December 01, 2005

Don't Shop for Me, Argentina...

It’s December. It is officially Christmas season. I have done almost zero Christmas shopping. I refuse to go to the mall. Everyone gets gifts from either Starbucks or the crappy strip mall this year, because there’s no effing way I will cart my ass to the mall and wait twenty minutes to park, throw elbows to make my way to a store, agonize for hours over what to get the people on my list, rationalize the amount of money the insane Christmas ‘deals’ would have me spend, throw elbows AGAIN in line to pay, part with millions, then go out back into the cold, narrowly missing pedestrians / poor drivers / snowbanks with my car, just to arrive home and discover that my mother already bought whatever I have in my bags. This is why I tend to do my shopping off-list. Anything on a Christmas list is not only a gift a person will be expecting, but one that required no thought on behalf of the buyer. The Christmas list is a fantastic tool for those who really do not know what you are into—and they are invaluable in that case—but most of your close friends will see Christmas as I do: an opportunity to prove what a bad-ass you are by getting everyone the perfect gift because you know them all so incredibly well. The upside to being Queen of Gift-Giving also carries the distinct advantage of never having to set foot in the mall, since the gifts your friends (don't even know they) want would never be found there.

I wouldn’t advocate anyone’s doing this unless they really, really know the person for whom the gift is intended. If you finish each other’s sentences on a regular basis, then you’re probably safe. Otherwise, well… Here—imagine yourself in this awkward situation: you receive a present from someone who truly loves you. You don’t really like it, although you desperately want to like it so you don’t look disappointed--which you sort of already do, but you don't want them to see that--so you take it up a step instead and go overboard with loving this thing that you are totally lukewarm on (and only that because it was free), feel better when you fool them with your loving-it lies, deeply wanting to tell them the truth, but not wanting to seem ungrateful. If that either makes you sad or totally panics you, please take the following advice to heart:

Pitfalls of “I Know They’ll Love It!” Shopping:

1. “Cool! Fake barf!” Do you tend to get people the same gifts you got them when they were five? I’m not saying that’s wrong… if they LIKE it. They may think, “Oh, well, I know Tom will get me wax lips or some shit, because he thinks were still in middle school, and guess it would be hilarious, if I were still twelve.” It can be funny if you’re forty and still buying gag gifts, but if it isn’t... you’re just the asshole who buys crap gifts. A good way to avoid this title is to make sure the gift is taken in its intended spirit. Just ask his wife, or daughter, or whomever—I mention the women because they generally perceive emotion well. And try to be subtle—after all, Christmas is the season of deception.

2. “I know she loves dolphins.” It’s tempting to take the ‘easy out' gift if your friends (and we all have these friends; I was one of these people for years) have a collection of some kind that you can tack one more item onto. Whether it’s Star Trek, kittens, Coke products or Elvis, always be wary of the fact that they could get over this thing in a minute, and probably make billions on ebay selling it to mega-collectors, just so they can get that one whole room in their house back. I would suggest falling back on themed gifts only as a last resort; if the person is incredibly difficult to shop for, or is still in the early throes of passion with their obsession of choice, and will squeal with delight at any of the paraphernalia. Beware, though: people who love the I Love Lucy television show? Might not necessarily desire the I Love Lucy coasters and hot-pad set. Gauge both the level and particulars of the fetish before you shop.

3a. Spend appropriately. If you make a reasonable amount of money and buy everyone you know dollar-store gifts, the warmth you’re feeling isn’t the love of your relatives—it’s the heat from the flames of your toasty suite in Hell. Congratulations on making a success of your life, but Christmas is all about sharing what you have. It’s not your duty to spend half your annual salary, but be generous; give a gift you know they wouldn’t be able to afford on their own (but don’t hold it over their head; that’s just petty and I hate it and who the hell do you think you are, anyway?). Contrarily, if you have no money whatsoever, don’t go into debt trying to buy your mother a horse. Spend according to what you can honestly afford; if you're poor, they will understand (but spring for the new car if you have the cash, damn).

3b. The money doesn’t matter; it’s the sentiment. Soooo many things wrong with that statement—the first being that it’s true. The sentiment is more important than the amount of money spent, yes—provided 1) a lot of money is spent, or 2) not a lot was spent, and it’s the most fantastic and personal gift ever. My sister, every year without fail, will dream up the most expensive gift she can think of to get my mother, and insist we all split the cost between the children—usually working out to $50 apiece. Sentiment? Full marks. Practicality? 0 for 10. Especially considering two siblings have work-study jobs, and she herself has a mountain of unscaleable debt. Every year, I suggest that the better gift would be for us all to repaint the house, or clean out the fridge, or better yet—clean the whole damn house top to bottom. I am always shot down. Mothers of America: New sound system, or completely clean house from attic to cellar? Cast your vote—I need it to avoid charging a greenhouse on my MasterCard this year.

4. Know thy audience. I cannot tell you how many creepy clown gifts I got before I had the courage to tell my grandparents that I did not like clowns. At all. In fact, they scare me, as they would any right-thinking human being. What I did like were harlequins, and I had one harlequin porcelain doll, which I still have. I admire many of them when I see them in shop windows, but I do not need a daybed full of them. A lot of relatives will buy you gifts based on the fact that since already have one of something, you would like as many as possible—that way, they can easily buy you a new one every year. They think it’s just your weird quirk, and you think it’s theirs—eventually, you have 300 clown dolls and are afraid to sleep at night, but you’re reluctant to tell people how you feel for fear of offending them. Spying and interrogation is once again the best way to ensure a tasteful and fully-appreciated gift. Catalogs are good for this: call attention to something as if you yourself think it’s cute, and gauge their reaction. This is best done before December, however, lest they get suspicious. Note: Husbands or wives will be usually be onto you with this trick, but siblings and parents won’t have a clue.

I hope this helps everyone have a better gift-giving season. I’m always paranoid about presents; I’m not to bad at the giving, but I’m a terrible receiver. I’m too negative. If I get something I wasn’t expecting, I fret over it, all “Will it match the rest of my dishes? Don’t I have another sweater this exact some color?” As you know, I have a big problem with just saying Thank You and moving on. I feel like it’s a lie, and I hate lying, and I especially hate lying to people who love me and buy me presents. Yes, even if you hate it, they still love you, and you love them for knowing that, and yes, love love love.

But you want to be the bad-ass. I know you do.

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