Something recently occurred to me, a guilt-lifting epiphany on gift giving, gift getting and the ever-questionable regifting.
I was shopping in Bed Bath & Beyond the other day and pondering what to buy for Christmas for my in-laws who don't need a darned thing, and certainly not a $59.99 Everlast Reflex punching bag on a stick, which surely must fall ï»¿in the "Beyond" category. After all, they're actually trying to purge stuff -- like dozens of jigsaw puzzles with pieces missing and my sis-in-law's collection of every iteration of Mr. Potato Head. Yes, even Darth Tater.
Anyway, I can't not get them something. I want to express my love, but not through an impersonal gift card or frivolous item that will find its way to the Dark Side of their giveaway pile and cause them angst at the possibility of hurting my feelings and, well, that's what reminded me of the peacock.
The infamous peacock in Hill family lore arrived one holiday from Mr. Brown, a really nice man who worked with my dad in his electrical transformer company, a dear family friend with an ever-present smile and the home decor sensibilities of a man who worked at an electrical transformer company.
The pheasant was a ceramic sculpture, and it was not small, possibly the actual size of a teenage peacock. It did not bear the glorious blues and greens of such fowl found in nature, but had that mercurial, iridescent glaze that changes in the light, so it was sort of bluish, then purplish, then almost blackish -- rather like a bruise.
You shouldn't have
"Oh! Well! That certainly is a peacock, isn't it?!" my mom said, articulately. We thanked Mr. Brown, placed the objectionable d'art in a spot of honor on our midcentury modern hi-fi (big, wooden iPod), and he left. We looked at the peacock. We hated the peacock. Yet we kept the peacock for many years. Oh, not out in the open. Don't be silly. It was stuffed in the back of the linen closet until Mr. Brown came over. Then it would make a cameo appearance on the hi-fi. It finally succumbed to injuries received in an "accidental" confrontation with the kitchen floor. Even before its demise, we never considered regifting it. That wasn't even a word back then, and you just didn't do that.
All this came back to me as I examined a $12.99 time/space projection alarm clock and thinking it would make the perfect regift, and it suddenly occurred that maybe he, Mr. Brown, had regifted the peacock himself! Maybe someone, say, a distant cousin, had bestowed the horror upon him and he was just trying to get rid of it. Here I'd spent all this time thinking this poor dear man had really bad taste when perhaps he had more sense than we did to foist the foul fowl on somebody else!
Maybe not. But my guilt for hating that thing was instantly assuaged.
Better to give?
So here we are, almost in 2013, when regift finally is a word -- I think -- and it's become OK to do it. A recent study in the journal Psychological Science found that the original gift-giver is less likely to be offended by someone regifting a gift than the regifter might imagine. Also, an American Express consumer poll found 76 percent of shoppers believe the practice is fine, especially during the holidays.
That's great, but in the immortal words of the Wicked Witch of the West conjuring a plan to off Dorothy: "These things must be done DELLL-icately." And for delicate things, one seeks out not a wicked witch but an etiquette expert for help. I contacted Oakland's Sarah Kidder, who recently initiated Return to Sender Day, an amnesty day on which to get back or return borrowed stuff and save friendships in the process. As regifting seemed related, she was kind enough to offer some advice. Things like:
1. "When you receive a gift, it really is yours to do with as you please, so there is no need for guilt about regifting. You should, however, keep it to yourself that you are regifting so as not to hurt the donor's feelings.
2. "Whether you keep and enjoy or regift it, always begin by saying thank you -- and I prefer the traditional hand written thank-you note when possible -- and mean it. You don't have to pretend that you like the gift as much as offer appreciation for the gesture of the gift itself. That's how you get around lying about liking things that you don't care for."
3. And above all, "don't regift the item back to the person who gave it to you." D'oh!
Well, cool. I feel better now. I just hope my mother-in-law likes her time/space projection alarm clock. Maybe I'll get it back next year!