Grfts for GMNG

      4 Comments on Grfts for GMNG

It’s the beginning of gift-shopping season here in the US, which is a Bad Thing of course, but there it is: it’s the beginning of gift-shopping season. So I think I should post my Philosophy of Gift Giving, for your amusement and argumentation and whatnot, in part because I am having a lovely quiet day today and have time to write it up, and in part because I think it’s a Good Thing to think about gifts rather than just purchasing them without doing the thinking part.

So. Let us for the sake of convenience and clarity call the first person Mookie and the second Sasha. Mookie is preparing to give a gift to Sasha; it may be Sasha’s birthday, or it may be some other gift-giving occasion for either. Mookie and Sasha are close, and they like to make each other happy, which is why Mookie is giving Sasha a present. They may be lovers or relatives or friends or business partners, but the relationship is close enough that Mookie is giving Sasha a gift, not out of a sense of obligation and cultural norms, but because he likes Sasha. This is the reason for gift-giving.

The first thing is to list the criteria for a truly great gift, which are four:

  1. Something that Sasha would never buy for himself, but would like to have. Sasha might think it’s too frivolous, or a tad too expensive for what it is, or never have heard of it, or anything, but for ti to be a truly great gift, it can’t be something that Sasha might have bought the week before or the week after and been happy about it.
  2. Something that nobody else would give to Sasha. Sasha gets a lot of great stuff, but only Mookie would think to get him that one thing.
  3. Something that Mookie wouldn’t give to anybody but Sasha. Maybe because it wouldn’t be funny, or because it would be awkward, or because Mookie’s the only one who knows Sasha has always wanted one.
  4. Whenever Sasha uses the gift, he thinks about Mookie, and Mookie giving it to him. Or if it’s a decorative thing, whenever Sasha sees it. Or if it’s an event, whenever he remembers it. Or whenever he wears it, or reads it, or feeds it.

Now, it’s rare that you can get achieve all four, and even rarer that you can achieve all four for anybody but a spouse. The fabulous scarf I knitted for my Best Reader is as good a gift as I have ever given, and in part that’s because I hadn’t at the time made very many fabulous scarves, so it was particularly rare. Giving her another fabulous scarf this year would be a good gift, but not a great gift. The posters my Best Reader made for me with collages of album covers are truly great gift, as were the tickets to Richard III back in 1992. A few others, here and there. A gift that achieves two or three of the criteria is a very good gift indeed. A gift that achieves one of them is probably pretty good, too. Any hand-made gift, of course, achieves Criterion 2, and if it’s nice enough to keep around, probably Criterion 4 as well. And it’s easier to satisfy Criterion 3 with a gift that is made yourself or commissioned. I think a mass-produced gift can be truly great, if it’s the right thing, although honestly I can’t come up with an example, unless tickets to a show count.

What do y’all think? Have you ever given a truly great gift? Or been given one? Do you have similar criteria, or totally different? Are the four criteria useful in choosing a pretty-good gift, or do I need an entirely different set for the less-inspired gifts that I will be giving as well?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

4 thoughts on “Grfts for GMNG

  1. Michael

    I think those are lovely criteria, though I’d put more emphasis on “something that Sasha would like to have” and less on “would never buy for himself.” The largest and most jaw-dropping gift I ever received was a piano in 1995. Had my friends not given me that, I might have bought one for myself a few years later. I had every intention of buying myself one someday, and I just couldn’t afford it yet. That didn’t make the gift any less amazing.

    I’d also add in something about the extent to which the gift is actually used or viewed, if it is a durable gift. Maybe revising “would like to have” could capture that better. #4 almost gets there, but #1-#3 are really about the gift-giving moment rather than the continued gift enjoyment.

  2. Vardibidian

    Yes, the never part is not quite right, as it’s often a great gift to get Sasha something he was intending to get but either couldn’t yet afford (when that differential isn’t too awkward—a group chipping in is an excellent thing) or just something he keeps intending to get but doesn’t get around to actually getting. I meant to emphasize that Mookie isn’t just beating Sasha to it, or saving Sasha a trip to the whatsit store.

    I do think the gift-giving moment is a bigger deal than durability; many great gifts aren’t durable. But yes, a gift you use (or wear or look at) every day is better than a gift that sits in a drawer. I’m not sure, though, that the first-edition that sits on my shelf wasn’t a truly great gift, even if I bought a paperback copy to read in the bathtub.


  3. Nao

    Well, and sometimes I ask for a present that I wouldn’t have been able to get for myself, and that can be nice too.

    But yes, the best present I’ve ever had was given to me by Stephen, who was in a position to notice that I needed it (even if I didn’t think of it) and knew specifically what I needed and a few extras. It’s been misplaced a few times but always turns up again, and I think of him whenever I use it. It’s not a particularly romantic item – it’s a Leatherman multitool, but it has been useful; I think I’ve used every tool in it at least once.


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