Now Presenting…

Once again, a birthday is rolling around. Unfortunately it happens to be someone I actually care about, so I need to put thought into the present I get her. Yet I’m stuck. She’s been my friend for years beyond number, and I have no idea what kind of present she would most appreciate. Which brings up a question, what makes a good present?

As a general rule it is considered polite to present a gift at a variety of occasions ranging from birthdays and Chrismahanakwanzawali – Incidentally, does anyone know someone who celebrates Kwanza? Because I know several families who are very proud of their African roots and do much to celebrate them; but they ignore Kwanza – to a host/hostess gift when invited to a dinner party.

Running from the bottom up, a good host/hostess gift is easy. A bottle of wine, flowers, a basket of assorted treats; the sort of thing which can be used during the dinner is the best way to go. It’s easy and universally accepted. It’s even fairly multinational. You don’t have to know the person in order to have picked an appropriate gift.

So what about birthdays and gift giving holidays? It really depends on the person. If you just want to give a gift to a new coworker in order to make them feel welcome, or anyone else you don’t know well, there are a wide variety of meaningless presents you can provide them with:

– A coffee table book: whether it’s a book of funny animal pictures or of recreated battlefields, they can plop it on a table in their living room to entertain the inevitable situation which never occurs where a guest who is not comfortable wandering the house is left alone in the living room.

– Desk toys: Silly twisty things, perpetual motion machines (batteries required), or bobbleheads don’t requre much knowledge of their personality. If they’re the somber type they’ll thank you and throw it away, if they’re not they’ll put it on their desk and play with it during billing hours.

– Gender appropriate accoutraments: a tie, watch, bracelet, or earings they’ll never wear or never remember the origin of. On the off chance they do remember, and wear it, you will not get the credit, but by the time that comes up you won’t remember who they are.

-Gift Cards

Family members aren’t too hard either. You basically know their tastes, sports teams, and sizes and can afford to get slightly more personal gifts, whether or not you like them. Options include:

– All of the above: the accessories will be in the right color and the books will be things they once expressed a vague interest in.

-Clothes: A pair of socks and a dress shirt are just the things for the nephew you haven’t seen since last year.

-Books: You’re in a position to either know roughly what your relative likes to read, whether they like to read, or at the very least to tell them that they ought to.

-Hobby: ‘Our Samuel’s quite the artist…’ someone said last family reunion, and you hope it’s true because you just bought him a new set of paints. Or your uncle likes dragons so you buy him a sculpture of one.

-Other means of entertainment: Video games, electronics, music, sports equipment…

Let’s face it, if it fits in a box, you can give it to a family member. They are obligated to accept it with a smile on their face. Your friends, however, are perfectly comfortable asking why on earth you gave them a new pair of socks. Unless you went shopping with them to pick out the socks (it also helps if you’re both female, as a rule), and then bought the socks for them, socks will not fly until thrown out the window. And even then, not for long. So what are you to do? Possible solutions:

Gag gifts: Something you know will make them laugh. This can range from a bumper sticker that appeals to your friend’s bizarre sense of humor, or a T-shirt with a witticism they use too often. You know them best, after all. If a feather boa will have your friends in fits, go right ahead.

According to their hobby/obsession: Your friend loves pigs- buy them a stuffed pig, pig ears, pig slippers. Harry Potter/Twilight/Yankees fan? Fan paraphernalia.

Books: If your friend reads, you know their favorite author, genre, and book. Once I bought a friend a series they had read and loved, but didn’t own. I only knew this from a conversation in September, but come Christmas I left it on the doorstep. It went over very well.

Video Games: If your friend is a gamer, you know exactly what games they already have and what games they like. Go forth.

Music: Ditto.

The problem with all these is that they’re for people with specific interests. They’re not a gamer, a reader, they have all the music they want (and that’s what iTunes is for), and they are distinctly un-obsessed. There’s always the ‘what to get for the man who has everything’ question- their needs are already fulfilled. Maybe you want to give them something meaningful. That’s harder.

Meaningful gifts can be specific books, but they need to be very special. There aren’t many books like that for any given person, and they rarely know it until years later. Jewelery can work, but is often very expensive. You’re really best appealing to an interest- if they play guitar, a new, better amp, if they could use one. Recording equipment if they’re really an aspiring musician.

There isn’t anything much I can think of to give this person still, considering she gets most of her joys from living life rather than from personal possessions (I need more materialistic friends). So I believe in this case I’ll re-gift a book I read once, enjoyed, but probably won’t read again and add a Barnes & Noble gift card which she’ll probably use on music and make my presence as much of a gift I can make it (life of the party, I hope to be) I have time yet to change my mind though, so if anyone else has a suggestion, feel free.

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