The season of giving is being hijacked by a new, decidedly more mercenary approach to gifting laments Sophie White
Tis the season for giving... so long as the gift is from a vetted shop, payed for in cash and returnable for a full refund.
Is anyone else starting to tire of the gross commercialism of Christmas? And no, unfortunately I'm not even talking about the manipulating toy-pushing and emotionally-charged, bullying-us-into-tears sadverts. I'm talking about the icky commercialism of my own family with regards to the time-honoured tradition of giving and receiving Christmas presents. Around our house it is most definitely NOT the thought that counts but rather the returnability.
And okay to some extent I get it, statistically speaking most presents will be something of a disappointment. A 2014 study by Japanese retailer, Rakuten revealed that on average more than a third of recipients don't like their gifts. They also estimated that typically we spend about 14 hours Christmas shopping. All that effort, with the knowledge that at least one in three items will be a dud, it's enough to make you want to give up on thought altogether and make gifting a cash transaction. Soulless but efficient.
I am relating so hard right now to a 2009 book called Scroogenomics. This interesting, if slightly lacking in warmth, read argued that giving gifts actually wastes billions every year because it’s so rare for the recipient's (often lacklustre) response to equate to the time, effort and money invested in the gift by the giver.
The author, Joel Waldfogel, put it well in an interview with Time magazine:
"If I spend $50 on myself, I'll only buy something if it's worth at least $50 to me. But if you buy something for me, and you spend $50, since you don't know what I like, and you don't know what I have, you may buy something I wouldn't pay anything for. And so you could turn the real resources required to make things into something of no value to me. And that would destroy value."
I have spoken before about the lavish gifting that my family engages in at Christmas time, but I have not gone into detail about the web of lies and deceit that often accompanies it. You see, huge effort and thought poured into a gift does not guarantee a favourable reception for it, so it is customary in our family to include the receipt for ease of returning. Familial etiquette stipulates that one must only buy from shops that give full cash refunds and not in the form of a credit note (considered deeply irritating by my family) or that most heinous of customs – an exchange that demands the returner find a replacement gift then and there.
Sometimes I go out on a limb (some of our best shops are small independents that don't offer refunds but rather store credit) and shop in a boutique but it's with the sinking knowledge that I am wading into treacherous waters.
Unreturnable presents lead to one of two outcomes in our clan: re-gifting or de-gifting. So it was heartening to read in the Rakuten study that more than a third of respondents said they re-gift unwanted gifts, I had been concerned that this unsavoury practice was confined to my economy-obsessed relatives.
Re-gifting is morally murky territory.Recently, I was re-gifted a present I had previously re-gifted. I see this as karmic retribution for my original offence. Luckily, it was a bottle of Bolly, which I was more than happy to have back. In my house, we have an unspoken understanding that the Bolly-bringer was clearly not aware of: Under no circumstances is it OK to pretend you bought the present as, inevitably, you will be caught out. You must instead admit that it's a re-gift that you didn't want and genuinely thought the recipient would like. The re-gift must also be accompanied by a legitimately purchased gift, thus negating the economy of re-gifting in the first place. It's complicated, we may need an infographic.
De-gifting is when you relieve someone of a gift they don't want. In my house on Christmas Day, we watch each other very carefully to examine the reception each gift gets. If a lack of enthusiasm is detectable, it is reasonable to find a quiet corner and arrange a de-gifting where you generously offer to relieve the recipient of the disappointing gift in exchange for one of your crappy gifts. The exact terms of the de-gifting vary, as the receiver will want compensation (sometimes I throw in a bit of babysitting, dish-washing or some such menial task to sweeten the deal). But this is decided on a case-by-case basis.
In my family, if we have received an unwanted gift and NO gift receipt (therefore violating rule #46 of the gifting handbook), we have been known to attempt this rather ambitious manoeuvre. Return to the shop — having rewrapped the offending gift, with a tear in the wrapping paper for added authenticity — and explain that Aunt Rose gave you this perfume/soap/candle, but, unfortunately, you have developed a rash since making contact with the parcel (it really helps if you have some kind of skin inflamation to support this).
At best, you’ll get a new product. At worst, your antics will inspire disgust among friends, who believe themselves above such chicanery.
To avoid the entire returning, re-gifting and de-gifting debacle, in the past I've lovingly make edible gifts. This was met with animosity by my ungrateful family. My mother's view on a lovingly made jar of lemon and fig marmalade was: "This isn't a present, it's a problem. A problem," she callously continued, "that will sit in the fridge until next year, when you try to fob me off with another jar of whatever."
Back to cash payments and gift receipts for me. Happy Giftmas everyone!