Should people exchange gifts at all at traditional gift giving holidays such as Birthdays or Christmas?: A deliberately controversial post

I know we just had a deliberately controversial post, but Mel’s comment got us thinking.  Specifically the parts where she writes:

I guess I don’t really see the point of gifts for adults. Either you have the money to buy yourself something when you want it (or the ability to save to get it), or you don’t but there is the expectation that someone else should spend their money on you for something you want.

Later she adds this about kids:

Our kids are saving all of their money for a big trip when they’re in high school, as Josh and I did when we were starting high school. I want them to have that experience of travel, so I feel okay purchasing toys and such now. Again, I rarely do it on their birthday. It’s more that they express that they want X, and if I think it’s a sound purchase, I get them X. In that way, they are never disappointed.

So that’s actually two potentially deliberately controversial statements there if we add them up.

First:  Should we give gifts to adults at all?

This one is a hard one.  Over the years the number of adults we exchange gifts with has gotten smaller.  We have stuff.  They have stuff.  We’ve moved, they’ve moved, we’ve met a lot of other people with whom we are at the same level of intimacy and we couldn’t possibly give gifts to all of them.  And so on.

DH and I don’t really exchange gifts, but #2 and her DH do.  This partly matches our different financial situations — DH and I share finances and #2 and her DH have more separate finances.  Except DH will often do something for me for Christmas and my birthday– like he’ll do some icky chore we’ve both been putting off, or he’ll buy me something I’ve been wanting out of his allowance (often sleepwear), or he’ll do something that makes me cry like turning my name into a poem to hang on the wall.  I suck at reciprocating.  We also bake cakes for each other on our birthdays.  And it is true that we could do these things at any point during the year, but it really does take one of these standard gift deadlines to, for example, clean out the shower grout.

I would be perfectly fine stopping gift exchanging with DH’s family, though I would have to come up with some other way of delaying purchases given that they have pretty well learned just to buy things off my Amazon list (though DH’s brother always ends up getting me duplicates because he doesn’t buy them directly off my wishlist, and my SIL is especially good at picking things off my list that say “lowest” priority or, the one time nothing is labeled “lowest,” giving me a generic item that isn’t on the list and gets given directly to charity*).  I would also be fine stopping gift exchanging with my sister who refuses to use my amazon wishlist because it is too impersonal and then demands to know what I want instead.

#2 and I have exchanged gifts for many years.  There are three reasons for the gift exchange over the years.  1.  Back when we started we were both poor and I, at least, had a guilt thing about buying myself stuff I really wanted.  So near the end of the holiday season, we would both sweep in and buy books on each other’s wishlists that said “highest”– maxing at just enough to get free shipping.  2.  At other points one or the other of us will be making real money while the other is still in school/unemployed/on leave/etc.  In those cases, the rich one would sweep through the amazon list and the poor one would send thoughtfully curated used books (like Ex Libris or a biography of Dorothy L. Sayers).  3.  Imposing our preferences on the other person.  You will own this book because I say you will.  Mwahahaha.

I like giving gifts.  I like giving gifts that make people happy.  Mainly though, if I’m being honest, I like imposing my preferences on the people I love (or at least who I like).  Gift giving is a time that I can indulge in that whim in a socially appropriate way.  There’s also a small element of charity with some of our gift giving– holidays are a time that we can write a check to badly off family members and they can give us something nominal in exchange (like fudge).

Receiving gifts is a bit bittersweet.  I love getting stuff off my amazon list from #2 or from my family or DH’s parents.  I love getting thoughtful stuff from DH and the kids.  But… we’re doing a lot better off financially than DH’s siblings and I’d rather they kept their money, especially if we can’t give more than we receive in terms of dollar amount.  I just do not understand the large amount of gift-giving that their family does each year.

So I guess bottom-line here is that I don’t know.  Among people who know each other and can afford it, these special times work as a nice way to be nudged into thinking about doing some gift giving.  Some people prefer no gifts at all or prefer to give “whenever” gifts.  But “whenever” gifts can be uncomfortable if they’re extravagant because the reciprocity aspect can be confusing.  So who knows.  With adults, you do you and be gracious about others doing what they do.

#2 says, for me it’s really just fun to give and get gifts.  I have money to buy my own books, but it’s a nice treat when someone buys them for me.  I like finding a gift that fits the person I’m giving it to, something I think they’ll enjoy that they haven’t thought of.  I also find it sweet and wonderful when people donate to charity in my name, particularly charities I support such as kitty ones or child’s play.

Second:

Should we batch up children’s gifts for standard gift-giving holidays (birthdays etc.) or should we give them throughout the year when requested by the child?

This probably depends on the family, but I like batching up the gifts so they’re only given at Christmas, birthdays, and to a small extent Easter.  (Though my MIL does send small presents somewhat randomly throughout the year.)   In the same way that my amazon wishlist keeps me from spending throughout the year, the hope is that getting presents later at specified times will teach them patience and give them the ability to delay their wants when they are older as well.  Anything that they want sooner, they will need to use their allowances on, possibly saving up to buy.

I realize this is an empirical question and I have read precisely zero research on the topic, so who knows.

So there, that’s our second deliberately controversial post about gifts.

*Every year I fight the suspicion that my SIL doesn’t like me and convince myself that it’s just that we have really different tastes.  Every year it is a fight.

What do you think?  Should we get rid of adult gift giving entirely?  Should children get gifts throughout the year or only at specified times?

52 Responses to “Should people exchange gifts at all at traditional gift giving holidays such as Birthdays or Christmas?: A deliberately controversial post”

  1. KeAnne Says:

    I like getting things for DH, but he is so damn picky he is hard to shop for without specific instructions. We do exchange gifts on the holidays but less and less on our birthdays. We are tired of the Christmas fiasco of buying and exchanging gift with the adult members of the family – if we want something, we can generally buy it. My MIL is old-fashioned and liked to give real gifts. We’ve been trying to get her to move to gift cards if she must give us something, but she hates that, so we end up with stuff we don’t want and that isn’t our taste and leaves us grumpy because now we are left with stuff to get rid of. I like giving gifts to her and her father because they are on fixed incomes even though her 95-year-old father will shake his head at the mountain of presents and complain about the waste.

    I love giving gifts to D and playing Santa. Seeing the joy on his face is priceless. We primarily give gifts on the major occasions (Christmas, birthday, etc), but I won’t rule out the odd gift at other times if there has been a major accomplishment or exceptional behavior for a long period of time.

    • Rosa Says:

      I finally figured out that my husband and I have exactly opposite wishes for gifts. I want to give him a problem – find me the best version of the thing I want! – and have him do all the work of researching, ordering, etc (and I would like it if it arrived on time and were wrapped, too. Effort!). He wants total control over the choosing, enjoys doing the research, but wants someone else to do the actual purchasing. Sometimes he just wants permission to spend the money. “Can I buy myself an X and call it my birthday present?” So literally he will write down the exact item or a link to it, and all I do is buy it.

      It took us 10 years or so to figure this out. In the meantime we often just didn’t even do gifts because they only caused strife. Like, if I have to do all the work of researching and choosing the thing then just don’t get me anything, it just pisses me off. And if I’m going to do all the work of finding something and he’s just going to nitpick and re-research and return it for something else, why bother?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Hahaha, Rosa, that sounds like exactly us. DH gets more pleasure out of picking out something for himself than actually having it(!) I just want the pajama bottoms and don’t want to decide.

      • Rosa Says:

        Yeah, I guess for some people the anticipation and detail research are the real joy? I seriously do not understand it. I would rather just not have a TV than read all the TV reviews, I swear.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        SRSLY. One reason we lived without smartphones for so long. (DH kept doing the research but not pulling the trigger– just presenting me with the research and the pros and cons and I was all… hm, maybe I’d rather just not have a smartphone.)

      • Ana Says:

        oh my goodness Rosa, that is SO US. I never really put it together, but this makes so much sense. I love having someone else do the work of the research and price comparison and just get it for me, whereas my husband enjoys that process and is uncomfortable with just getting something that he hasn’t picked out himself after hours of time wasted (errr….used in valuable research)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Even in video games he would spend so much time in the store comparing pixillated equipment. Stereotypes about women shopping are obviously completely backwards.

  2. Leah Says:

    I like giving gifts. I think it’s fun to think about what that person might want and to surprise them with something they hadn’t thought about. It’s part of the thrill of the hunt. Can I find an awesome book about baseball for my husband, or a sweet nerdy gift for my SIL? Part of the fun, now that I have disposable income, is also buying something nice that my less-well-off family members like but can’t justify for themselves.

    I don’t like obligatory present giving and don’t ever expect presents from people. So, when I give presents at holidays, it’s not to the same people every year (except for my family because, y’know, that’s a thing). But I will buy presents for friends *if* I find something sweet for one of them.

    RE: the kid . . . I am guilty of getting her things as I think she’ll enjoy them, but part of it is the age. When she’s older, I think delaying until a holiday will be easier (especially since her birthday is almost exactly 6 months away from Christmas). Right now, at the 1.5ish year mark, her tastes quickly evolve. I bought her a rocking dragon and a baby doll recently, mostly because she’s sort of outgrown the more baby toys we own and those are new tastes. Seemed cruel to say “nope, can’t have age-appropriate toys until Christmas.” My Christmas buying, tho, is minimal because I’ll let the grandparents get most of it. I am mostly buying stuff to entertain her on the plane.

    • Revanche Says:

      I was thinking about this today! I wanted to buy a couple more books from an author ze loves (well, ok, ze’s not even 1 so it’s the illustrations ze is into) but wondered if I should wait til Christmas. So now I’m thinking, what if I get them now and these are hir early Christmas presents ze can enjoy early? It’s not like ze NEEDS to unwrap a gift on Christmas.

      • Leah Says:

        yeah, my kid will get one gift to unwrap from me at Christmas, mostly because my parents will get miffed if I put nothing under the tree. But there will be big stuff at home, since that won’t travel well. Debating about getting her a little table and chair because she loves the kid-size furniture at school. Am I horrible for spoiling my kid? We save a lot of money on clothes by mostly getting hand-me-downs.

  3. Mel Says:

    Well, you know my thoughts on this. I’m pro-gift giving. I’m just not pro-gift giving obligations. Yesterday, a friend had a crappy day. I got her a gift because I thought she needed something nice to happen. I’m pro that sort of gift.

    One thing I find very confusing about buying and saving gifts to give later, especially when it comes to kids, is that their tastes are so fickle. What they love today may not be what they love tomorrow. And I think that’s okay because loving it today is real in this moment, and it’s part of building their identity: understanding what they like or don’t like. Sometimes by jumping at the right time, they try out something and learn how much they love it. So… if my kid is interested in circuits now, I’m going to get them an activity with circuits now, which will hopefully cement a love of engineering. What I wouldn’t do is wait until circuits have flitted out of their head and expect them to be excited about it after making them wait 5 months.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      This brings up another interesting point– what constitutes a gift and what is an investment in human capital? (In this specific situation, our kids got snap circuits from my sister years before they were old enough to use them. But we do buy lessons and related equipment and would not think of associating them with a holiday. Also books.).

    • Revanche Says:

      I’m very pro that kind of gift as well, and enjoy it much more than standard holiday and event giftgiving.

  4. hollyatclubthrifty Says:

    I mostly agree with Mel’s comment. I don’t see the point of a bunch of adults buying each other stuff when we all have money. The only exception is my parents and one aunt. I like buying my parents stuff because they do so much for everyone. And one of our aunts never had any kids so I always buy her something. Everyone else is on their own.

  5. First Gen American Says:

    ” I’m pro-gift giving. I’m just not pro-gift giving obligations” Love this statement.

    There are family members I don’t talk to or exchange gifts with anymore and I’m so glad. They would always buy the crappiest, useless gifts that they put no thought into and then I would feel guilty for not being grateful about it. We had a big falling out so now it’s not an issue anymore but I’m really glad that all the family drama associated with the holidays is a thing of the past. I still feel guilty for not including them, but the alternative is just not something I want to expose my kids to.

  6. M Says:

    So many thoughts on this. I love giving gifts, and often like receiving them. I don’t like for it to be obligatory. I think part of the problem there is that people have different attitudes toward money and fairness. I’m personally of the “I don’t care if I spend more than you at any point in time” mentality, and generally believe that the karma in the universe will balance itself out over time. It’s like picking up the tab. I’m happy to put in 20 and have my friend put in 10, with the expectation that next time they will put in 20 and I will put in 10. Or maybe I’ll pay the whole bill twice in a row. Whatever, it’s no big deal (unless I’m broke). Some people want to split the bill down to the penny, which seems ridiculous as an adult. Sometimes I won’t buy a gift, but will instead make something. Sometimes I spend $100 on one person and $20 on another (of equal “status”). It’s not supposed to be about the value. Regarding receiving gifts, one of the benefits for me is that I don’t buy everything I want, especially if it’s a “nice to have” vs a “need to have,” so it’s great to sometimes get something a little extravagant, or something I love and didn’t even know I wanted.

    For me, a big part of gift giving is finding something special for that person. I pride myself on trying to be original with my gifts. I think for the most part I have done very well with this. For my family I have made mixed CDs (imposing my tastes + remake of our favorite cassette tape from childhood) and photo albums. I buy books for people that I think they would like. There is always something to get for my parents because they don’t buy a lot for themselves (nice cooking things, hobby items, etc, etc). Last year we got my in-laws DNA testing kits (super cool idea, in my opinion). My husband gave his FIL a cool artifact that he picked up traveling since he’s a nerd about those kinds of things. He had a degree framed for his brother. My sister knitted scarves for the family, and my other sister crocheted me a baby blanking. I got my MIL (who is impossible to buy for) a carnivorous plant since she sort of has this greenhouse thing going on in her house. I don’t think she really liked it, but I thought it was the best gift ever. My in-laws get us an Audible subscription. I have had photos of places we have traveled together framed for my husband. So many really wonderful gifts. The hardest thing is that I put so much pressure on myself to think of good gifts for EVERYONE, and I’m usually pretty disorganized and busy, so this does result in some stress. The end result is usually worth it though!

  7. xykademiqz Says:

    I use the holidays to give small gifts of appreciation to people I am not very close to (for instance, I will buy gift cards and some nice chocolates for all our department staff for Christmas). But as for family, I really don’t care about getting gifts and am not very good about giving them. I buy stuff for the kids when they ask, if it’s reasonable. My DH is much more festive, so he is in charge of Christmas shopping for the kids (we don’t have extended family within reasonable shipping-cost distance).
    I buy him boring stuff, like clothes; he buys himself something he likes for his birthday. I don’t care about gifts for my birthday and generally ask that we go out to eat, or go have a family photo taken every 3-4 years. For DH’s birthday, I cook a dish from home country that takes forever to make and that he likes for his November birthday (I only make that dish once or twice per year, it’s a winter dish, and one of the times is always his birthday).

  8. Mrs PoP Says:

    Personally, there’s really only one person I don’t mind buying gifts for, and we only do it once per year. (Small, very useful gifts sent to one another on our birthdays with the BFF – last year I got a Vegetti!)

    So over time I’ve gotten rid of gift giving in most of our lives – we are all adults and can buy ourselves what we want when we want! But… with the exception of 2 people – Mr PoP’s parents. I’ll never feel the same way, and a lot of the times it drives me batty – but I think I understand it more after having read “The Five Love Languages”. Gifts are how they say/show love and they ARE NOT HAPPY if a gift giving holiday (B-day, Christmas, Mother’s/Father’s Day) passes by and they have not received a gift from us. The difference between no gift or buying something off their Amazon wish list (which they could just as easily buy as we can since they have at least as much income as we do) is night and day to them. We do try and give them special gifts that they haven’t pre-selected sometimes, but we don’t always know what something should be in time for a gift giving holiday, so the Amazon wish list is quite useful.

    I’m just glad Mr PoP isn’t like that. When we want stuff, we buy it. And if a major holiday is nearby, we inform the other person that they “gave us” what we just bought ourselves as a gift. It completely baffles Mr PoP’s coworkers who think he must be in the doghouse for not buying me more trinkets and other gifts, but it totally works for us. And it wastes less wrapping paper. =)

    • xykademiqz Says:

      And if a major holiday is nearby, we inform the other person that they “gave us” what we just bought ourselves as a gift. Hehe, we do that too. DH will often inform me of the wonderful electronics I “gave” him.

    • Jenny F. Scientist Says:

      My in laws are the same and it drives me batty. But we have finally convinced them to get us things we really want (woodworking equipment, very nice knives and kitchen stuff, fun clothes for kids, legos).

      We have gone over to giving all family members a photo book at Hanukkah/Christmas. Two siblings live abroad, and our parents have more money than us.

      Last year Dr. S ‘gave’ me an enamelled casserole pot, as in I bought it. :-) I usually get him fancy liquor.

      Dr. S and I have the same birthday so usually we just et a babysitter and go out to dinner!

      I only have maybe two friends I ‘exchange’ holiday gifts with and we get each other books for the kids, or maybe some really exciting toys. (Rescue bots! Snap circuits! Etc.)

  9. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Another track we could have taken with this piece would be to outline reasons for gift-giving a la standard economics (it makes no sense!) and behavioral economics, but Dan Ariely did that already ( http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970203893404577098501088230844 ). So this article I see has implicitly assumed our readers have that previous knowledge base and just blathers on about our personal situations.

    • Rosa Says:

      That article, man. I bet that dude is REALLY popular. It’s like he didn’t get the point that being remembered is only helpful if the memory is good.

      Paternalistic gifts that show the person you think they should improve? Rare-use durables so the person ‘thinks of you’ every 3 years when they haul out the tall vase? They’re like the stereotypes of mean wedding gifts from disapproving elder family members from literary fiction.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        But they’re true. I mean, I totally love giving paternalistic gifts to #2 and to my family. (“You need to read this book because I loved it! Even if you usually don’t read this genre…”)

        From a standard economic standpoint, the best gift is cash, but then it’s stupid for two people to just exchange cash. They should just keep it. But there are behavioral reasons we give gifts, which he outlines.

        And I dunno, really nice headphones seems like a pretty reasonable gift. There are definitely gifts I’ve gotten (nice pans, my winter jacket, my luggage, my first kindle) that make me think of the sender (who I guess is my MIL in each case! She has this gift-giving thing nailed down) each time I use them.

      • Rosa Says:

        Nice things the person wouldn’t buy themselves is a category that is wonderful if you have the knack of figuring out what those are. But I wouldn’t put “great book I like and think you would like” as paternalistic – the examples he gave in the article were, “I think you should broaden your horizons” which seems more like “great book or activity that is not the kind of thing you like, but I think you *should* like.” That’s like giving someone a diet book as a gift.

      • Rosa Says:

        about cash…that’s like when someone gives you a gift card for your birthday to a store they like, and then you use it to buy their birthday present, right? Or my uncle who traded the same $5 back and forth with his sister for years?

        #1 is kind of irritating because it means going to the store you don’t usually shop at. But #2 always struck me as the perfect ideal of “it’s the thought that counts”.

  10. chacha1 Says:

    I think the whole gift thing is based on love language, which seems like a new-agey eye-rolling concept except it actually works. Some people feel more loved when others DO things for them; other people feel more loved when others GIVE things to them. I suspect it’s hard-wired.

    I am of the “if I see something I know Person X would love I will get it for them regardless of occasion” persuasion. My husband and I rarely give tangible gifts except at Christmas, when it’s either a gadget we’ve expressed a desire for (a paella pan, for my husband, one year), or just nonsense to put in the stockings (we don’t do a tree). We are much more likely to arrange an evening out – dinner or dancing or theatre – than to go shopping.

    My best girlfriend needs nothing tangible but desperately needs someone to talk to other than her husband (they work together, at home). Since realizing this I have been more proactive about phone calls. I hate talking on the phone, generally speaking, but will make an exception for her.

    Kids are not in my life so I have no opinion.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You were, however, once a kid, were you not?

      • chacha1 Says:

        Yeah but a grossly atypical kid. :-) And my parents are both of the DO rather than GIVE persuasion. And we were a) broke b) isolated in the country for a big chunk of my childhood. I don’t think my childhood experience really speaks to the kids of well-off blog readers today.

  11. Rosa Says:

    I think the underlying problem I have with adult gift giving is that giving good gifts comes partly from knowing the other person well, and we just aren’t close with the Obligatory Gift People in our lives, so the gift occasions just make that lack of closeness painfully obvious.

    After a decade, I have come to realize that there is 0% chance that I will get any of the things I really want, because none of them seem like “appropriate gifts” to the people who insist on giving me gifts. And the emotional wear and tear (we are required to give lists, so they can buy gifts, only they won’t buy the things from the lists…) So every gift occasion is an occasion to be given the message “we do not actually care about your values or wishes, we will show our love in a way that suits us and disregard your actual self completely.”

    It’s not personal. They do love us and want to make us happy. They just…can’t do it. I used to take it personally but the worst offender offends basically every person they are trying to make happy, to the point they nearly alienate a beloved sibling every single year. So it’s clearly a lack in execution, not intent. So I’m practicing being the better person and not hurting them back (every attempt to change the gift giving rules/traditions clearly hurts them badly) by trying to make the situation better on my end.

    • chacha1 Says:

      I might try making a passive-aggressive Anti List. :-) That is, since they never buy what you want even if you explicitly tell them, give them a list of things that they are apt to buy that you know *somebody else* would want and that you can therefore give away immediately to an appropriate recipient. The problem gifters get to give their gift, you get to go through the motions with full knowledge that you are gaming their neurosis.

      • Rosa Says:

        I used to try to game the list, in various ways, including trying to get donations or donateables. But it was enraging and exhausting every single time. I just had to disengage. But I’m not allowed to *actually* disengage, so I have to go through the motions while emotionally disengaging.

      • Rosa Says:

        my husband just made a deal with me; every item on the list that I do not receive, he is going to give me $1 on Christmas morning.

    • Ana Says:

      “we do not actually care about your values or wishes, we will show our love in a way that suits us and disregard your actual self completely.” Change “we” to “I” and you’ve got my MIL. And she gets so freaking offended if we don’t LOVE whatever she gets us, even though its so so so so far from our taste that anyone who was ever MET us would know that!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’m pretty sure one year I heard my SIL complaining to random people about how unappreciative I was about the bathrobe my MIL got me (I was totally polite and everything…but although lovely, it was almost identical to the one my MIL had gotten me just 3 years prior and I just don’t wear them out very quickly, so I didn’t ooh and ahh much).

  12. Alexicographer Says:

    Mel’s “I’m pro-gift giving. I’m just not pro-gift giving obligations.” pretty much sums it up for me.

    Beyond that, we not infrequently (though perhaps not frequently enough) try to give gifts of “activities” / “events” rather than “items,” particularly in cases where the recipients are situated such that they (a) have all the items they want and/or (b) can buy any item they want. Frequently this works out to concert (or other performance) tickets, and in the case of gifts for my mom has meant that I’ve seen a number of great performances that I would never have gone to without being motivated to take her (her taste running more toward the classical). But also (I am firmly convinced) she has enjoyed them and the outings themselves are fun. As that description suggests, we do try to make these “let us take you” rather than “here are some tickets” gifts, though obviously either approach can work / be appropriate, depending.

    We give to the (adult) stepkids, which is marginally complicated because one household does not meet the threshold for (a) or (b) above (this reflects more about the relative level of their wants than any other variable), whereas the other is pretty much both (a) and (b). But then there’s the “fairness” question you raised in another post. So we try to keep an eye out for things that HH2 might appreciate without seeking out, and at other times find ourselves giving gift cards to e.g. Lowes (household improvement) or Amazon.

    Significant fractions of my own family (both when I was a kid growing up and today) live across an ocean and all who do are 100% convinced that it would be preposterous to pay to send items across the ocean, so gifts even to kids are limited to (a) when we cross the ocean and (b) what we can fit in our luggage allowance or (c) buy once we’re there. Though my mother and one of my aunts used to choose gifts (usually books) for their nieces/nephews and then each mom would buy the gifts from her sister, for the sister’s nieces/nephews i.e. the mom’s own kids. But my generation’s not that organized.

  13. omdg Says:

    It seems to me stressing over whether you “should” or “should not” give gifts to particular people in particular ways kind of defeats the whole purpose of gift giving (showing appreciation, love, etc.). As a side note, I can’t imagine caring enough about how other people give gifts to impose my personal preferences on them.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      What is the purpose of gift giving though? An economist would argue that if it’s showing appreciation, then cold hard cash (or a thank you) is the way to go. How exactly does love translate to gift giving– it isn’t directly obvious (and are there other ways to get the same outcome given the mechanism?)

    • Rosa Says:

      the social response to not conforming to other people’s gift expectations is pretty drastic, whether it’s because you chose to not comply or because (as with a lot of people and their in-laws) because the social norms of different circles just don’t mesh. That’s why so many etiquette and advice columns run so many answers about the “right” way to give or ask for gifts.

      I think I’ve seen Dear Abby respond to “I gave a gift and the recipient did not properly acknowledge/display/value/use it!” letters often enough to see that that for many – if not most – people the purpose is not at all showing love or appreciation, it’s getting a response that gratifies them.

      • chacha1 Says:

        YES. A gift conveys an obligation. The giver wants recognition, acknowledgement, appreciation, gratitude – a whole spectrum of possible responses, all of which are about the giver.

        The giver may also legitimately want to give the recipient pleasure and to express affection. However, as noted, people who don’t get the “proper” thanks tend to throw a snit.

    • Ana Says:

      I think the expectations for how you show gratitude and how you reciprocate take this beyond just “graciously accept how others choose to gift to you”. If you don’t believe in/can’t afford big gifts and you’re forced into reciprocating with others who do/can, it becomes a genuine stress. Or if you’ve damaged a relationship by not being appropriately enthused over a gift or forgetting to use it when the giver visits or worse—given it away and they ask to see it (I’ve SO been there), it really can be stressful.

  14. SP Says:

    I’m not sure how I feel. I guess I don’t have strong feelings, and I”m fine with conforming, but I also don’t think gifts are necessary. I like “whenever” gifts.

    But I’m really commenting because I have a post topic request/idea for you. Crying at work. Have you ever done it? Have you seen others do it? How bad is it? I was going to do it on my blog, but while I have a few awesome readers, your audience is much bigger. One could reference Tim Hunt, but no need to do that.

    I cried at work this week in a pretty embarrassing way, although the people I already like a lot were totally great about it and most people did their best to let me ignore it. Plot twist: I work with almost all men, but the person who brought out the tears was the only other woman in the room of ~20. Although it was really really just a completely screwed up situation, and it was more the situation than the person itself. But she absolutely did not help! Maybe I will post on this anyway, even though I’m basically mortified by it. I think my emotions were correct, just didn’t intend on displaying it!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s a hard one. Personally, I am against crying at work in front of people and suggest that you apologize to whoever you cried in front of (assuming that we’re not talking about someone getting hurt or dying etc., which are socially acceptable reasons to cry at work) in a way that is both professional and slightly embarrassed in demeanor.

      #2 may have different insight.

      Here’s a quick google of Ask a manager: https://www.google.com/search?q=ask+a+manager+crying+at+work&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

      I’m glad to see that my advice matches hers!

      • SP Says:

        Yes, of course I’m against it as well at least as far as I wish it never happened to anybody.

        I did read that post, as well as the comments. I wonder how one practices reacting with less emotion. I suppose I could avoid going into known war zones when I’m on edge, but I’ve had no luck willing myself to respond calmly.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yeah, I dunno, but definitely do damage control after.

    • Ana Says:

      My thought on this is that, yes, try your best to avoid it, but if it happens, its clearly out of your control. Sure I can be “against it” in theory (because it makes me super-uncomfortable!) but who cries at work in front of their colleagues on purpose? Its sometimes a physiologic response that you couldn’t hold back, like a burp.
      Apologize self-deprecatingly and move on. I wouldn’t think badly of someone for doing it once, particularly if the situation was truly terrible. If its happening a LOT, and you can’t leave the job/situation, then figure out how to change your reaction (therapy!) because crying on a regular basis at work does come across unprofessional.

      • chacha1 Says:

        I have never out-and-out cried at work, but a little teary-eyed – yes. Sometimes due to personal stuff like a sick cat; sometimes due to rage and frustration caused by the work.

        But sometimes it is that reflex thing, and oddly most likely to happen when I have a very *pleasant* exchange with somebody. It’s like little tears of happiness trying to escape. I am not a crier by nature and this particular manifestation always astonishes me.

        Nowadays I make a point of reminding people that I am perimenopausal and not 100% stable. :-)

  15. Ana Says:

    I like the “challenge” of finding a good gift for someone I know and care about, but I hate the obligation of giving AND receiving usually generic gifts just because of holidays or whatever. (though if the “generic gift” is wine or dark chocolate it is pretty much like they know my true heart and I’ll happily take it!). I stopped buying gifts for my parents FINALLY after years of them never being happy with anything and complaining about my wasting money on them. This includes flowers for my mom. Now I just save up and we try to visit more often, that’s all they really want. (I do send cards, but now I have the kids make them!) On the other hand, my MIL would never let us hear the end of it if she doesn’t get flowers for mother’s day and her birthday so we budget for those.
    I think I mentioned before that my husband and I don’t do gifts for each other, though I would sort of like to see what he would get for me! He’s the type that just buys himself what he wants, and he wants control of the whole things (interesting concept mentioned above!) so I try to steer clear of buying him anything except consumables (nice bitters or liquor usually) or categories of things he doesn’t know much about (books! he’s not really a reader of books but sometimes I’m sure he’ll love a book—and he does!)
    I’m the opposite—I loathe doing the research and would love someone who knows me well to just choose something for me!
    So “should” adults exchange gifts is really dependent on the adults and the cringe-y but legit concept of “love languages”

  16. Mutant Supermodel Says:

    This is a really exhausting one for me because everyone feels differently about gifts no? I like refraining on gifts until gift encouraged moments personally. Maybe because if I didn’t, I would spend money way more often and that wouldn’t be good. I generally hold off on presents for the kids but not entirely. If they do something really well they earn rewards and they have money they earn for extra chores that they are free to spend as they wish. And their attention span isn’t really that super flighty that waiting a few months for something big is going to completely disappear. So I think between those things, they are satisfied well enough. I like receiving gifts and focus on the experience of receiving than the gift itself. I don’t really have any guilt that way if the item isn’t something I’m crazy about. It was fun to open! Hooray!
    This year my sister in law has proposed we do the secret santa thing among the family’s adults. Part of me is relieved but part of me is also kind of bummed because I DO hold off on giving gifts and so now I feel a little deprived of the experience of finding something for someone. I do enjoy that experience by the way, for the most part.


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