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Gifts that say, "I had to give you a gift. So, look! A gift!"

December 3rd, 2011 (12:05 am)

In a perfect world, all the gifts we give would be from the heart: we would be shopping for people we like and know well, and would be choosing items that we know will please them. Oddly enough, however, people fairly regularly find themselves shopping for people they DON'T like -- you draw your least favorite coworker's name for the Secret Santa gift exchange, or you have to take your kids shopping to buy something for your ex-husband, or you have to buy something for a relative or in-law who makes you miserable.

Far be it from me to try to convince you that you don't need to buy gifts for these people. By all means, get out there and do your part to stimulate the economy! Below is a list of suggestions (some of them locally-sourced and/or environmentally responsible!) for the most passive-aggressive gifting options I could think of. (Last year's version of this is here.)

1. Regretsy: Craft Fair Edition. This is the option that really has everything going for it -- it's locally sourced, the recipient can't return or exchange the thing you buy, and if you select your craft fair properly, you can find something for $10 that looks like you MIGHT have foolishly spent $30. Of course, there are many beautiful handmade things available at craft fairs, and you can buy from those artists when you're selecting gifts for the people whose company you cherish. If you pick your craft fair right (I hate to stereotype, but let me just suggest that the kind of craft fair you'll find in a church basement is more likely to have hand-crocheted Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer hand towels than something like the No-Coast Craft-O-Rama -- though the No-Coast is more likely to have hand-crocheted Rudolph the Zombie Space Alien hand towels) you'll also have plenty of hideous items to choose from.

Think big! A small ugly knickknack can be easily hidden behind something else on a shelf. Maybe you can find a hand-tied fleece afghan in a print that will clash horribly with all this person's furniture. (Or pink camouflage. There's surely someone out there who likes pink camo -- I mean, I see it all over -- but it's always struck me as something that only the six-year-old daughter of an active-duty soldier would like.) Or a giant clay sculpture of God-only-knows-what glazed in mustard yellow. Or a sweatshirt with a festive multicolored snowman appliqued on the front.

Remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe you ARE at the No-Coast Craft-o-Rama (hurry, it's tomorrow) looking at the three-headed sock monkeys and thinking, "awww." But you are much cooler than your annoying relatives, and this might be just the thing to HAUNT THEIR DREAMS FOREVER.

2. Think cutesy! If the craft fair leaves you cold, you can browse through something like the Hallmark Store for wide-eyed china bunnies dressed as Santa. Try to find something that's too cute to callously discard, while nonetheless being useless clutter. If you find a gargantuan yet adorable stuffed animal, your shopping (for this person) is DONE.

3. If you're somewhere like Kohl's or Macy's or Target when you do your gift shopping, somewhere between the ties and the men's underwear there will be a series of shelves of random Masculine Gifts (tm) in little red boxes. Some of these gadgets are actually sort of neat (compact iPod speakers, which were all over one year but I haven't seen this year) and some might occasionally be useful (key fobs that beep when you whistle for them are The Thing this year, and who can't use another flashlight? okay, maybe not everyone has the Disappearing Flashlight problem that I have) but some are definitely in the WTF WOULD ANYONE NEED WITH THIS category (a talking tire gauge, in case you have to check your tire pressure in the dark?) and there is absolutely nothing that says, "I had to buy you a gift. So, here's a gift!" like a "desk puzzle" in a little red box for $9.99 from Kohl's.

4. If you're shopping for an ex, because the kids want to give him a present, focus on setting. If you take your kids to A Store, they will probably choose something from That Store. You might say to yourself, "I'll just take them to Target; I can get some other shopping done while I'm there," but recognize that you are wasting an opportunity. There are entire stores full of nothing but horrifying items: you probably don't want to go to the Thomas Kinkaide Store at the Mall of America (because if you're sensible, you don't want to go ANYWHERE NEAR the Mall of America in December) but take a careful look at the stores convenient to you. Is there a place that specializes in collectible plates with pictures of animals on them? Or a store that sells nothing but novelty socks? Or a Spencer Gifts? (NOTE: This is only a good strategy if your ex at least has the redeeming quality of being willing to pretend s/he just LOVES whatever the kids wound up picking out. If you have an ex that would hurt your kid's feelings over a Christmas gift, my suggestion for what this person should get for Christmas would potentially expose me to legal liability so I deleted it after typing it out. I'm sure you know a guy who knows a guy who could suggest the perfect method thing.)

5. The Charitable Gift. This is where you give money to a charity and tell the person that you realized they are such an awesome individual that they'd rather feed the hungry than have new stuff. This can, in fact, be a perfectly fine and thoughtful gift. OR you can visit the Oxfam website, which allows you to give someone shit, worms, or crabs. (And if you search "coal," they have a suggestion for that, too.)

The great thing about this sort of gift is that if you make a gift in someone's honor, and tell the charity, "yes, please send them a card telling them all about the tribute gift," this will put them on the charity's mailing list and they'll be repeatedly badgered for more donations. (When I've given these, I try to be thoughtful and donate to a group the recipient already donates to. Which means I wind up on their mailing list forever and all time and they spend 5 times what I donated trying to get more money out of me, but that's a separate rant.)

For a passive-aggressive royal flush you want to pick out a charity that this person has never heard of, but would find somewhat objectionable if they fully investigated all the details. Bear in mind that if you tell your homophobic relative that you've donated in his honor to GLAAD, that isn't passive-aggressive but an in-your-face throwdown challenge; if you'll have to sit next to this person at Christmas Dinner you might want to find something more subtle. (Maybe. I guess it depends on how much confrontation you like with your turkey.) But for instance, you could donate in his honor to Avenues for Homeless Youth, which has some programs (like the GLBT Host Homes program) specifically to support teenagers who were kicked out by their parents because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Alternately, you can choose a charity that subtly critiques the person you're "honoring" -- a donation to the American Lung Association for a smoker, to Childhelp for a terrible parent, to ARC for someone who thinks "short bus" jokes are hilarious.

(PLEASE NOTE: I don't actually have to buy for anyone I dislike. And if you've ever given me a present and are wondering if I'm talking about you somehow, I'm not, don't worry. This came out of many message board conversations in which people groused about having to gift shop for their evil MIL, their impossible-to-please parents, etc.)


Posted by: Amanda (branna)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 07:41 am (UTC)

The Disappearing Flashlight problem is well-known in my experience, and accrues to astronomical observatories as well as people :)

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 03:15 pm (UTC)

I mostly blame my children.

Posted by: John Costello (joxn)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 06:01 pm (UTC)

Attach the key fob that beeps when you whistle for it to the disappearing flashlight. Problem solved!

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 06:09 pm (UTC)

I am a little worried that this might violate some fundamental law of nature.

Posted by: A Wandering Hobbit (redbird)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 01:21 pm (UTC)

I'm a weirdo who actually asked someone to get me a goat from Oxfam. Not even because there was nothing I actually wanted, but because the idea was cool and he'd mentioned getting someone else a goat. (I have now received two count them two such goats, from two different people.)

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 03:18 pm (UTC)

You could start a collection! (A collection that you never have to dust and that does not compete with books for shelf space is the best kind, anyway.)

Posted by: Peg Kerr (pegkerr)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 03:36 pm (UTC)

A collection that would eat the books on your shelf space, actually, if given the chance.

Posted by: A Wandering Hobbit (redbird)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 04:15 pm (UTC)

I already have a collection like that: rivers that I have crossed on foot. I haven't added to it in a while, unfortunately.

Posted by: Adrian Turtle (adrian_turtle)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 10:50 pm (UTC)

How are you defining "river" for this collection? Mill Creek is convenient to here, and often freezes over. Alewife Brook freezes somewhat less often, but we can keep an eye out for it. Because of the rocks, they're still challenging to cross on foot, if you're not a goat.

Posted by: A Wandering Hobbit (redbird)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 11:35 pm (UTC)

Bridges definitely count: most of the rivers I'm thinking of haven't frozen solid in my lifetime, at least not at the points where I crossed (the Thames at London, Hudson on the George Washington Bridge, and Columbia at Portland, for example; I don't know for sure about the Seine, but it was liquid when I was there). So yes, Mill Creek should be on there. (I don't think the Charles is, though I may have forgotten something from ages ago.)

Maybe I should count streams I've waded through/across? (Though the one that comes to mind first, I don't think I ever knew the name of, it's a small stream that flows into the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick.)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Peg Kerr (pegkerr)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 03:36 pm (UTC)

Yes indeed. This post is a true public service.

Posted by: Sylvia (sylvia_rachel)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 04:36 pm (UTC)
st john's

What Jo said.

I am fortunate that the intersection between the set of people I don't like very much and people I have to buy gifts for is very small, but for that very small group, this sort of thing is invaluable.

Perhaps this year, to be thrifty, I will give SIL1 back the hideous and not-the-right-size tablecloth/napkins/napkin holders set she gave me two years ago, purchased on 22 December from the clearance table at Sears... ::evil grin::

Posted by: Corinne (corinnethewise)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 06:51 pm (UTC)

I love this list, but I have totally had to take my tire pressure in the dark (Driving home from college, it seemed like my car was driving funny, so I had to pull of to the side of the road in rural northwest Ohio to make sure I didn't have a flat or potential flat. It was indeed getting flat so I had to add air and keep checking it.) so a talking tire pressure reader would have been pretty useful. Of course this has not been a problem since.

Posted by: Adrian Turtle (adrian_turtle)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 11:13 pm (UTC)

One of the local little girls just loves pink camouflage. She has no personal connection to anybody in the military, and doesn't even read the kind of adventure stories where people wear military uniforms. She likes reading about talking animals, or people in armor or togas or wizard robes. I suspect she sometimes wore it as a compromise between presenting as a boy (she knew camo in kids' clothes was coded masculine before her mother did, though she wasn't good at articulating the idea) and deliberately wearing pink.

Posted by: A Wandering Hobbit (redbird)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 11:37 pm (UTC)

Naomi, is it okay to link to this for my next "misc. comments" post, or should I just say "a discussion of holiday gifts" without pointing back here?

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: December 3rd, 2011 11:39 pm (UTC)

It's completely fine to link.

Posted by: Erin (perimyndith)
Posted at: December 4th, 2011 06:43 am (UTC)

I was thinking of nominating my mother-in-law for Hoarders for Christmas. She wouldn't appreciate this at all, but believe me, there could be no better gift to her than a house in which she could reach the kitchen from the front door and, once she arrived, actually use the stove to cook food. As a bonus extra-special Christmas gift to me, she might never speak to me again. I'm thinking this is the perfect example of reciprocal giving.

Sadly, my husband will probably twist my arm and make me send her another nick-knack, which will become invisible as soon as it enters the stationary vortex of her inability to part with anything, no matter how ugly or useless. She would probably love one of those creepy big-eyed china Santa Bunnies, or better yet, and entire creepy Santa Bunny nativity set.

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