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‘Tis the Season for Giving…In Equal Monetary Value

20 Dec 2010

I gave a friend her Christmas gift early this year because she’s going home for the holidays and I wanted to give her sufficient time to exchange or return her gift. At breakfast one day, she mentioned needing a new wallet. So, I went to a department store and bought her a wallet. When I gave it to her and explained why I bought it, she looked dismayed and said she’d bought herself a new one already. I told her I wouldn’t be offended in the least if she exchanged or returned it. She did–and then freaked out over the amount I paid for her gift. I bought her a leather Coach wallet because so many people seem to like the brand (probably since it’s the cheapest low-end of all the luxury brands). Like any other time I buy gifts for people, I didn’t think anything of the price when I bought the wallet.

I’m the queen of practical gifts. When I’m gift-shopping, the only thing in my head is “What does this person need?” For one of my sisters, it’s long, down coat (that’s still stylish because she’s that type of girl) since it’s a lengthy walk from the train station to her office and the temperatures here can hit -40 degrees Celsius, which, coincidentally, equals -40 degrees Fahrenheit (-50 degrees C is the coldest I’ve experienced here, but that’s very, very rare). For my parents, it’s a gift certificate to Home Hardware because they’re doing repairs and renovations on their home. (I tried buying them a new washer and dryer set last year, but they made me return it, so I got them a GC this year because I can’t return that and they know I can’t use the GC myself.) Thus, when I was shopping for my friend, I thought she needed a wallet, so I bought her a wallet and barely glanced at the price tag.

I know there are people out there who follow some strange rule about only exchanging gifts of equal monetary value. (See “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis” episode of The Big Bang Theory.) I never gave this rule much thought because it seems so…cold and almost mercenary. It’s a gift, something you give to another person to make them happy. And it makes me happy to make other people happy. The best thing I can receive in return is my sister squealing and hugging me…even though she knows I’m not a touchy-feely person. More importantly, just because I give someone an expensive gift doesn’t mean I expect the same in return. It’s not a gift if you expect reciprocation. If you do, then you might as well skip the whole gift giving thing.

And yet, after my friend’s reaction, I wonder if I did something bad. I’m now worried she’s going to feel obligated to get me something in that price range even though she’s still tackling student debt. *sigh* Perhaps in future I should follow that equal-monetary-value-gift rule for people outside of my immediate family and significant other.

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