Saturday, December 13, 2008

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

'Tis the season. In the past, I've talked about What to Get Your Psychiatrist for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. Today, I'm going to talk about gift-giving and gift-getting in general. But this is Shrink Rap, you say, what do presents have to do with psychiatry? Pretty much nothing, except that gifts are often a topic people talk about in psychotherapy. Over the years, as both the listener of many gift-related stories, and outside the office as both a gift-giver and gift-receiver, I've made some observations. If you wanted psychiatry, try another blog and check again tomorrow with Shrink Rap...

Okay, so gifts are always a complicated issue. Before you buy anyone a gift (with very few exceptions, the major one being sweet young children who sometimes actually are excited and surprised), here's what you need to know: you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. I'm sorry if I sound kind of cynical. I read an email today from a dear friend and when I mentioned I might bring a local specialty food that I've mailed her before, she responded "We don't really like the Maryland thing." Okay, I guess it's good that I'm not wasting my money and time, but it kind of came off as "I didn' like the gift you sent last year." It got me feeling a bit snarky.

I've collected a lot of gift stories over the years, including one guy I knew who would only give his mother gifts embroidered with her initials so she couldn't return them, only to be disappointed when she never wore them. Oy. Gifts often have an edge of control about them.
Sometimes people feel the gift is something the giver thinks the receiver should want, or be interested in, or learn about, or have for his or her own good. The other spin on that would be that the giver has an interest he wants to share with the receiver.

So here is what I've learned:

  • Some people like to be surprised, and mostly they want to be surprised with the thing they want, and if the gifter doesn't know what the giftee wants, that's hard.
  • Some people want practical gifts and hate the frivolous.
  • Some people want frivolous gifts and hate the practical.
  • It's awkward for many people if you give them a gift that is more elaborate or expensive than what you gave them.
  • Gift-giving often gets saddled with all kinds of unspoken expectations
  • If your wife wears a size 18, don't give her a size 4.

I don't have any really great suggestions about gift giving. I do have one suggestion about receiving gifts-- there is one response and only one response that works: "Thank you." Oh, a little more effusive is fine, too. I believe that if you don't like a gift, you should quietly return it, and not mention that fact. If someone is in your face asking if you like it, well.... that's difficult. If it's not returnable, re-gift it to someone on Mars (--and yes, I've had someone casually mention to me that they re-gifted a gift I'd given them...was that necessary?) If it's not returnable, if it's not re-giftable, if it can't be donated to a charity that might appreciate it, then quietly throw it out. If you already have one, if it's the wrong size, if you're allergic to it and will die if you open the box, the safest thing is still to leave it at "thank you."

And if you'd like to check out an amusing clip, try:


Rach said...

Cookies. You can't go wrong with cookies (no nuts) - double chocolate - preferably straight out of the oven. My shrink, my therapist, my naturopath, my coworkers, my friends... everyone's getting cookies, with the recipe attached, this year.
(And for the shrink, therapist, naturopath and all the other people who help make my mental health all nice and wonderful most of the time - a donation made in their honor - I honestly think you can't go wrong with that. It's a charity I believe in, they'll get a card, and they won't have yet another jar of preserves sitting around in their cupboards at home in April)

Anonymous said...

My pet peeve is that many people in my life give me the same gift over and over again that I don't want! One friend gives me several large boxes of tea bags in flavors I don't like for every gift occasion. We've had numerous discussions about beverages and I always say I prefer to drink decaf coffee and that among teas I choose cinnamon. When a birthday or Christmas rolls around I get boxes of chamomile or raspberry or lemon that I would never drink. I prefer to sleep in over-sized tee-shirts but another friend buys me flannel pajamas every year. Every year!
I have tried to subtly let folks know my habits and preferences, but it seems to make no difference at all. Many people seem to select gifts based on what THEY would like. Some seem to think that gift-giving is a chance to change to recipient. My friend who gives me red clothes may think I'd look great in red even though I consistently don't wear red. My friend may think if I'd just drink chamomile tea I'd end up preferring it to coffee, and my other friend may think that flannel pj's are more seemly than tee-shirts. I can pretty much guarantee I will get herbal teas I dislike, another set of flannel pj's, and perhaps a red piece of clothing this year which I will yet again thank them for.

Anonymous said...

The Dalai Lama once spoke of gifts.

He was asked what to do when someone came to you in an angry tirade giving you grief.

He replied with:
If someone brings you a gift and you do not want it, must you take it?

Who said this wasn't a psychiatry post? :-)

Anonymous said...

Rach: My address is.... oh, don't, I have a zillion cookies here. So I just emailed a friend who has coronary artery disease and is post op from another procedure, and asked if it was okay to offer cookies.

TP: This is not medical advice and you can't sue me for it--
Give the red sweater to the person who gives you flannel pjs. Give the flannel pjs to the person who gives you the red sweaters (or send them to me, I look good in red, particularly while sipping tea and eating double chocolate cookies). Give the tea away. Calculate how much you saved by re-gifting the gifts, and then use that amount of money to buy yourself something you'd like (may I suggest a black sweater, decaf coffee beans, and a large T shirt to sleep in?

Mr. Ian-- very wise. If it were that simple, I'd be out of business...


Michelle said...

I have a question:
What is an appropriate gift for a very loved therapist?

Well i already bought the gift...
its a photo that i took of the chair she sits in with a poem i wrote, just a few lines of a poem actually framed!!

I hope she likes it!!


Sue in N. Va said...

A gift of self is something I always appreciate... it means that someone really did put thought into it. It's my favorite thing to give and receive. Baking - a poem - a song - flowers - a picture - or just a note or card with a hand-written, "Thank you for all you've done for me this year" can mean more than something purchased. I like knowing that I've made a difference -- and hopefully a positive one.

I've instilled this into my children and they have seen that it can make someone's day just a little bit brighter.

Anonymous said...

"(may I suggest a black sweater, decaf coffee beans, and a large T shirt to sleep in?)"

Sounds divine! I just brewed myself a cup of wonderful "Gingerbread" decaf coffee I got myself for the holidays. A black sweater sounds lovely. I'd like a ribbed turtleneck.

I have been gifting myself so I am taken care of! Yesterday I ordered myself a matching pen and mechanical pencil from my favorite very expensive pen company which is having a 30% off sale I could not resist. I can't WAIT to use them.

Catherine said...

I am always direct about presents. I tell the kids in my class that pencils, a packet of paper, something homemade, a poem written by them, or a book for our library would be nice. I tell a friend I would like to spend a day/night out with *just* them. I tell my daughter that homemade gifts are my favorite or something like a homemade pass where she will clean out / wash my car. It sounds presumptuous, but I have had people tell me that it takes the pressure off of them about what to get me.

As for giving gifts, I usually try to find little gifts that are meaningful. Last year I gave my doctor a pack of Harry Potter pencils because I knew she enjoyed the series; this year I gave out url addresses for Mixwit tapes, each created especially for the recipient. I also preface gift-giving by stating that there will be no hard feelings if I have chosen poorly and they decide to return it or regift it. Seems to work out better for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Michelle J: I'm more than a little bit worried about your designation of your therapist as "very loved".

Regarding other gifts:
Every year I choose one person to give a gift to that has never received one from me before, and that is not at all expecting it, and from whom I have absolutely no expectation of receiving one in return. It comes to them as a complete (and I hope pleasant) surprise. It might be because they were particularly kind or helpful to me at some point during the year, or because they are a person who is helpful to others. It isn't a particularly extravagant gift. The idea is to present something thoughtful that is a complete surprise, because it is giving to someone that does not have the expectation of a gift that is the most satisfying kind of gift to give.

Anonymous said...

This is a very timely post. I just gave a gift to a friend which was a book. It turned out she already had it. I offered to exchange it but she indicated that there was no need as she would re-gift it. Not a thank you or any expression of appreciation. I was more than a bit snarky. I also think she needs to go to Dinah’s school of gift receiving.

itsjustme said...

I don't like the thoughtless, obligatory gifts. Somehow, three of my co-workers and I got in the habit of pitching in $20 each for a gift cards for each other for birthdays and Christmas. So, we all pay $60 and all receive $60 gift cards. I think this type of "gift giving" is pointless and has absolutely no meaning. Frankly, I would rather just keep my money and spend it at a store of my choice but if I told them that, I would be a major Scrooge. Oh, office politics!!! I guess I will just keep my mouth shut and hope they choose someplace good!!

jcat said...

Well, this year I decided that the year had gone well enough to give my very loved (sorry, wetnurse, but he is!) something that he'd a)appreciate, b)be surprised by and c)dispose of immediately!

The first two were obvious, but in the interim it joined his left bottom drawer hoard. Yep, finally gave up the last couple years of hoarded meds (kept for when I really need to be sure that I will die when I do it) because we at last found the pdrug that works for me. For now, for a while, whatever. But for now it feels ok not to have that way out.

Ok, he would probably have liked cookies as well, but that worked as a good present to give a shrink!

Unknown said...

When a patient gives you a gift, do you keep it in your office?

Anonymous said...

Wow! If I were your psychiatrist I don't know if I'd be thrilled you handed over your hoarded stash or horrified you had it and presumably had accumulated it secretly during the year.

jcat and MichelleJ
My psychiatrist is very loved also and I have no apologies. I like the poem and photo of the chair idea. I am giving my psychiatrist a bottle of pinot noir that I had help picking out at COPIA The American Center for Wine in Napa. However, after reading the recommendations on Shrink Rap, I will also write a note telling him he's the best psychiatrist in the world. He accepted wine from me last year and we did not spend the session discussing the gift's meaning, so I don't expect to have my gift rejected or examined this year either. I give gifts to my veterinarian and hair dresser, too.

Dinah said...

Tigermom: If it belongs in the office, yes. This is rare. Mostly patients don't give me gifts, and when they do, it's usually food, and I generally take it home to eat it.
People sometimes give me things they want me to put in my waiting room, and I generally oblige. If another patient (or guest) comments they like it, I tell the gift-er that other people have enjoyed it.

Michelle said...

Hey guys,
Just wanted to let you know that i gave my therapist the gift today of the photo of her chair with poem and she loved it!! Well, she said she did! I gave it to her at the end of the session so i didn't actually see her opening it!!!

Oh and a chocolate brownie!!!


DermPathGirl said...

Thanks for the link to "Heifer International". It is a charitable gift giving agency that donates animals, in particular, to needy families in under privileged areas of the world. There is a creature great or small for a budget great or small. I chose a goat, but a share in water buffalo would have been an interesting gift (and no wrapping)