Culture

The Gift That Isn’t Giving

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July 17th, 2012

I’m normally a thoughtful gift-giver, with a keen ability to assess others’ personal style and draw from my hand-picked array of sources. But I recently bought my daughter’s teacher a gift card and I’m not proud of it. Gifting used to be a personal endeavor: Even the laziest gift-giver gave some thought to what was considered “nice” or what the recipient might need or want. Gift certificates came only from distant relatives or those who cared little about the spirit of giving.

Today, gift cards are all the rage perhaps due to massive retailer marketing, pervasive consumer laziness, or both. Stores make out big on gift cards. When I bought mine, I also picked up a few other items. Then, when the card is used there will either be a negligible amount left over (which is pure profit if unspent) or a return trip to use up (and likely exceed) the card’s value. True, these are busy times. Part of my rationale was not just saving my own time but also preventing the receiver from another errand to return or exchange my selection (or store it until her next white elephant party).

But in all this efficiency, an important piece of our culture has been lost. I gotta admire the bold transparency of the Filipino “money dance,” in which a bride and groom are festooned with currency as they twirl about the dancefloor. Maybe we should all just tell it like it is and not even pretend to be classy? That might save time for both parties in the gifting transaction. But giving isn’t a business deal. Gift exchanges are opportunities to connect with others and share ourselves. For my future gifting, I’m planning on putting in the time and counting on a positive emotional return on my investment.

If attending a wedding, there’s no shame in sticking to the registry or even pinning a $100 on the bride. But there are plenty of birthday and holiday giving opportunities to share your personal touch or to give a special someone that must-have item they never knew they needed. At least once in awhile, steer clear of the gift card and try to make your gift a reflection on your unique relationship with that person. Think about making a “mix tape” instead of ordering a card from the the iTunes store.

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  1. Nadine says:

    I, too, have always prided myself on selecting gifts for my friends and family. But when you have to get something for a picky teenager, or someone you don’t know very well, gift cards are a good (and easy) option.

  2. Lis Peery says:

    I agree, Nadine. I usually get gift cards for a) teenagers or b) people I don’t know very well. Now, can we talk about thank you cards???? When did it become okay to send a TEXT MESSAGE as a thank you? Oy.

    • Nadine says:

      Lis, don’t even get me started about the death of thank you cards (but that may have to be in a future post).

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