By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. Jan. 7, 2014
There are many circumstances to gift exchanges, including traditions, hospitality, and romances. Although these gestures are often associated with goodwill and thoughtfulness, gifts can also become temptations, garbage, and good ol’ white elephants. Despite the occasional awkwardness that comes with gift giving, nothing compares to the gross attitude of returning gifts.
It often stuns me to see the line-up at department stores, set up specifically for returns. After the holiday season, consumers will find a day to gather all the unopened gifts they’ve received from Aunt Jane or Uncle Paul and return them for store credits—or if they’re lucky, money back. Maybe sometimes Aunt June and Uncle Paul will give their approval for returning their gifts, but who really has the gall to ask?
There is a stigma that comes with returning gifts, and rightly so. Purchasing presents can often be a stressful chore. Shopping malls become a battlefield, so much so that gift receivers should feel grateful that they got anything at all. But no! The onus should be on the giver to find the perfect gift and not simply settle once their feet are tired from doing the third lap around Metrotown. If you are going to buy someone something, make sure it is something they want, need, or will at least have a chuckle at.
Giving a gift with no thought behind it can be more insulting than not giving a gift at all. Sometimes people say, “It’s the thought that counts.” Well, was there really any thought at all? Sure you might’ve thought about them, but you didn’t consider their personality, their wants and desires, or even if they wanted you to give them a gift at all—because, hey, maybe they didn’t think about you. Not all your acquaintances will consider you gift-worthy, and they might simply omit you from their list for shopping-sanity reasons. So if you can’t confirm that the person enjoys chocolate, save the Ferrero Rocher for someone else; if you can’t confirm that the person enjoys reading, don’t buy a book (a.k.a. homework); and if you can’t confirm that the person wants a tacky antique figurine in their home, well I want it, I love tacky stuff.
Gift giving is an art form; skilled gift givers can read someone, assess their relationship with that person, and offer something of value. But after the gift is exchanged, it no longer belongs to the gift giver; it belongs to the receiver, and it’s theirs to do with as they please. Should they choose to return it, re-gift it, or allow it to sit on the shelf until your next visit—to show you how much they care—that is up to them.
Never condemn someone for returning your gifts, because giving a gift is all about making someone happy. Burdening them with your lack of thought is not what you intended, so suck up your pride—it was never really about you.