of the month club membership given to someone who recently announced they were vegetarian, probably because that cost actual money. Usually it's just stuff from Walgreens (my brother, the best gift giver of the bunch, admits he usually gets me whatever comes up when you type in 'nerd' in amazon). What's really ridiculous is that we still make Christmas lists, but I'm usually careful about what I put on there, or else I'll be told how horrible my tastes/politics/lack of makeup are and be given what they think I should like instead, or skipped over entirely. Suggesting people give gifts or donations to charity instead is relentlessly mocked.

I actually like giving gifts to people I like, too! These days I mostly try for my nieces and nephews, but they're just now getting to the age where the stuff they like can't easily disappear on them. And I have one sister-in-law who will actually make a point of telling me what she actually wants and uses the gifts, and it's a breath of fresh air.

It's peak midwestern to turn gift giving into a way to fight, but there you go. Thanks, Captain Awkward. My Christmas list is going to be a list of charities. Everyone can get whatever they ask for, and if they decide to be assholes about it, that's on them.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:28 AM on November 21, 2019 [5 favorites]


Some years ago, my family got my then husband a giant bag of cat litter for Christmas, and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at watching a person’s face when they opened a gift. (It was on his amazon list, and they did it as a joke, and also got him the fancy coffee maker he really wanted, so it was fine, but man.)
posted by oomny at 8:39 AM on November 21, 2019 [5 favorites]


What are you supposed to get your daughter in law the first Christmas after she marries your first born son? Is it a wedding present type gift? Did your son exclaim "what on earth mom?"

I mean...just something nice for a person her age? A book or a picture or a box of chocolate or a gift card? There is no special significance to First Christmas (unless you want to do a special ornament) and especially to Firstborn Son (why would that matter?)

My ex MIL would stick to a stocking full of lotion and fuzzy socks and maybe something funny but actually nice (fancy back scratcher, I used that sucker till it broke). Maybe a book. Her only fails were buying me clothes. I would in general say stay away from clothes for anyone over 10 unless you have been given very specific directions about an item to get.

What are you supposed to get your in-laws the first Christmas you stay with them. Did you go overboard and force everyone to chip in for a Vitamix that lives in the back of a cabinet all year until you come visit for the holidays and then pull it out to make the holiday cucumber cocktail?

Well that doesn't sound nice for anyone so no? If you are staying with them, the rules are the same for anyone you are staying with; be a good and thoughtful guest. Take over dinner for a night or two (cooked in or take them out), clean up after yourself, pitch in for groceries, etc. For the Christmas gift part, give them something you think they will like and use; if they have a lot of stuff already, maybe "experience" gifts like movie/restaurant/theater gift certificates. Museum membership.

They're just people. If you make an effort, they will most likely appreciate it. If they have weird toxic gift-related issues and hate you for not hitting the exact mark, that's about them.
posted by emjaybee at 8:47 AM on November 21, 2019 [7 favorites]


we’ve just had a dozen examples of inter-family gift languages being mutually incomprehensible, I’m not at all surprised if new in-law presents go terribly wrong. The higher stakes it feels the harder it is to get right.

Have been thinking about when Guess culture didn’t fail in my life, and it relied on massive invisible emotional labor from almost all the women and a vital subset of the men. Repeated delicate discussions of how maybe someone would feel if...? But it takes a while to find the live channels in a new family and get on each others’ wavelength.

My conservative Alabama grandmother heroically found a black sweater to give me in my cranky punk teens, which was deeply generous because she didn’t approve of or understand anything about my entire nuclear family, let alone me. And the sweater was in such obvious need of a Peter Pan collar and a manicure that I never managed to wear it and feel sharp. But I kept it for years anyway because the attempt was so kind. Also I think it reflected a rare successful conversation between my parents and my grandmother (probably over the difficulty of raising adolescents).
posted by clew at 9:26 AM on November 21, 2019 [14 favorites]


My husband, who is generally excellent, has an uncanny lack of talent for giving gifts. For some reason -- I have never figured out why despite his trying to explain it -- one year he told his mother I would love to have the DVD of Mulan for Christmas. That same year, he told his brother I would like very much to have the DVD of Gormenghast. Problem is, the only thing I detest more than animated Disney movies is fantasy like Gormenghast. (He doesn't care for them much either, so it wasn't some passive-aggressive "get a gift for someone else that's really a gift for yourself" sort of thing.) I asked him what the hell, and he said something about the time we saw Lord of the Rings when we were first dating.

And one year for Christmas, he also bought his cousins, who at the time were around 12 and 10, a book called "Elephant Yoga" or some such thing, which as I recall had Babar and friends doing yoga? Or something? And this was one gift for the two of them, which they were meant to share. They were polite about it, but sheesh.

And then there was the time he got his mother a box of decorative golf balls, although in fairness she kind of seemed to like them.
posted by holborne at 9:26 AM on November 21, 2019 [5 favorites]


Our department's, uh, dirty santa / yankee swap is coming up. Last year I did not participate and I am SO glad that I didn't. 80% of the gifts were white elephant junk, 20% things a person would actually want. It was excruciating, watching everybody try to not visibly want the 20% that was good, as person after person swiped them.

My sister has tastes that are obscure to me. I can't look at a thing and say, "Yes, she would absolutely love to have this," as I might for others. + after doing Marie Kondo, I can't stand the idea of giving a person something they wouldn't love. So, gift cards for her.

I also advocate for Xmas shopping year round, and straight up asking people. I found some nice earrings over the summer, texted a pic to my sister-in-law for her approval, and then told her (jokingly) to forget about it with a gif of the penguins from Madagascar. Since she's a busy adult human, I guarantee she's forgotten about them by now.

a final thought: my roommate has a really different take on gifts from anybody else I've met. She has a specific thing she wants, and if you can't get her that specific thing, she would like the next thing on her list. Eg, if you can't get her a nice seat at a soccer game, she would rather have a different gift (like a specific wallet), not a nosebleed seat. And if you can't get the right brand and model of wallet, she has a third, unrelated, specific thing she wants. Don't get her the wrong wallet, get her the next thing on her list. It took me three years to figure this out about her, lol.

Jane the Brown's comment above was really insightful and I'll be thinking about it for a while. It seems like if giving gifts is your love language, you also need to spend the time deciphering how to give a good gift for the specific person -- or even if a gift is the way to go. I think honoring a person's differences in this way would be an extraordinary gift.
posted by snerson at 9:27 AM on November 21, 2019 [4 favorites]


I have come to the realization of late that as much as I might like to think otherwise, I'm pretty bad at gift giving, which is kind of a shock and means I think I'll be opting out of it going forward, where I can, so no more voluntary gift exchanges. Thankfully I've honestly never given a "bad" gift out of contempt or spite, so that's a bit of a bright spot. I don't know how you'd look someone in the eye while doing so.
posted by maxwelton at 9:39 AM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


Our white elephant swap is coming up in early December and our office tends to be pretty good at it. We're mostly weirdos who like odd things, but there are also people who like more traditional stuff, so there is somebody to take the elephant watering can or the light-up metal peacock, and there is also somebody to take the snowman cookie jar or the scented candle. There is also swapping that happens afterwards.

My mom is the difficult person to buy presents for, because she wants stuff, and wants it to be beautifully wrapped for her to unwrap, but she then never uses what she's given. I think there is a crockpot she specifically asked for that my sister gave her two years ago that is yet to leave its box.
posted by PussKillian at 9:42 AM on November 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


My mom is an overgifter. She tried to get an address to mail a present to my already-ex-boyfriend whom she never met in person. She also feels obligated to buy things at fundraisers, fairs, etc, which then become unsuitable gifts for me. I am thankful for that Captain Awkward post reminding me how good I've got it.

I actually like my dad's gift-giving approach, although it works for him because mom's handling all the family-level gifts (he does do other holiday tasks). He goes to Wal-Mart on Christmas Eve, and will add other stores for something specific (e.g., one year I wanted ramekins and he took me to the mall to pick them out). I get a USB drive and unusual snacks every year, Mom gets Lindt chocolates and a DVD of something she likes. I always have a USB drive when I need one, I get things I can take home on the plane, and this is a level of gift-giving effort I can match. I think constraining choice to a few mass-market stores or obvious standbys helps bad gift-givers stay on track, and as a bad gift-giver, this lesson has been useful.

On preview: I'm like snerson's roommate and have very specific ideas about what I want and substitutions are awkward because usually I don't like them / they aren't functional but don't feel like I'm allowed to replace them. This makes Christmas lists awkward and generic gifts like my Dad's a good fallback strategy.
posted by momus_window at 9:43 AM on November 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


. She has a specific thing she wants, and if you can't get her that specific thing, she would like the next thing on her list. Eg, if you can't get her a nice seat at a soccer game, she would rather have a different gift (like a specific wallet), not a nosebleed seat. And if you can't get the right brand and model of wallet, she has a third, unrelated, specific thing she wants. Don't get her the wrong wallet, get her the next thing on her list.

This seems so obviously what a human would want, especially for something like a wallet. I have specific things I want in a wallet, don't get me something else please -- if I have a Specific Item on my list, it's because I want That Item. (I'm fine with gifts that are not a specific thing I have selected, but if I want This Item just get it for me or get me something else altogether. My father learned this when my mother asked for a specific gym bag and he looked at it and got her a different one which he said would be more useful and she was not pleased. He, too, is a bad gift giver.)
posted by jeather at 9:53 AM on November 21, 2019 [9 favorites]


I think that some of what makes gifting tricky for everyone is that emotional labor is also tied up into it, and a lot of time people are just looking for some kind of acknowledgement that you put some emotional labor into it.

Sometimes someone gives you a bad gift, but you can tell that they tried to think of something, or you know that they've been going through a lot of stress and personal issues and so maybe their brains aren't firing on all cylinders. They still tried to think of you, and that's...kinda okay; they still thought of you, even though their thoughts led them to a really weird place.

But then sometimes someone gives you a bad gift and you can tell that they didn't put any thought into it at all. That's different; it's not the gift that makes you feel crappy, it's that they didn't give two shits about you.

This sounds like an even worse level - the givers thought about the receivers, but their train of thought went to "how can we make them feel crappy".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:55 AM on November 21, 2019 [6 favorites]


Aaaaah, this thread is bringing back memories of the annual white elephant exchange at a previous job.

The culture of this company was very drinking-heavy, so the gifts were 80% bottles of liquor or otherwise alcohol-related. Since I don't drink, the gift exchange was an absolute minefield - I tried to seem enthusiastic so as not to be a party pooper but was inwardly groaning every time someone unwrapped another fucking bottle of whiskey and everyone cheered and did shots.

If I ended up with actual alcohol, I could usually find someone to give it to, but the worst were the alcohol-related novelty gifts because I could never give those away. One year I ended up with a set of shot glasses shaped like tiny toilets. I did my best to "lose" them over the course of the party but well-meaning souls kept finding them and returning them to me, like the cursed amulet in a horror movie that is always there on your dresser no matter how many times you throw it away.
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 10:07 AM on November 21, 2019 [12 favorites]


He doesn't care for them much either, so it wasn't some passive-aggressive "get a gift for someone else that's really a gift for yourself" sort of thing.

Okay, real question: if you do this to your kids, is this seen as a Dad joke or legitimately kind of shitty? My dad did that to us as early grade school aged kids until we left the house (like, get himself books we couldn't read yet or CDs he wanted, then just steal it back later), and while I don't have kids of my own so it doesn't really matter, I also don't have a great barometer for this sort of thing. It was probably a 50/50 split between gifts for him and gifts for us, with the reasoning that kids just like opening up gifts.

My mother-in-law is a pandora person and gets me pandora charms every single year (there's a star of david! and a wedding ring! and a ball of yarn!), and it's so off base for my personal style but obviously trying that I find the entire experience endearing. So yeah, the thought really does count.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:07 AM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


I think at all times a gift you get for someone else that is really only a gift for you is shitty, and especially for kids. (If it's a gift for both of you together, and you think kid will really like it, it's fine.)
posted by jeather at 10:14 AM on November 21, 2019 [8 favorites]


I can't stand the idea of giving a person something they wouldn't love. So, gift cards for her.

I LOVE getting gift cards. It's the gift of a guilt-free shopping trip and I can get something I really want!

A "real" gift quite often turns out to be an unsuitable item I have to figure out how to deal with. A gift of cash, while sincerely appreciated, often winds up being spent on groceries or a bill.

A gift card, however... I mean, I can't very well pay the light bill with a Barnes and Noble gift card, can I? No, I must go and spend a pleasant afternoon perusing the shelves to find just the thing for the person whose tastes I know best.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:36 AM on November 21, 2019 [15 favorites]


"My aunt was gently informed that a different type of puzzle book would be better, but since she didn't do puzzles ended up unable to remember what type of puzzle book would be the not-as-good one."

I have so many issues with gift giving. Like I have one friend, and more or less my mom, who have love language of gifts. My friend spent $175 on my mom, WHILE UNEMPLOYED, and I doubt I'll even spend that much on my mom, who isn't taking the stuff I buy her out of the bags these days either. I never live up to expectations of my friend, I've spent years shopping with her and I can't even figure out on my own what she'd like. One year she wants X, the next year she's done with it. She collects a certain sort of toy but god forbid you buy her one in case you duplicate or it's not exactly what she wants. This year she gave me a list and I was all THANK GAWD.

However, if you are picky and choosy about what you want, you (a) need to make it easy as possible for someone else to figure it out, i.e. "Here is a link to buy it," or (b) expect that others may not be able to handle figuring it out.

I think that some of what makes gifting tricky for everyone is that emotional labor is also tied up into it, and a lot of time people are just looking for some kind of acknowledgement that you put some emotional labor into it.

Yes, this is why gift cards aren't acceptable, right there. I have to prove my love by spending money and trying, even if I get it wrong every damn time.

Can I just stress here that I have a new group of friends this year and now I am all, fuck, do they do gift giving? Or no? Can I get everyone the same thing as a present as a group gift themed off our hobby? HELL IF I KNOW ABOUT THIS SHIT. *stress stress*
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:39 AM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


See, I'm actually okay with gift cards, particularly if they're from someone who's had a few instances of "I tried to think of something but I think I kinda blew it" before. In that instance, it's more like "Okay, I know I missed the mark before, so I'm sparing you that discomfort this time".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:58 AM on November 21, 2019 [4 favorites]


my personal favourite was the relative who got me the 2 identical bad gifts in a row over 2 years and then on year 3 asked for one of the gifts back, as though i had saved them both for some arcane reason.

i am either the easiest person on earth to buy for (friends) or apparently the most impossible (family), i am happy with a selection of tiny framed photos of your cat or dog, and yet ppl are like oh let's give her this pen we got for free from the bank. no! give me nothing! nothing is far better! i truly don't need gifts from anyone! i am fine with nothing! i have so much more than most people already!

however here are the best possible gifts:
- a food i can eat right now, not so much that it would be weird and/or fatal, not so little that it's depressing
- the aforementioned photos of your pet
- a cozy blankie printed with a photo of your pet
- a dartboard printed with the face of my nemesis, marcus tullius cicero
- honestly a fucking amazon gift card so i can get my otc meds
- psn gift card bc dlcs are expensive
- you can just hand me a $20 i'll be thrilled

when i used to do gifts for a lot of people back when i was making the big bucks, i basically just spent all year paying a reasonable level of attention to the things my loved ones said like "wow look at this thing, i want to have this thing more than i have ever wanted anything ever". and then i would Buy Them That Thing, to great effect. the sole effort i put forth was listening to the things my friends said, and remembering those things or writing it down, or bookmarking a website.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:13 AM on November 21, 2019 [13 favorites]


Naomi Kritzer has a fantastic series of posts on presents to give people you hate (or at least presents to give people you feel you have to give a present to, where you can decide how annoying you want the present to be).

I feel the inspiration may be useful to some people in this thread.

(I am in camp 'can we just not do this present thing unless I see a perfect thing for you, in which case I will get it and give it to you at a convenient opportunity' and camp 'only under mutually agreed on conditions, like secret quonsar or other swaps')
posted by jenettsilver at 12:01 PM on November 21, 2019 [3 favorites]


paying a reasonable level of attention to the things my loved ones said like "wow look at this thing, i want to have this thing more than i have ever wanted anything ever"

Please help convince literally any of my adult friends and family to ever say things even vaguely like that out loud in front of me.
posted by jeather at 12:16 PM on November 21, 2019 [8 favorites]


I'll share pictures of my cats if you succeed.
posted by jeather at 12:17 PM on November 21, 2019 [4 favorites]


- a dartboard printed with the face of my nemesis, marcus tullius cicero

My mom once got my roommate a dartboard with the face of Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice who sacked Constantinople.
posted by an octopus IRL at 12:20 PM on November 21, 2019 [9 favorites]


If I was your nephew I'd just not bother maintaining a relationship with you ever again because wow, what the hell.

Don't worry divabat, it's more along the lines of Teegeeack AV Club Secretary's gift to their niece. I just have multiple sets of tools and cables and batteries and random stuff that would/could come in handy those first few years away from home living on your own. (or at least sorts of things I wish I had those first few years).

I've been planning this for about a year, and should really get around to that Snowflake Ask question for more ideas.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:14 PM on November 21, 2019


Please help convince literally any of my adult friends and family to ever say things even vaguely like that out loud in front of me.

idk man it's just that all my friends are pretty fucking open about their enthusiasms? i don't know any other way to be and neither do they?
posted by poffin boffin at 1:16 PM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


i'm like a stupid baby, i see a thing i like and i scream. i see a thing i don't like and i also scream, with subtle differences.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:17 PM on November 21, 2019 [15 favorites]


And do you receive gifts reflective of your screaming?
posted by Omnomnom at 2:16 PM on November 21, 2019


I feel like I'm pretty easy to shop for? Like, I'll make a suggestion ("new pyjamas, just not from x shop") and then lean back and prepare to be surprised. And half the fun is finding out what my people think is a good choice of pyjama for me. It may be off the mark, but so what? I treasure the pink kangaroos. It makes me smile every time I use it to think of them choosing it for me.

I'm also surrounded by enthusiastic and generous gift givers who feel similarly, so it sounds like I'm really lucky on that front.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:22 PM on November 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


I love gift-giving! I always go a little hog wild at Christmas, especially with gifts for my husband. I do have a funny story about a near-miss.

One year I thought it would be fun to go on an IKEA spree and get him like 20 small things that were either perfect for him (chocolate, those adorable little tea strainer thingies that look like flowers floating in your tea) or that we needed around the house (new towels, a meat tenderizer). And I got to shower him with 20+ gifts (because I also bought him some things that weren't from IKEA.)

Of course, what's the first thing he opens?

The new trash can for the kitchen. MERRY CHRISTMAS
posted by zeusianfog at 2:53 PM on November 21, 2019 [5 favorites]


Tis the season. Again.

I find gift giving so fraught with expectations and anxiety that my therapist and I actually give each other small gifts (I'm talking like $5 things) so I can go through the whole cycle of gift-finding, giving, trying to figure out if the gift was appreciated, etc. and discuss it with him. It does seem to help.

Mostly I try to find things my family will like and/or find useful, and if they don't, I'm more and more coming to the belief that, well, I tried, and it probably doesn't change their opinion of me, seeing as how we've all known each other for decades.
posted by tuesdayschild at 3:08 PM on November 21, 2019 [5 favorites]


I haven't had good gifts that were malicious.

Weirdly enough, I've had this experience at least once! Girl Scout troop where all the other girls were my school bullies, and the girl who was my Secret Santa was a particular menace. She got me a box of stationary, which was a huge diss socially, and pretty clear signaling. And yet: I loved that goddamn stationary. It was actually exactly my thing.
posted by epersonae at 3:20 PM on November 21, 2019 [10 favorites]


On my "retirement" from my job in May, a person who didn't like me put himself in charge of getting me gifts on behalf of the team. It was widely known that I was getting rid of just about everything I owned in preparation for a long trip abroad. It's likely that the group managers knew what he bought, however, so I doubt they were objectively bad gifts. But this guy was expert at the hidden insult.

The day of the party, d-bag thankfully was missing. I graciously accepted said gifts. The day after, I brought them, still wrapped, to the local goodwill. I hope someone has been able to make use of them.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 3:31 PM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


I actually really like giving gifts, and I think I'm a decent gift-giver? A lot of the time I give handmade gifts, and I'm pretty careful about making sure that they're a) actually things the recipient would want/use and b) actually going to be appreciated because it's time-consuming to make things, yo.

So when my cousin got married, I knew his now-wife had admired embroidery projects she'd seen of mine, and I made them a framed embroidery piece with their initials, the date, and native flowers from the place they got married. When that cousin's sister got married, though, I clubbed in with my sisters on a Fancy New Thing from their registry, because she wouldn't have liked anything I could have made her. She did like the crib quilt I made for her first kid, though.

I've gotten people joke gifts, but usually they're actually a nice or at least interesting thing with a joke attached. I gave my dad a fossil ammonite when he turned 60 and told him it would make him feel young by comparison. When a friend was moving home to Nigeria from DC I gave her a vintage Mount Vernon commemorative postcard set and a vintage scarf with a pattern of cars around the border, and told her it was to remember DC by: a souvenir of a dead white guy whose opinions carry too much weight, and a traffic jam.

I give my mom and my sisters jewelry pretty often, and I ask them what stones/colors they want before I make them anything, so if Middle Sister wants tourmaline and Youngest Sister wants lapis and Mom wants something pink with earrings to match, I can go ahead and make that instead of something they won't wear.

I will say, it helps a lot when family members have hobbies that are easy to buy for. I can always give my mom knitting books, and find guitar-related things for my dad. (This year I got him a quarter from his birth year that was shaped and hammered into a guitar pick, and a sixpence like Brian May uses, and I'm putting them on a leather cord together! I think he's gonna like it.)

The thing I'm actually super, super bad at is wrapping gifts. I never remember to buy gift wrap, so if it's larger than a piece of jewelry and I don't happen to have a gift bag around that's the right size I end up either, like, just tying a piece of ribbon around the thing or handing it to the recipient unwrapped.

I myself am probably kind of a nightmare to buy things for. I have VERY specific taste and can find most of the things I want more easily and less expensively than anyone else I know, because I mostly want specific vintage things and I find vintage things for a living. So I'm always happy to get cash or gift cards, myself. My favorite presents are usually random "I saw this and thought of you" small trinkety items, tbh.
posted by nonasuch at 6:08 PM on November 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


We did a white elephant at work one year back when a case of six gallons of windshield wiper fluid was under the $5 limit. You should have seen people trying to drag that 40 lb box back and forth until it was eventually won.

ETA: People were actually excited about it in MN in winter. You need wiper fluid.
posted by Cris E at 9:15 PM on November 21, 2019 [10 favorites]


Chiming in as someone who often receives bad gifts from my parents. Over the years, the things they have sent me include moldy homemade baked goods; expired coupons; a signed drawing of a cat made by the women (I have never met) in my mom's dementia group; and magazines you'd see on a grocery store end cap. I have tried various strategies to mitigate this, including giving them a list and asking them to pick one or two things; explicitly asking for no gifts; asking for donations to specific charities instead. None of that has worked (and they have plenty of money, so it's not a scarcity thing). I have stopped giving them presents as a result and take the presents to my therapist for show and tell and then donate or toss them.

Side note, it aggravates the heck out of me when people say that it's the thought that counts, or some variation that starts with at least, like at least they tried/ gave me something/ whatever. These are not thoughtful gifts, these are not tries, and when I ask for nothing and get a crappy something, it's worse. If someone complains to you about a gift they received from someone else, let them complain!
posted by wicked_sassy at 6:31 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Side note, it aggravates the heck out of me when people say that it's the thought that counts, or some variation that starts with at least, like at least they tried/ gave me something/ whatever. These are not thoughtful gifts, these are not tries, and when I ask for nothing and get a crappy something, it's worse. If someone complains to you about a gift they received from someone else, let them complain!

Oh yeah, 'it's the thought that counts' is also dependent there has to be a thought beforehand, and that thought shouldn't be 'you can stand to lose a little weight/I don't like your choices and I want to make you have to listen to me and say thank you for the privilege' .
posted by dinty_moore at 6:46 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


The thought does count. In many cases, this thought is cruel, and the cruelty counts.

I think my problem is that no one I know wants more stuff, except kids.
posted by jeather at 6:51 AM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Celebrities: They're just like us!

Just saw an adorable little clip from January with D'arcy Carden on Seth Myers' show, and during the interview she talks about how last Christmas, she and her husband had talked it over and agreed that they wouldn't go too crazy on gifts for each other that year. So she just got him like an Amazon gift card and put it in a cute card.

....He got her a diamond ring.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:52 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


I loathe Christmas and all mandatory gift-giving events. My adult child has agreed that the adults are not exchanging gifts this year. This is a huge win for me and means I only have to give gifts to my two grandchildren. And I am thrilled and excited beyond all reason.

It’s nobody’s fault but basically every Christmas I had growing up and even as an adult after I became a mom were shitty holidays. And they were shitty holidays because of the gift exchange. Not because of the food. Not because of the company. Not because of the decorations. They were shitty because I was somehow magically supposed to give everyone gifts that they wanted and also I, magically, was supposed to receive perfect gifts from everyone as well. And that never happened.

It doesn’t help that I grew up poor and and got to watch my mom lose her shit every Christmas trying to come up with something for me which was never actually what I wanted. Ditto for others. Shortly after I graduated from college and was living in a house with several friends, we had a holiday gift exchange between myself and my two other housemates. They had given each other exactly the same gift: a box of little chocolate cups that you were supposed to pour liquor into. We collapsed into laughter, it was so unexpected and funny. But the two of them loved the chocolate cups, which made me feel that somehow I was just always going to be an outsider when it came to picking the right gift and getting the right gift.

In fact, a few close friends and one ex have given me amazing, perfect gifts. But these days I am clear that I am the best person to give myself what I want. I will be gracious if someone gives me a gift, but I will absolutely not expect it to be something that suits me. And I tell everyone that I do not celebrate Christmas and I mean it, at least in terms of exchanging gifts. Fuck black Friday. Fuck Christmas gift exchanges. Fuck obligatory gift-giving on Valentines and other faux holidays meant to line the wallets of the 1%.

I do feel badly that my aunt spent hours adding appliqués of leaves and flowers to a denim shirt as a birthday gift for me when I was in college. Because when I was in college I thought it was hideous and I did not care about all of the hours of her time spent to embellish a shirt for a person she loved. Of course, I hadn’t asked for her to do that either. I ripped all of that stuff off the shirt as quickly as I could because I preferred plain denim. I never told her that and at the time I didn’t care or feel mean.

I think it is really hard to make things for other people as gifts and to have the gifts be successful. For me at least. I wish I had that talent, but I just don’t. Hmmmm. I guess this thread is really hitting a nerve. Thanks, OP.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:06 PM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'll occasionally make things for people (I'm a knitter, it's what I do). And a lot of it is making sure that it's something that the other person would want, letting them choose the type of thing, the color, and give them a couple of options on the design. Also, in general? It's stuff that I've maybe made with love, but if I'm making your kid a hat shaped like a pumpkin, I can also knock that out in a few days and I might try to have a stash of pumpkin hats ready to go.

A few years ago I made the mistake of asking my brother simple questions about his wife's tastes, what color her winter coat was, what colors she wears, that sort of thing since I didn't have a direct line of communication with her. He doesn't know and would make up an answer. I went years without realizing he didn't actually know what size clothing his kids wear, or even that not all babies wear clothing that's exactly the same as their age.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:42 PM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


The other thing is that the process of making something isn't, like, painful for me. I'm not going to make something for someone else if I don't enjoy the process. It should still be to their tastes, but figuring out a good yarn/pattern combination is fun and knitting is meditative. I'd rather have my work be enjoyed, but I'd like the labor of thinking of someone and buying them something be appreciated, too.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:49 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


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