I know it’s a little early for a conversation about gifts, but the subject came up tonight…
Awwww man (the best I could do for a whiny groan in print–FunFact: my autocorrect function had defaulted to the word “prison” as I was typing “print”. Seriously?? Does the word “prison” come up that often in everyday conversation? I wouldn’t know, I guess.)
OK, where was I? Oh yes–back to my whiny groan.
Just when I thought there might be hope for me after all, in terms of getting the world all nice and figured out, society pulls another fast one on me. Kind of like playing a puzzle-oriented video game, the kind that re-scrambles all the pieces when you unexpectedly advance to the next level.
Totally not fair.
It all started when I was reading Samantha Craft’s excellent book, and I came to the part where she’s describing friendships and some of the etiquette faux pas she’s committed. One of which is that you’re not supposed to receive a wrapped gift and, before unwrapping it, ask, “is this a framed photo?”
I stopped dead in my tracks and stared at my partner. “Wait–what? That’s a no-no? You’re not supposed to do that?” (Meanwhile thinking, oh shit to myself, wondering how many times I had done exactly that, and who I might have put off or offended in the process. Or how uncouth they regarded me as a result.)
He closed his eyes and paused, smiling faintly, the way he does when he’d really like to say, “if you have to ask, you’ll never understand”, which is actually a lot less crass and more good-natured than it sounds, and simply said, “…no.”
Yeah, apparently, you’re not supposed to do that, and apparently, everybody else already–somehow–knows this.
It’s a “given” for everybody else. It was news to me.
I thought that particular prohibition was silly. I mean, if someone gives someone else a gift, who is the focus directed toward? Who is the benefit for? Whose moment is it? Aside from a thank-you and a gesture of gratitude, isn’t the moment really supposed to be chiefly for the recipient’s benefit? Aren’t gifts supposed to be given with no strings attached? If the recipient can identify what’s in the box, how is that considered rude or a slight of any kind to the gift-giver?
Aye, aye, aye.
I asked my partner these questions. He simply said you’re not supposed to try to guess what it is; it removes the “surprise” part.
To which I replied, “well, duh. If I can tell what the gift is, then by definition I already know what it is, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing; I’m thankful either way and it doesn’t take away from the moment.”
I was shocked to learn that apparently, it does….for the gift-giver.
But it’s not supposed to be about the giver; the benefit is for the recipient.
Except that (or except when) it’s not.
As if I don’t have enough etiquette issues to wade through. As if I’m not self-conscious enough when receiving gifts, what with the constant self-checking and all. To make sure I’ve expressed the appropriate emotion within the appropriate time-frame. To make sure I say the right things and do everything right, to boot.
And now this. An innocent blurt is apparently off-limits, according to the arbitrary, nonsensical maze that society calls “etiquette”.
I’m sure I’ve blurted out what I think the wrapped package holds. I’m just as pretty-sure that I was pretty proud of myself for being able to guess correctly, too. And I was not any less grateful, either.
My partner explained that if you guess, it’s no longer a surprise. Well of course not, but just who is supposed to be surprised, and just who is the one who is supposed to do the surprising? The giver already knows what’s in the box; I think would be silly to worry about the element of surprise for the gift-giver’s sake. If it doesn’t bother the recipient to know what the present is already, then no harm, no foul, right?
Apparently, I’m wrong again.
My partner said, “that’s just one of those unwritten societal rules.” (I’m pushing 40 and I hadn’t a clue before tonight.)
Half-humorous and half-haughty, I launched into a diatribe about how (I personally think) things Ought To Be. “Well, if society expects me to know and follow these rules, their rules, well then, they should write them down. I mean, if they’re so important that people get butt hurt over an innocent faux pas, then it’s important enough to take the time to write them down, right?”
My partner responded, but he didn’t have anything new to say.
Not all of us are psychic, after all. Some of us just don’t see the logic behind some of society’s silly customs. (Because often, there isn’t any logic to be seen in the first place.) But hey, at least it’s amusing. And (I hope) I probably don’t have to worry too much about dementia, since it learning new things is thought to combat dementia, and well, I’m always learning new things. 🙂
(Image Credit: Tomoki Hayasaka)