Gifts That Make You Go Hmmm

Wolf and Sheep receiving bad giftsHaving wrapped up a great Christmas, which included some very thoughtful and well selected gifts from loved ones, I’m reminded of some of the truly blech gifts of Christmases past.

Gift giving is not the point of the holidays, I realize, but it is an important tradition for many. And since we’re going to be giving gifts, let’s not give bad ones, huh?

I present to you the six worst gifts I’ve lived.

This is going to sound petty, but I don’t enjoy “experience gifts”. I think my main beef with the experience gift is that it involves the gift giver doing the thing with you, which makes it just as much a gift for him or her as it is for you. And that is, frankly, bullshit. I’m not being materialistic; the experience gift creases me because of the lack of focus, not the lack of goods. When selecting a gift for someone you should be thinking about what’s in it for her exclusively (and I’m switching pronouns from the neutral “him or her” to the specific “her” here, because the worst perpetrators of experience gifts are, far and away, men giving selfish or stupid gifts to women).

Which brings me to bad gift #1: tickets to The Nutcracker (fifth row seats). Okay, so right about now, this article’s readership is breaking into three distinct groups: those of you who are thinking, “Awww, that sounds lovely! This woman is INSANE, a night at the ballet with someone you love is one of the most thoughtful gifts I can imagine!”; those of you who are thinking, “Nutcracker, meh, boring, but it could have been worse”; and those of you who are thinking, “ACK! Dang you Nutcracker! With your creepy giant paper mache nutcracker heads for half the ballerinos (what is a male ballet dancer called?) and creepy giant paper mache rat heads for the other half! You will give me nightmares! I hate you, Nutcracker! WHY would ANYONE ever write a ballet about nutcrackers?! Nutcrackers are scary all by themselves without imaging them come to life!”

I fall into this third category.

And my hatred for The Nutcracker is something I talk about basically every Christmas when the advertisements begin to assault the public. Nonetheless, my college boyfriend got me fifth row seats at The Nutcracker for our second Christmas. A gift which made it clear that he did not listen to me, ever. Or that, if he did listen to me, what he heard was something like, “blah blah blah NUTCRACKER!”

This is an aside, but I hate the movie “Gone with the Wind” ““ Rhett Butler is an ass, Scarlett O’Hara is an ass, Ashley Wilkes is an ass, the antebellum south is an ass ““ there’s nothing about this movie that I like, except maybe the curtain dress, though I prefer the curtain lederhosen from “The Sound of Music”. Yet, despite my complete disdain for “Gone with the Wind”, while playing one of those “how well do you know your mate?” type board games this same boyfriend listed “Gone with the Wind” as my favorite movie. Which definitely confirmed my suspicion that when I was saying “I bloody hate “˜Gone with the Wind’! That movie can kick rocks!” What he heard was “Blah blah blah “˜Gone with the Wind’ blah blah rocks!”

Anyway, back to bad gift #1, if the adage, “it’s the thought that counts” is right, and I think it is, the Nutcracker tickets blew by all accounts. And the boyfriend definitely enjoyed it more than I did, and not just because I hated every moment of it, but because he seemed to relish dressing up, feeling important, and telling people he got me this great gift. AND, this is very, very petty, we had set a price limit on our gifts for each other, and while I scraped together every last penny of the limit so that I could buy him the leather jacket that he wanted (this was in the 90s, people), the two Nutcracker tickets together were under our limit (meaning just my ticket, which (petty, yes) is all that I think should count as the present) was less than half our budget. And the dinner before the show? Chili’s. Not only was this gift a complete boner, this type of gift was the guy’s calling card. For my birthday that year, I got extremely tacky lingerie (“Oh, is this for ME? Thank you.”), and for our anniversary I got, once again, tickets, this time to a concert that he wanted to see. The concert ended up being cancelled because the lead singer got pneumonia, and, no, I was not treated to a replacement concert of my choosing.

Bad gift #2: a self-help book for sensitive people. “Merry Christmas, you have a bad personality.”

Bad gift #3: nothing. We’ve all had lean holidays, but tightening the purse strings on gifts only works when you stop shopping for yourself too. When you tell your loved ones you can’t exchange gifts because you’re broke and then proceed to buy yourself a bunch of stuff, you look like kind of a bum. And money barely matters anyway, some of my favorite gifts have been very inexpensive, and homemade gifts are pretty universally appreciated. This especially goes for Valentine’s Day. I completely agree that V-Day is a racket, and spending a lot of money can be really out of order, but how crushing is it when you make cupcakes for your Valentine and pick up a cool book for him or her that you found at a used book store (price tag, $2) and get a, “Oh, are we doing Valentine’s Day this year?”

Bad gift #4: some crap you found lying around outside. Meaningless objects make meaningless gifts. If you find something cool outside, like iron pyrite, or a mid-century modern blondie style end table, please do pick it up and give it to the person who will appreciate it. But if you find some cheap jewelry that fell off of someone else and landed on the ground, don’t bother giving it to your girlfriend, and definitely don’t present it with a tagline like, “I found this in the dirt when I was out riding my bike”¦and I thought of you, do you want it?”

Bad gift #5: a diamond necklace. With the exception of this gift, the gifts on this list have happened to me personally, the inappropriate diamond necklace, however, happened to my sister. One Christmas, many years ago, my sister brought her new boyfriend home to meet our parents. My boyfriend of three years was also in attendance. Christmas Eve night my sissy and I stayed up late talking and she confessed that she was kinda, sorta thinking about breaking up with her guy because she just wasn’t feeling it. On Christmas morning, he gave her a diamond necklace. Awkward.

This was made especially hilarious by the fact that my boyfriend at the time gave me a board game (did I mention we’d been dating for three years?). In the game givers defense, it was my favorite game and we didn’t have any money at the time, so it was actually a very sweet gift, but it made for an absurd contrast. My sister broke up with the premature diamondator about a week later. He refused to take the necklace back. She gave it to me.

So, fellas, if you’ve been dating a girl for somewhere in the neighborhood of 1-2 months, don’t give her a diamond necklace. Unless you’re Jay-Z.

Bad gift #6: clothes that are too big”¦or too small. This is tricky. But basically, unless you know exactly what size someone is or you’re buying something that doesn’t have to fit exactly, like a sweatshirt, stick with scarves, gloves, hats, and bags, because clothes that are too big say, “You look bigger than you actually are” and clothes that are too small say, “Wow, I didn’t realize you were that big.” At least to neurotic women that’s what these clothes say. And some of us (me) are neurotic.

Honorable mention: I was given a treadmill for my 24th birthday. We all know why giving exercise equipment is wrong, no need to discuss it. And I know I said I wanted a treadmill, Mother, but it was still embarrassing to get one for my birthday! I love you, Momsy.

I hope that, in addition to revealing myself as the shallow, gift miser that I am, this little musing helps you to reflect on some of the good gifts you’ve received, and more importantly, the good people who gave them to you.

But while we’re in the muck for a moment, post your truly terrible gifts so we can all commiserate!

[Author’s Note: the terrible boyfriend gifts came from various boyfriends, lest the Nutcracker boyfriend be blamed for everything.]

9 replies on “Gifts That Make You Go Hmmm”

All I wanted for Christmas in 8th grade was a CD player. My dad, bless his God loving heart, gave me a sewing maching. Now, I was 14 and not interested in sewing, and used it like maybe 3 times. It sat and collected dust for years. I got the CD player the next year.
I would give ANYTHING to have that sewing machine now, for 2 reasons: my dad has alzheimers, and I feel guilty for having not liked his well meaning, however not well thought out, gift…and second, I would now like to learn how to sew.

The worst gift I ever got was a Christmas gift from one of my brothers. It was a big plaster lamp stand (no lamp shade mind you) in sickly pastel shades, of a fairy girl hugging a tree. (God, I hope she was hugging that tree.) There might have been a woodland animal or two gambolling at the base of the tree but my mind has blocked out much of the detail. And there was glitter. Lots of glitter.

Oh and I was in my early 30s when I got this gift. I still haven’t figured out what the hell he was thinking.

I realise this makes me a huge asshole, but here it is: For my graduation gift my mother bought me a sari. An expensive sari. A beautiful sari, that I like quite a bit. Except… after finishing 10 years of post-secondary I get 6 yards of bedazzled fabric that I’ll only be able to wear two or three times at most? Her reasoning was that she wanted me to look good (read: keep up with the trends) at my cousin’s wedding knowing that I couldn’t afford a new sari on my own. The gesture was nice, but I really wish she’d gotten me something that I could cherish for the next 50 years that reflected how much I sacrificed putting myself through school.

Oh! Oh! Oh! My Grandma had given me a knitted sweater/vest for my birthday, which is at the beginning of December (I think I was 11ish). About a week later she asked if I could bring it by because she wanted to check something with it. Christmas rolls around and my sister and I BOTH received knitted sweater/vests. Mine was the EXACT one I had been given for my birthday. My Grandma had decided to make one for my sister too and to give them both to us at the same time… 29 some years later and that still bugs the crap out of me. The kicker is that I didn’t really like it all that much in the first place (which, since I lost my grandma last year, makes me feel like a horrible, horrible person).

My best bad birthday story is the year my boyfriend didn’t get me a gift, took me out to dinner and then asked me to pick up the tab because he only had a little money and there was a cd he wanted to buy.
As for actual weird gifts, there was the ceramic pig filled with wooden spoons from my grandmother when I was twelve, the polyester purple snake-skin print blouse from my mother (who usually has much better instincts) and anyone who has ever given me a chocolate assortment box of candy.  I LOVE chocolate, but I hate chocolate mixed with fruity stuff or coconut so the big assortment boxes are maddening because I am tempted by all the pretty sweets, but there’s only a few I actually like.

Ah yes… the clothes dilemma. I’ve trained my mom out of this habit. As of right now, however, I have a puffy winter vest from my sister-in-law and pants from my mother-in-law; both two sizes too big – the vest could be okay with much under laying, but I can put on and take off the pants without undoing the button and zipper. My husband apparenly told them my size and then they decided he was full of crap. I’m mostly just entertained because they are both lovely and really do mean well… and I can at least exchange them for the proper size.

OH I LOVE this. I’m an incredibly neurotic gift-giver and -receiver as well. Let me think of terrible gifts. Hmmm…well, this year I got a potato masher in my stocking and my husband was like, “What? I thought you would think it was funny?” Personally, even though I love to cook and will actually USE that masher (and the food scale and the rice cooker, which were from other relations), I HATE getting appliances and foodey stuff because I feel like it drives home the woman’s-place-is-in-the-kitchen mentality my relatives all possess.

My mother-in-law gets big ups for giving me a gift card and a movie pass instead of listening to my husband when he recommended, “Uhh….pizza stone?” Fuck pizza stones. I really want one, but fuck them.

The curtain dress in Gone With the Wind is one of my favorite outfit repurposing in a movie.  Ten times better than what Molly Ringwald did to her prom dress in Pretty in Pink.
My college boyfriend gave me the worst gifts ever.  The worst gift he ever gave me was the Napoleon Dynamite DVD.  I didn’t really like that movie, but he gave it to me for Christmas…and then again on my birthday 6 months later. 

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