Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Wine not a good gift. Gloves good gift.
Last month when Prime Minister Brown of England came to visit our new president, he presented Barack with an amazing gift: a "pen holder crafted from the timbers of the 19th century British warship HMS President (whose sister ship, HMS Resolute, provided the wood for the Oval Office's desk)" and his wife brought the two First-daughters "dresses from the UK's trendy Top Shop (with matching necklaces) and a selection of books by British authors."
In return the Obamas presented PM Brown with a collection of greatest American movie DVDs (which won't work in a British DVD player) and the Brown boys were given replicas of the AirForce One helicopters that looked suspiciously like they came from the White House Gift Shop.
Barack got out-gifted.
I truly feel his pain. You see, I live in Glenview where I have been for the past 13 years constantly out-gifted by the women here.
This is NOT, I assure you a matter of money. It is a matter of good manners, good taste, and a little thought all of which I apparently possess very little of.
It has taken me some time to get used to this. There is a complicated and intricate set of gift-giving customs here that could take an anthropologist years to decode but I think that I have finally cracked it so I will share with you what I have learned. If you ever move here (or if you live somewhere simlilar) you will then avoid the embarassment of being "out-gifted" which is the term (I think) I made up for this.
Here are the rules:
1. Hostess Gift: This should be a tasteful, never too-expensive, very thoughtful gift for the lady of the home. Under no circumstances is it to be a bottle of wine you grabbed from the fridge. Wine is only acceptable if it is a very, very good (again, not necessarily expensive) bottle of wine in an incredibly creative bag (like one made of red and white santa velvet for Christmas). Over the years I have been the recipient of some amazingly creative hostess gifts such as a pair of rubber gloves fashioned after some worn by Bree VanDeKamp on "Desperate Housewives", a wine stopper with our initials engraved on it, and a bejewelled pair of ice-tongs. I believe that the smart cookie buys these things as she discovers them and keeps them on hand for special events so she is never caught grabbing a bottle of Chuck Shaw Chardonnay on her way out the door. I am not a smart cookie.
2. Holiday gift for neighbor: Here I have been so out-gifted by my neighbor Sue Ruch year after year that my children have coined a phrase "you got Ruched" meaning "you're a thoughtless clod whose idiocy was made clear when you both opened your gifts". Now in my defense, I do have to buy Christmas presents for my husband, my children, my husband from my children, my children from my husband, my sister, my brothers, their children, my parents, my grandmother, the teachers, the bus-driver, my two former co-workers, and don't forget the mailman and the newspaper carrier. So by the time I get to the last half of the list sometimes I do not give it the thought it deserves. This is not really much of a defense as Sue has to buy for a lot of people too and manages to find something amazing for me each year. One year (and I am not making this up) I was horrified as she showed up with a hand-made bag (yes, the gift came in an adorable bag she made that I could use as a purse) with cocktail napkins with funny sayings on them (I collect those), and coffee mugs that matched my newly decorated kitchen. As I was opening and exclaiming over these delights she was gamely making a fuss over the home decorating book I had grabbed in the sale bin at Walgreens which was not so cleverly wrapped in Christmas paper and no bow.
I vowed never to be Ruched again and now I go online and find great stuff for her sometimes weeks in advance. My goal is to actually out-gift her some year. If that's not the spirit of giving I don't know what is.
3. Teacher Gifts: These can be classic gifts but never useless tchockes (how the hell do you spell that word?) No paper weights or "World's Greatest Teacher" mugs, puh-leaze! Engraved stationary or a donation to their favorite charity are okay. In addition (yes, that's not enough) you should contribute to the class gift which is usually a generous gift card or even (again not kidding) jewelry from Tiffany's.
4. Others: Do not forget the bus-driver, the crossing-guard (you will have both if your kids are spread out in age), the mailman, the soccer coach, gymnastics teacher, piano teacher, and your hairdresser. A small gift-card is perfectly fine as long as it is tucked inside a thoughtful note written on your personal stationary. Oh, you don't have personal stationary? Well, you'd better get some.
Okay, well, I guess that's enough of a lesson for today. I'll forward this on to Barack and maybe with all his spare time after he fixes the economy, cures health care, and brokers peace in the middle east he can focus on what really counts: not getting out-gifted by the British.