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Gift Giving to Friends and Relative Strangers

Which is harder?

I can’t decide which is harder: buying presents for people who you know really well or buying presents for people with whom you’re barely acquainted.

On the one hand, you need to carefully consider the options for people who you know well. Did your brother say how he really needed a new drying rack for his apartment? Did your mother casually mention that she wanted a new necklace for work? For people with whom you are close, a terrible or bland present can signal a sort of betrayal, illustrate that you don’t care enough to pay close attention to them.

On the other hand, purchasing presents for people you barely know can also be terribly difficult. You may be in a situation that you need to purchase a gift for a partners’ parents whom you’ve never met or a present for that second cousin that you see once a year. A present that is based loosely on gender expectations—he’s a man; he needs a wrench set!—is almost always a failure. But presents that are too specific are never good either; relative strangers may not like that Indian food gift certificate.

I really don’t have advice on this subject because I think I’m a pretty sub-par gift giver. My family and friends always seem to like what I buy them, but I always feel like my gifts could have been a bit more personal, a bit more appropriate, a bit cooler. I also often fall into the trap of buying too many gifts for friends and family, rather than a really interesting single presents. I often don’t spend enough time on my holiday shopping, causing me to cram in purchasing at a single store, rather than thinking about what people may really want.

But I’d say I’m even worse at purchasing things for acquaintances. Once I get over the first hurdle of buying, I get lazy, and snatch up a bunch of terrible lotion gift sets or candles for women and mitten-and-scarf sets for men. I feel particularly bad about these purchases because in no situation would I ever like to receive a candle or a lotion set, and when I do receive a gift like this, it usually bangs around in the back of my car until I re-gift it to someone else.

I know that it’s the thought that counts. But sometimes, maybe we should give more thought to our gifting. I know that I should.