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30 November 2009

A Question for the Gift Listers out there. [More:] Some people tend to be hot, some people tend to be cold. Some are introverted, some are extroverted. Some really really really want you to tell them what you want as a hoiday gift, and some are almost incapable of doing this.

I have a lister asking this non-lister for a list. Sounds crazy to me, but she doesn't like to do gift cards, because she likes to see people open stuff. . .that they know they are getting. . .I don't understand, but she says it's easier, please, please, she needs ease this year. . .

So I come up with this: A pair of athletic shoes from brand X, Y, or Z, size 8, designed specifically for running.

A lister friend of mine says this is missing the whole point of the thing, because she'll still have to find and decide on the shoe, and that I should send her a link or something to exactly what I want.

I was thinking that I don't really care down to a specific shoe, and this way she has some flexibility in price or availability.

What do you listers think? Is my agonizingly torn from my brain holiday wish something that will drive the person who always wants to know "What do you WANT!" up the wall?

Other non-listers, how do you deal with list pressure? As I mentioned, gift cards, my default answer, is frowned upon. Donation to a charity in my name also frowned upon, for the same reason - and opening presents fetish.
Thank god I am Jewish.
posted by amro 30 November | 11:48
Argg I can sympathize. I am a non-lister. I don't really want any more stuff. I would like to get rid of stuff in my house, not bring more in. However, my in-laws are big on lists. So every year, I list:

-a new pair of inexpensive slippers
-a new cooking magazine or a cookbook
-um, I can't think of anything else

I like your solution on the running shoes. If you don't care beyond the brand and size, then your relative still has the fun of choosing one (oooohhh, nice blue!) and you will have some small surprise when you open it (wow .. those are very .. BLUE).

Lists sort of spoil the fun for me. I like making mental notes throughout the year and then shopping for things I know they've admired or used up or just need. My MIL needs a new big summer tote beach bag sort of thing. I can see hers is falling apart and she uses it a lot. So I'm getting her a nice new one. There are a couple of hardcover books that I've seen my hubby looking at, and he'll wait and hope they come out in paperback, so I'll splurge on the hardcovers and get those for him. To me that's a lot more fun than being handed a list.

It is fun to watch someone open a present that you've spent some time and effort thoughtfully choosing for them. The list thing to me takes away from the whole act of gift-giving and makes it too much of an obligation. It reduces the spirit of the whole enterprise and makes it rather joyless. On the other hand when I didn't give my in-laws a list, I got some truly strange and awful stuff that is sitting in a closet and taken out only to be marveled at in a can't-look-away-from-the-car-crash sort of way.
posted by Kangaroo 30 November | 11:53
I'm a lister, and when applicable, I send links to the exact thing I want. I like others to do the same, particularly if I know how picky they are (like my youngest sister- I've given up on surprising her with anything, from now on she gets an exact thing she wants or cash), but if I can surprise a person, I will- like the year my Mom tried on some boots with me and really liked them but didn't get them, so I went back to the store and bought them without her knowing. I don't care about surprises, and I'm happy to always get the exact thing I want.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 30 November | 11:57
I think if you phrase it as "I don't have a strong preference, these brands are good, here's my size, and here are a few links of types that I like," it might be a good compromise. My brother and I do that sometimes when the giftee has something quasi-definite in mind (like, "I want a bag that has x and y features and is a, b, or c material and color"); it seems to give the gifter a guideline as well as some latitude. (And if she just wants to buy one of the things you linked, then it's up to her, and at least you don't feel like you handed her a To Do list.)
posted by occhiblu 30 November | 12:21
I hate listing what I want for a gift. It distorts my idea of a gift (something in a pretty box which I'm not expecting, i.e. haven't asked someone to buy me. Truly, I have yet to be disappointed by what was in the box). When pressed for a list, I always pick a couple things off my list of "media I haven't gotten around to buying yet" (books, cds, dvds and video games); chocolate from my favorite artisan chocolate shop; and something that randomly pops into my head.
posted by crush-onastick 30 November | 12:21
There are two reasons some of us are listers:

(1) We hate getting stuff that we don't like, or don't want, or that we already have. Some of us have people in our lives who show up one day and say, "Hey! I bought this really ugly salad bowl at a thrift store. Please take it!" This is very frustrating.

(2) We are afraid of giving people something they don't like, don't want, or already have. We are terrified of it, actually. Because we know what it's like when our demented great-aunt gives us something completely insane like a salad bowl from the 1970s, and we wouldn't want to inflict that upon anyone else, ever.

This is not to say we are ungrateful. We appreciate the thought of a gift. We just don't see why anyone would spend money on something awful, and we feel badly about it when it happens.

In other words, we are people who fail at giving and receiving gifts. For those of us who are listers, it would help a lot if others would make lists. For instance: I want these sneakers, or this salad bowl, or that DVD. We don't get to choose the sneakers or the salad bowl or the DVD, but we do choose the gift at the end of the day. What I mean to say is, "I want a pair of blue running shoes," is not going to help much, because what if the lister buys you the wrong blue running shoes???

The solution to all of this is of course to start and maintain an online wishlist full of stupid things you kind of want and big things you need and stupid things you really want and so forth. This way, no one can ever buy you a present you don't like. And if you build up your wishlist enough, you can still be surprised by a gift.

How many people do you think will buy you gifts this holiday season? Two? Four? Twenty? Fine. Make a list of twenty things you want. You can use the list again next year. Indeed, you can have the fun of adding things to the list every few weeks, if you like. But be exact. Because listers are really petrified of buying you the wrong gift. We're weird people, it's true, but the best gift you can give us is ... you know. A list.
posted by brina 30 November | 12:30
I buy gift stuff throughout the year. Some of it is specific for a guy stuff; most(most=most relatives are gals) is gal stuff. I do pay attention to country of manufacture.

I'll let people know exactly what I want. I list. I've politely as possible pointed out that clothes I have bolts of or are hard to fit, and other stuff may or may not be applicable to my lifestyle. This avoids the 'uh, off into the closet/oh boy, more cubic feet of whatevah in the house' factor above.

I'll give unclassified gifts - I think everybody deserves a room fan made in America (or your homeland of choice) such as the domestic made Vornado models. Kinda bland; but not unlike a chandelier. Even sitting; it exudes something besides its function.

Snow-Peak makes great double wall mugs, Lowa boots and shoes, Black n' Red notebooks, Swatch, Gerber knives, Scotch or wine, and college kids always love a six pack. Of Clorox cleaner. Holidays are so much fun.

I told my grandmother I wanted a big botttle of Centrum vitamins. She will get it for me; and I will think about her every day of the year. Listing by no means denegrates a season of giving.
posted by buzzman 30 November | 12:32
I try to be a lister, but most times I wind up being a not-lister. I try to hint to my mother (who is very much a not-lister) that I have a list because she is horrible at picking out gifts for me. (She has the tendency to pull the passive-agressive card and will buy me clothing that she thinks I should wear, and in smaller sizes than I have ever worn as an 'incentive to lose weight'.)

I do a bit of random gift-picking throughout the year, but it depends on how my fundage looks.

I see nothing wrong with your shoe thing above, because that gives the lister something to work with and you still get to be surprised with whatever they come up with!

(My family sucks at gift-giving anyways, so it's really one of those things where we've all just given up.)
posted by sperose 30 November | 12:49
In other words, we are people who fail at giving and receiving gifts.

Boo, no! I reject that assertion. A gift is a failure when it doesn't make the recipient happy. It doesn't matter if they asked for it or if it was a surprise.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 30 November | 12:59
In other words, we are people who fail at giving and receiving gifts.

Boo, no! I reject that assertion.

As a hardcore non-lister who married into a family of listers, I have to agree with TPS: listers haven't failed at giftgiving; they've got their own way of giving, and it's equally valid and valuable.

A lister friend of mine says this is missing the whole point of the thing, because she'll still have to find and decide on the shoe, and that I should send her a link or something to exactly what I want.

Rainbaby, I kinda agree with your friend. Last year, I tried to give my list-loving in-law a not-list list for our Not-Secret Santa, and she goggled a bit at how non-specific it was. I would have been closer to the spirit of the thing if I'd provided her with some links to items approximating my list.

I think the suggestion above is good: provide a few links to three or four options sounds good, along with the disclaimer that you have no real preference except size, so they should feel free to pick out something you haven't linked. This means they can just click the link and buy the shoe, or they can choose something farther afield.
posted by Elsa 30 November | 13:08
I tend to be a non-lister, mainly because I am lazy. But I will happily list for people who prefer me to. I can always think of things I want.
posted by gaspode 30 November | 13:14
Like TPS & Else, I reject the assertion that list-makers fail at gifts. If given a request list by someone at a gifting-occasion, I'll give something on the list, but I feel ungenerous doing so. That feeling of discomfort is my problem, not the listmakers. It is, for me, however, easier to feel comfortable buying a gift off a list than making a list of things for people to buy me.

That said, I think it's extremely difficult to fail at giving a gift. If you know the person, you know something they like. A gift is just that, something you are given. Any failure is an attitude problem--either on the part of the giver or the receiver. If you really don't know what someone would want for a gift, buy a consumable which you know they like: their favorite booze, their favorite cookie, their perfume.

I find it extremely difficult to be gracious when being asked by someone to tell me what they should give me as a gift. If it's that difficult, perhaps we'd all be better served by your not giving me a gift. I never expect gifts. Not even at Christmas or on my birthday. I love receiving them, but being asked what I want for one makes me sad. So I don't make lists and I am uncomfortable telling people "what I want for Christmas" because seriously, I don't want anything.

If the giver feels that obliged to give me something and is insistent I request something, I feel bad. I feel it's no longer any natural interaction but a burden and a chore. I will ultimately cough up some sort of list. But then I just feel I've sent someone on an errand I could easily have run myself (thus, I list things I intend to buy for myself in the not-distant future). Then I feel it's not a gift and it's hard for me to be gracious. Not hard for me to say thank you. But hard for me to feel like the thought counted. I'd rather receive an unsolicited postcard than a requested present.

Just my two-cents.
posted by crush-onastick 30 November | 13:14
Oh, and especially for stuff like weddings, I ALWAYS buy off the registry. I really want to give people something that they want. I have to be pretty sure what I'm doing if I give someone something else.

(my husband never wants anything. My M.O. now is to give him a new bottle of rye whiskey every year. He likes that.)
posted by gaspode 30 November | 13:15
The whole issue involves strong feeling and traditions, and I really wanted to try to give her a list this year, hearing the stress in her voice, even though it makes me feel guilty, odd, and all the things crush-onastick said. But I agree there are two kinds of people, neither one right or wrong - like Elsa said. So if I want to be nice to her, I guess links are good, with the caveat of the thing or things don't have to be from the links. Thanks listers, for helping me understand.

And Kangaroo, I think we married into the same family.

posted by rainbaby 30 November | 13:31
I hate hate hate making a list. Makes me feel like a beggar. I would rather get nothing than make an exact list. Sadly I do have to make a couple of lists. I really hate it though.
posted by arse_hat 30 November | 14:09
I knew I should have edited out that part about failing at giving/receiving gifts. I guess I should have said we need extra help in that department, which I think is a more valid statement.
posted by brina 30 November | 14:10
Never done one. Never had family or others who have done it either.

We've given and gotten a lot of useless stuff. As a joke, for awhile, I gave my little brother whatever Ronco gadget that seemed the most ludicrous.
posted by danf 30 November | 14:10
In other words, we are people who fail at giving and receiving gifts.

I was just going to say this. Gift giving is a love language, and some people don't speak love that way. I am a terrible gift giver, and I've been on my SO to update his wishlist because the worst possible thing is for me to open his thoughtful and perfect gift-giving-language present then wath him open his crappily thrown together crap of a gift. It's horrible.

But even though I fail at gift giving, I also fail at list making. It's hard, it's boring. But I need him to make a list, so I provide one in turn. I usually buy something directly from his list. Hole he takes mine more as a guide of the types if things I would like. It works for us.
posted by rhapsodie 30 November | 16:33
I find it extremely difficult to be gracious when being asked by someone to tell me what they should give me as a gift. If it's that difficult, perhaps we'd all be better served by your not giving me a gift.

This sums up my feelings pretty well. I can give non-specific ideas, and indeed that's what I did for the Not-Secret Santa last year. "Well, I always like little consumables: chocolates, or unscented candles, or essential oils. _____ knows what kind of fancy soaps I can use, so you could ask him. Cardstock and fancy paper, any old kind you find in an art supply store or [chain craft-supply store]. I can always use beads, any size or color, but nothing fancy or expensive." And so on.

It was not helpful, I guess, and made my giver have to work harder than is customary in the family tradition. Similarly, I accepted the first vague suggestions that my recipient made, which was a big FAIL. Unknown to me, the unspoken custom is to probe harder and get precise product information and links to the desired item.

This year, I decided to opt out of the outlaws' gift swap. It's a really poor fit for the reasons I describe, and it's also far more extravagant and much more merchandise-centered than my own giftgiving style, so I decided that their gift exchange should chug along happily without me, and I'll go back to giving everyone packets of homemade goodies.

When the family started discussing this year's exchange, I announced (not for the first time) that I was opting out. There was a momentary silence, and then someone cheerfully but firmly piped up, "I don't know if you can opt out."

I responded, also cheerfully, also firmly, "Of course I can! Just don't put my name in the hat!"

We had a couple of rounds of this, to my surprise, but I am unwavering. I am not a list-buyer; I tried and I failed. I am a failed list-buyer. I won't put myself and my recipient through that again this year.
posted by Elsa 30 November | 16:42
(1) We hate getting stuff that we don't like, or don't want, or that we already have. Some of us have people in our lives who show up one day and say, "Hey! I bought this really ugly salad bowl at a thrift store. Please take it!" This is very frustrating.

My favorite story of why I'm a lister involves a birthday one year where my sister surprised me by giving me a "pedicure party in a pail" for me to share with all of my friends. And that would be an awesome gift if a) my friends at the time were the "pedicure party in a pail" type b) I had been the type of girl (at the time) who wanted a pedicure, and c) WHO THE HELL BUYS A BIRTHDAY GIFT THAT DOESN'T BELONG TO YOU ALONE? It only served to emphasize how much my own sister didn't know anything about me at all and it really hurt my feelings for a very long time.

I know very little about my sister in return, which is why I asked her for a list a few years back. I actually am way happier now that we have lists for each other because I can surprise her by getting her an awesome thing that she doesn't expect from her list and when I get something a little outre from my list (like novels by Nicholson Baker) it feels like she's at least trying to get to know me better.

Or I could be overthinking things.
posted by TrishaLynn 30 November | 17:27
Yes, I think if someone gave me a pedicure party in a pail, I would probably begin giving them a list.
posted by Wolfdog 30 November | 17:50
I am just stunned to learn that there is such a thing as "pedicure party in a pail". I just... Words fail.
posted by arse_hat 30 November | 18:45
Gift giving is a love language

I think that's true. I personally love making and finding gifts for people and spend a lot of time pleasantly mulling it over. When I ask for a list, I'm really asking for ideas - I'm just ask likely to build on a theme from the list, or depart from it entirely and get something I think is even better. If I risk getting someone something they don't want, so what? They're welcome to return it. The fun is in the shopping and planning the surprise.

Similarly I really enjoy being surprised - having the wonderful awareness that so-and-so noticed how much you liked the whatevers that they had at their house, or that you are always talking about some band, or what it may be.

I guess I'm neither a lister or a non-lister. The idea of listers as "failed givers" is interesting; I never thought of it that way. I wish people would just throw caution to the winds and give whatever crazy stuff they'd like to give. It IS the thought that counts. But maybe there's simply no pleasure in the act for some folks at all. I guess, though, what confuses me most about rainbaby's giver is that she seems to combine qualities of both the lister and nonlister. She wants both the present-opening - to see genuine delight and enjoyment and surprise on your face - and the guaranteed hit of your having pre-selected the exact gift you had full knowledge you were going to get. I'm not sure you can really have both, and I don't think that kind of fence-straddling is usual for your garden-variety lister.
posted by Miko 30 November | 19:03
I think successful gift giving without a list depends (in part?) on:
* A person having both the time and interest to look for a long time.
* A relationship between giver/receiver that is close and warm.
* The giver knowing the receiver's tastes or interests well.
* The giver and receiver both enjoy gifts.
* The giver and receivers share values about material accumulation (or at least respect the other's values)

Last Christmas was the most awesome one ever. I went to visit an old friend's family, all of whom I've known for over 20 years. It was an orphan-type thing. They had put into place a policy of ONLY gifts that had been made or repurposed by the giver. I didn't give gifts to the people I didn't know (mostly SOs), and the ones I did know got something I'd crocheted, for the most part. The gifts I received ranged from a blanket made from felted sweaters, a framed painting from the artist sister, a couple of photos from the photographer sister, and a DVD copy of my high school's video yearbook. The print the artist sister gave me was entirely my taste, and even included birds in it. Very thoughtful. The photo was of the parents of the family, who I love as my own. The blanket I'd coveted. The DVD of my video yearbook was just over-the-top cool.

One of the worst gifts I've received in my life was a subscription to Oprah.

I'm personally kind of a lousy gift giver, and I typically hate accumulating material items that I don't need. I've lived away from my family for a long time, and so don't really know them very well. I want to get people something that they'll really like and use, but so much of the time I have no idea what that would be. So I'm happy if people can give me a few suggestions.
posted by Stewriffic 01 December | 09:12
Some people don't want to specify what they want because they want to feel known by the giver who expresses this knowledge through a perfect gift. There's always the risk of knowing someone in a way that they don't think they are, or aren't willing to be, and thus making them feel even less known or even insulted by the gift. I tend to be somewhat of a non-materialist and thus don't crave properly and often think my job as recipient is to hide my disappointment or lack of enthusiasm to give them the gift of simulated appreciation.

In short, I don't understand the gift process well enough to contribute more than confusion to what you want to know.
posted by Obscure Reference 01 December | 11:32
Omnipelagos || I bought my ticket