When Good Gifts Go Bad
Article By | Lisa Bertagnoli, CTW Features
Shopper beware: Danger lurks in the quest to find the absolutely perfect holiday present. Just ask these sadder but now much wiser givers.
A pricey box of Belgian milk chocolate – presented with a flourish to a dark chocolate lover. A pink cashmere sweater lovingly set under the tree for a woman who adores luxury – and loathes pastels. A boxed set of every recording the Beatles ever made – wrapped and ready for a music lover who swears by the Stones.
Sometimes, even the most thoughtfully chosen gift can backfire.
Take, for instance, the kilt that Kate Zabriskie’s husband gave her. Zabriskie, who is of Scottish descent, had dropped a few hints that she wanted a kilt. But when her husband started asking questions about her waist and hip measurements, Zabriskie didn’t put two and two together, and gave him, well, less-than-truthful figures.
“You typically fudge a little bit,” she says.
So, imagine Zabriskie’s surprise when she unwrapped a present to find the much-desired kilt but sized to fit a person several pounds lighter than she. “If he had just told me, ‘I want to get this for you, but let’s get the size right … ’” Zabriskie laments.
It happens all the time: One person drops gift clues; the other interprets them not accurately. “We often give gifts we perceive someone would value,” says Robyn Spizman, an Atlanta-based gift expert, author and creator of The Giftionizer, a gift-giving organizer. Danger lurks when a giver seizes on an extravagant idea for a gift without knowing all the particulars. For example, take the innocent instinct to give someone a version of an item of yours that they have admired. It’s a sure bet they’ll love the gift, right? Wrong, says Spizman. “I might compliment you in cashmere,” Spizman observes, “but it might itch me like crazy.”
Like the bread-making machine that Spizman, who neither bakes nor eats bread, once got as a gift from a friend. Spizman received the bread maker several years ago when the machines first gained popularity. “It was so big I couldn’t even find a closet for the thing,” Spizman says.
The friend kept asking Spizman if she liked the gift, and Spizman kept lying – until she couldn’t anymore. “I wrote a poem and went and bought a loaf of bread and put it in her mailbox,” Spizman recalls. Spizman eventually returned the bread maker, “but before I did, I had to be honest.”
Which begs the question: If you receive the perfect present that’s not so perfect, how do you react without dimming that expectant gleam in the gift-giver’s eye?
The correct response is always “thank you so much, it’s so thoughtful of you,” says Zabriskie, an etiquette expert and founder of Port Tobacco, Maryland-based Business Training Works Inc., which specializes in workplace soft skills (good manners being one of them).
However, once you thank the giver politely, you’re under no obligation to use it or even keep it, Zabriskie says. This is something gift-seekers should keep in mind: “Never give something to someone with the idea that they’ll wear it or use it,” Zabriskie says.
While there’s not much you can do to prevent receiving thoughtfully chosen, yet inappropriate gifts, you can prevent yourself from giving such gifts. First, “step back and see what someone values,” Spizman says.
For instance, say a friend positively dotes on her powder room, festooning it with delicate soaps, candles and hand towels. A perfect gift? Monogrammed soap. “Monogrammed personal items will always hit home with a person who values details,” Spizman says.
Second, don’t give gifts related to avocations or passionate hobbies. Wine aficionados, skilled home cooks and bakers, among others, “have very strong preferences” about what they like, Spizman says. “To give a phenomenally seasoned baker a cookbook, you’re risking it,” she cautions. A better bet: One of those new silicone Bundt pans or baking sheets.
Unless you know the recipient as well as you know yourself, avoid gifts of art or decorative items. Art, especially, “is a hideous gift to give someone,” Zabriskie says. “You’re saying ‘hang this in your house.’ That’s a horrible position to put someone in.”
Finally, keep in mind that the gift might be perfect, but the timing might be off. That’s what happened to Jodi Hoatson of Omaha, Nebraska. Hoatson and her boyfriend of nine years had a week at a time-share in the Bahamas. Hoatson wanted to fly, but the boyfriend had his heart set on a cruise. Hoatson found one online for $2,000: “I blew my Christmas budget out of the water,” she says.
Hoatson had gift certificates printed and tied with a ribbon, all ready to give to her boyfriend. But a week before their designated holiday gift exchange day, Hoatson’s boyfriend broke up with her. “Turns out he had been cheating on me all along and was leaving me for another woman,” she says.
Luckily, Hoatson had purchased trip insurance. “Word to the wise,” she says, “buy some sort of insurance on big gifts.”
And, adds Zabriskie, “if you’re not sure, get a receipt.”