Some people are really good at gifting. They buy gifts, they send gifts, they give gifts and they receive gifts as if it is the most natural thing to do. They give chocolate and scented candles and picture frames on special days, and little knickknacks when they come back from trips. They make the giving look like the easiest thing to do.
They are not tormented by deep existential questions when they reach for gloves or scarves or whatever crosses their field of vision when they embark on the traditional pre-Christmas eve hunting expedition.
I, on the other hand, can struggle with gifting questions that can practically solve the meaning of life before I decide what to give, even when it's something small. Are they going to like it? Is it usable? Should I get a couple of things? What would it say about me if I give X? Do these things convey what I want them to convey? Does the receiver already have it? Will it make me look like a total ass if I give this thing? Am I making a total faux-pa?
Furthermore, while giving can be quite complicated, receiving can be just as awkward. I will never forget how strange it was for me to open gifts in front of a cheering crowd during the baby shower for my daughter. In Israel, as far as I remember, we don't open gifts in front of the givers. But here people take pictures of you when you open their gifts so you have to be really careful with whatever expression that pops into your face or you'd live to regret it for the rest of your life.
So as a result of the daunting uncertainties that accompany the gift giving season, when the holidays come upon me I usually want to go into hiding. But this year things turned out quite well.
When I asked my daughter what she would have liked to get for Christmas-Hanukkah she asked for an IOU without specifying the dollar amount. This, she said, would be provided at a later date when the dust settles after the holidays. [not her exact words, but in this vicinity.]
Great, I'm raising a shrewd businesswoman, my brain alarm noted quietly. Not that I didn't know it already. However, since this absolved me from going to the mall to fight the crowds in search of stuff, I was more than happy to comply.
But what about the other people I want to gift?
Coincidentally, I came across Dan Ariely's blog during my philosophical contemplation on the meaning of gift giving. Ariely is an Israeli-born professor of behavioral economics who writes about all kinds of interesting stuff in a very reader-friendly way. In one of his blog entries he discussed the question of what makes a good gift. He put it out for his readers and after doing all kinds of studies and interviews and such, came up with this answer: “A good gift is something that someone really wants, but feels guilty buying it for themselves.”
Well, this only goes to show that professor Ariely has not met me, the guilt-ridden Israeli-American phenomenon. Because if I feel guilty buying something for myself (because it's too expensive), I would feel ten times more guilty if my guilt-ridden conscious made someone else pay for it.
And since an owner of two Ph.D. degrees and a professor of economics can't figure it out, I had to come up with my own answer. And my answer was exactly the opposite of Ariely's. I realized that I usually give my friends what I would like to have myself. I am the litmus test of gifts. So I give books I would like to read, and movies I would like to watch, and music I would like to hear, and massages and facials I would like to receive, and whatever else I would like to indulge myself in. I am the most self-centered gift giver in the world. If I want it, there is a pretty good chance, you will get it. So watch out.
Just in case you are wondering what to get me this season - you don't need to. I just got the gift I wanted. And Barack Obama gave it to me with the help of some Republican senators.
The repeal of DADT.
For all I care, it is the best xrissmess gift I could have wished for.