Judging the gift by its cover: contents don’t matter

In my continuing quest to understand American gift-giving norms, I decided to test, (albeit informally,) my theory that the wrapping paper matters more than the present. Not that you can just give total crap and get away with it, (“Why is there a moldy shoe in this box?”) but that a mediocre gift paired with nice presentation will be appreciated more than a nice gift with bad presentation.

In the past, I have put a lot of (somewhat sporadic) effort into gifts, without feeling like they were much appreciated. I don’t mean that I received inadequate ego-stroking praise; I mean that I collected seedpods on a nearby mountain to grow flowers to give to a relative, and then when I returned again to their house, pot and flowers were gone and I never received so much as a thank you. Heck, I’ve been groused at because large, hand-crafted items arrived a week late because the months spent on them ran over by a few days.

You might say “fuck them,” but family is something I have to deal with, whether I want to or not.

Was it the dirty flowerpot? My habitual lateness?

So this time, I grabbed a mediocre item I happened to have lying around and didn’t want, and that the recipient already had. It’s not a terrible item–it’s in good enough condition to still fit the gift category. Ten minutes before time to go, I hauled out the craft supplies and wrapped it up. (I can wrap anything, including soccer balls. I suspect it’s a side effect of being good at mentally rotating objects.) The net effect of ribbons and bows and paper and sparkles looked pretty darn good–much better than my usual technique of wrapping things in newspaper.

And success! Gift was actually appreciated (I even received a thank you.)

From now on, I am not trying so damn hard.

I Suck at Holidays

I mean, I’d like to enjoy holidays. I’m pretty sure a lot of people actually do enjoy them, so they have an abstract sort of appeal, like tomatoes. But when I bite into a real tomato, all I get is a mouthful of wretched, vile mush.

I like Halloween. Nothing horrible happens on Halloween, and costumes and candy are fun.

It’s only been in the past 2 or 3 years that I finally figured out why people exchange gifts at Christmas (and other holidays)–establishing trading/exchange networks with people in times of plenty means you can invoke those networks in times of trouble and people will think you a trustworthy trade partner who will pay them back later–and sort-of why they give each other lingerie (it has something to do with a Pavlovian association between underwear and genitals, as a means of signaling to someone that you’d like to mate with them. Frankly, that seems needlessly complicated since people can talk.) (I still don’t understand why people wear Victoria Secret’s “Pink” clothing line.)

The main point of holidays, I think, is to cement social, religious, or cultural ties. The 4th of July and Thanksgiving unite us as Americans (unless you are not an American, in which case you can substitute the best holiday you have); Christmas is about Christians and family; Passover is about Judaism and family. They’re all supposed to be fun, happy times spent with others.