Silly gift giving

My family knows that they should never buy me any gifts for my birthday, Father’s day, Christmas, or any other occasion. The reasons are simple. Some gift giving traditions are purely driven by commercial considerations to benefit businesses and I do not want to be part of this mindless consumption. I also do not see the point of giving gifts to adults who can well afford to buy anything they need or want for themselves. I also know that it is very hard to buy a gift for me because the things that I might like are very unlikely to be guessed by even those close to me because my wants are few and highly specialized. I hate getting clothes and books because I know that there is a 99% chance that I will not wear those clothes or read those books.

So I find it even sillier when representatives of governments give gifts to representatives of other governments when they make official visits. What’s the point? This article about a minor kerfuffle over a gift of expensive whiskey that later went missing shows the absurdity of the governmental gift giving practice.

The state department has said that it is looking into the the apparent disappearance of a nearly $6,000 bottle of whisky given more than two years ago to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by the government of Japan.

The Japanese whisky was valued at $5,800 and was presented to Pompeo in June 2019, presumably when he visited the country that month for a Group of 20 summit that was also attended by President Donald Trump.

Pompeo also reported receiving two carpets worth a total of $19,400 from the president of Kazakhstan and the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates.

At least three foreign leaders – from Australia, Egypt and Vietnam – presented Trump with photographs or portraits of himself that collectively were valued at more than $10,000.

Other more expensive gifts Trump received included an Ottoman Empire rifle valued at $8,500 from the prime minister of Bulgaria, a bronze sculpture of an Arabian horse from the crown prince of Bahrain worth $7,200 and a gold, onyx, emerald and diamond statue of an Arabian oryx worth $6,300 from the emir of Qatar.

A small token gift (such as food) can be very meaningful in very specific contexts. Gifts to children are understandable. But routine gift giving to adults takes up a lot of time in the effort to think of a gift that you think the recipient will like with almost zero chance that they will in fact actually like it and it will almost certainly end up is some obscure location.


  1. Tired South American says

    You do you, but I love both receiving and giving away stuff and any excuse is good for me. I love getting clothes because I hate having to shop for them myself. Also, even if it’s not my case (to an extent), not all adults can buy anything they need or want for themselves.

  2. Jazzlet says

    I generally agree with you Mano. I will occasionaly come across something I know someone will like and buy it for them, but I’ll give it them as soon as I see them rather than waiting for a birthday. Otherwise I do give people food that I have made myself, again that I know they like. for instance I make the kind of marmalade I like with lots of peel, in several varieties -- Seville, ginger seville, lime, lime and ginger. I then mature particularly the Seville marmalades -- the longer the better, at the moment we are eating the 2017, though I found a couple of jars of the 2014 recently which was stupendously good. Anyway jars are given to people who appreciate them, always with the caveat for a new flavour that they should return it if they don’t like it, and always, always return the empty jars. People who don’t return the jars don’t get any more preserves, people who give me the right kind of jars from someone else’s making get more preserves.

    I used to hate the “secret santa” thing that the rest of the people in the various offices I worked in seemed to love, generally just so much more tat to be thrown away. It was the waste that I objected to, both resources and money.

  3. Katydid says

    I think a lot of gift-giving has become an obligation, and one a lot of people don’t take seriously, giving something pointlessly stupid just to say, “Look! I got you A GIFT!” It can also be quite fraught when the gift-givers are dysfunctional.

    As a child, I had certain things I absolutely loved and I wasn’t quiet about them (some examples were animals and the beach and Star Wars and reading). Looking back, I know it would have been simple to find something suitable in any range of cost. Despite that, year after year, my relatives would give me things that were completely outside my areas of interest (for example, what was I going to do with a collectible china doll when I had no interest in collectibles *or* dolls?). Because of this, gift-giving holidays were torture--not only did I have to pretend not to be disappointed by whatever stupid thing I was presented with, but I had to write thank-you notes for things I never wanted.

    I’m also not a fan of the office Christmas gift-swapping parties, but I enjoy exchanging cards.

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    My niece just wrote to thank me for those books on dinosaurs and paleontology I gave her when she was young. Warms my heart.

  5. machintelligence says

    One Christmas party that I regularly attended (until recently, sigh) had a tradition of randomly exchanging “white elephant” gifts.
    If you happened to like what you received you kept it; if not you wrapped it up for next year.

  6. mnb0 says

    “What’s the point?”
    Simple: stroking egos.
    Which couldn’t be less interesting, so I didn’t read the article you linked to and quoted from.
    And yes, I dislike receiving presents as much as you do. I don’t even celebrate my birthday. But who am I, I never send one single christmas card in my life.

    Children are an entirely different topic.

  7. dean56 says

    “My family knows that they should never buy me any gifts for my birthday, Father’s day, Christmas, or any other occasion.”

    Agree, and for the most part that holds for me and for my wife (although I still get her the occasional item she’s too hesitant — an honest comment would be cheap — to buy for herself).

    The one exception: last year my older son came to me with an offer: in place of gift giving for birthdays, he asked if we could meet each year on our birthdays, go out, have a couple drinks, and “shoot the shit”. After I got over the shock of him saying he chose that term since “that’s what you old guys say” I was thrilled. The first two celebrations have been great, and we’re looking forward to the next ones.

  8. Mano Singham says


    I think that what you are doing is excellent. These ‘special’ days are meaningless in themselves. But making them occasions to spend time with those whom we love is the best way to give them some value, as long as they don’t, over time, become an obligatory chore that people dread but feel obliged to continue. Then it may become like gift giving.

  9. John Morales says

    [I did wait, to not derail]

    Gift-giving is fine, in my estimation. When it’s done because one wants to give a gift, for the joy it gives one to gift something one thinks will be appreciated.

    When it becomes a social obligation, it’s bad. Toxic, even.
    So yeah, don’t expect one from me on those days — you know, x day where (x ∈ (Valentine’s, Xmas, anniversary, birthday, mother’s, father’s, and suchlike).

    Obviously, my friends and family know and understand this.

    Of course, I still give gifts.
    But if and when I do, they matter because I do it for a genuine reason, not because I’m conforming to others’ expectations.

    A small token gift (such as food) can be very meaningful in very specific contexts.

    Only to those who appreciate tokens. Because, definitionally, it’s just a token.
    Not genuine.

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