Friday, December 3, 2010

Gift Hierarchy

  1. The best gift is one that the recipient wants very much but does not realize she wants.  How could  person not realize what she wants, you ask?  She might know this thing exists - it might be a book she hasn't heard of or a gadget she didn't know of.  Or, even better, she might simply never have considered how much such a thing will improve her life.  This is a very hard gift to find, highly recipient-specific, and is even harder for well-adjusted recipients who know their own desires well.  I generally don't try to shop for such gifts for a given occasion because they're so rare, but if I see or think of something that will be perfect for someone, I buy it immediately or make a note of it for later.
  2. Special category for romantic gifts: the first romantic gift between a couple of a given romantic-gift category, or an unexpectedly-but-welcomely-romantic gift (i.e. between people who are not yet officially involved).
  3. Something the recipient already wants but would never allow themselves to spend money on because they are perceived as too expensive / luxurious / hedonistic.  This gift is best if it is actually a very small luxury and the means of the giver and recipient are similar.  (Example: buying $30 worth of expensive chocolate for a good friend, when $30 is a typical amount to spend on each other, is really sweet.  Buying a $200 bottle of wine for that friend, when $200 is their food budget for the month and play money to you, is - in my opinion, anyway - less impressive.  The beauty of this gift is not that it is a wealth transfer; it is its permission to indulge oneself in a way one wouldn't ordinarily allow.)
  4. A gift elaborating on a known fondness of the recipient (i.e. some people are always happy to have books; others are always happy to have jewelry, or new music, or gadgets) in an unusual, giver-specific, or especially welcome way.  For example, gifts bought on exotic travels or made by the giver.  This is the highest realistic goal for most gift-giving occasions.
  5. Other romantic (relationship-appropriate) gifts.
  6. A "this made me think of you" type of gift - i.e. one whose tone, humor, character, or etc. made the giver think of the recipient.  Sometimes these are things the recipient likes; frequently they are not.  But they're usually interesting and thoughtful.
  7. ------------------------------- line between good gifts and okay gifts -----------------------------------------------------------------------------
  8. A gift elaborating on a known fondness of the recipient in a typical way.             
  9. A generic gift.  Many people keep gift closets full of scented candles, bath products, and nonperishable foods that they give out - over the holidays or throughout the year - as hostess gifts, holiday presents for neighbors, offerings for the kids' teachers, and any other time a gift seems called for.  These are perfectly good gifts if the only thing that needs to be said is "look! I got you a gift!"; otherwise they are disappointing for everyone.
  10. Something the recipient has specifically asked for.  
  11. Money (if given by parents or older relatives).
  12. ------------------------------- line between okay gifts and bad gifts ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  13. Most gift cards.  A generic gift card, i.e. from Gap or Bed Bath and Beyond, has no advantages to the recipient over money and a few obvious disadvantages.  Some gift cards are actually other kinds of gifts - for example, a spa gift card for a person who would never spend money on a spa visit is actually type 3.
  14. A gift meant to improve the recipient.  My parents are masters of this gift form.  I have been carrying an electric wok around for the last four moves because they seem to think it is something that a person who lives alone and doesn't cook needs to have.  In my current kitchen, it does not fit on the counter.  They also like to give me cookbooks. 
  15. No gift.
  16. Something totally orthogonal to the recipient's personality and interests, the kind of gift that makes you wonder if the giver knows you at all.  Sometimes the only difference between this type and type 6 is presentation.
  17. A gift for which the best, and sometimes only, possible explanation is that it was meant to hurt or offend.  Closely related to type 14, but more negative and usually given to women, by their significant others.
I have three more holiday gifts to buy, plus cards to write.  Fortunately, that will not be the end of the gift-giving because in January two friends have birthdays and I'm going to a wedding, and then possibly another wedding in March.  I say "possibly" because this wedding is to be held in Palm Beach, at The Breakers, a resort so fancy even the website is intimidating.


  1. Where does regifting fit into the hirearchy?


  2. In my opinion, the fact that something is a regift is mostly irrelevant. If someone gives you something that is perfect for someone else, it's no less perfect because you didn't spend your own cash on it (although if it is an obscure item, you lose some of the credit for finding it). Similarly, if someone gives you candles or wine or whatever as a hostess gift, it is a perfectly reasonable thing to pass along as a hostess gift to someone else (as long as it hasn't gone bad or been damaged).

    There are a few exceptions: Anything made by the original gifter is a very bad regift, since the point is that it was made especially for the recipient (exception to exception - passing along a treasured object or something one no longer needs, i.e. baby stuff, and telling the new recipient about its origin, is very sweet). Anything given by a former romantic partner cannot be regifted to a new romantic partner. Also, of course, if the new recipient finds out about the regifting, the gift loses value, because most of a gift's value is how it makes the recipient feel, and few people feel good about getting recycled presents.