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More on gift-giving

Posted by Robin Abrahams  September 25, 2012 08:54 AM

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I'll be on WGBH "Boston Public Radio" this afternoon at about 1pm, to discuss my Sunday Perspectives piece on gift-giving. The main argument of the piece is that gift-giving is tricky because in the year 2012, we all have too much stuff and not enough money

Etiquette can't fix the paradoxes of late capitalism, but these were the three tips I offered as a way of making upcoming holiday shopping as painless and meaningful as possible: 

Give experiences. The best present is a cherished memory. Tickets to a concert, play, or sporting event make wonderful gifts. A friend gave her wife trapeze lessons for her birthday--something she won't forget any time soon. If you usually exchange gifts with friends, suggest spending the money together on a fancy dinner or a paintball excursion. 

But experience gifts are best given to people you know well (trapeze lessons are not a welcome surprise to everyone). So for others, give something that can be used up or passed on--such as a bottle of wine, a picture frame, or a set of spices. And buy these things in multiples; your creativity should be spent on gifts for close friends and family. 

Finally, try to make buying the present as meaningful as giving it. Shop with friends and take a break for coffee or cocktails. Host a gift-making craft night. Shop your values by supporting the artists and performers whose work you enjoy, and the bakers, beekeepers, and booksellers who live near you. If any of those artists or beekeepers are your friends, buy from them instead of for them and give their goods as gifts.

I've been mulling over two other tips that I didn't put into the article because--well, because of word length mostly, but also because they apply somewhat more to shower/graduation giving than holidays. Tell me what you think of these: 

Tit-for-tat is overrated. What's the proper thing to do if someone gives you a Christmas gift and you didn't have one for them? Thank them sincerely, enjoy the gift, and buy them a cup of coffee the next time you get the chance. Really. It's not the end of the world. And if you are somewhat financially embarrassed, and you have a friend who isn't, don't worry if their presents to you are fancier and more expensive than the reverse. 

And the one where I'm going to start flying in the face of traditional, white-lace "etiquette": 

If people need money, give them money. This is more true for wedding and baby and other life-transition gifts than for the holidays, but it still holds. Money isn't a crass gift if it's what someone needs.

What are your thoughts on present-buying best practices? And tune in to GBH (89.7) at 1 -- I'm not sure if we're taking calls or not, but we might be, so get your questions and stories ready!
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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