Most Americans think it disgusting to give a gift from a thrift store or something used, unless it’s something huge like a car, a boat or a second home. I’ve given reused and re-purposed gifts for years and been met with gratitude, not a slap on the face. I have never been re-gifted a gift I gave - quite the tongue twister but, I’ll bet there are plenty of people who have experienced just that. Nor have I seen my gifts sitting on the thrift store shelves. Though I have put plenty there myself.
Why the common American associates thrift with old socks is a head-scratcher. Why the common person associates a gift from Wal Mart as classy, a double head-scratcher. I’ll take that vintage Nieman Marcus plaid mohair wrap for $3 over a $99 mass-produced bicycle with a planned obsolescence of approximately two years any day. Better to darn a slight moth-eaten hole than to have new bicycle breaks fail in city traffic.
This year, I’m taking gift giving a step cheaper. This recession landed on my family like Dorothy’s house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, and we’re still pinned under it. I was not able to routinely visit the thrift store to find treasures throughout the year as I have in the past. Yup, even that $10 purchase scoring me six items was too much to spend.
Like many American families, mine is geographically scattered. I am no Cyber Monday shopper. Perhaps I’m old fashioned but I like to hold and examine the sweater before purchase because brands no longer guarantee quality, only a name. This phenomenon is something that probably really grates on the few brands that still take pride in their quality. I suspect those manufacturers still exist. I hope.
Quality has become to be something akin to fairies. Something we want desperately to believe in, but reality doesn’t offer much proof. Perhaps, if enough of us clapped our hands and pleaded, “I do believe in quality. I do!” We could revive it, like when the Darling children save Barrie’s Tinkerbell.
There’s so much stuff in the American market, I’m not certain the average American knows what quality is; they’re just thrilled to buy three t-shirts for $15. Never mind the fabric is cheap, the stitching poor it and the cut out of line or that it will likely fall apart in the third wash that is if the clothes washer can make it through the third wash.
This last week, my dinning room table disappeared under boxes and re-used bubble wrap as I pulled out and wrapped gifts for those living out of state. Shopping was sparse this year. Running both hands through my hair and releasing a sigh, I realized there was so little in the gift queue. Not only am I short on time but dollars as well. Another sigh.
That’s when I decided to shop my own home. I have various rare curios, vintage cookware, hard to find books; not massed marketed stuff. If I enjoy having them, wouldn’t some one else? Is it not a symbolic gesture to give something you love that you know will be accepted with gratitude? Isn’t it the thought, not the cost that matters? We say that, but how many of us practice that?
What am I giving? A copper double boiler and strainer that I do not use nearly as much as the person I’m giving it to will. My sterling baby cup given to me by the wife of the Colonel of my father’s unit; he was at war overseas when I was born. His unit is engraved on that cup. I’m giving a hefty rock of amethyst quartz crystals I found ten years ago on a hike in the Rockies to a person who I know values unexpected treasures and the thrill of finding them. I’m giving my daughter my recorder from childhood so she need not borrow one from her school.
It disturbs me how so many Americans are in extreme economic hardship but the media doesn’t really reflect this. The holiday commercials still run on an irritating loop.
For those of you hit by these hard economic times. Please fall out of the retail hypnosis of the season and give of yourself. Think about what others might enjoy that you have and let it go. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do with love?
No doubt, the market wants us to think giving used items is an insult and not considerate. A monetary transaction – one mostly on a credit card that is accruing debt – must transpire to legitimize a gift. Least, that’s what we’ve been led to believe.
The practice of giving handmade items, used or treasured has been done for hundreds of years, if not thousands. I think a new three foot tall chocolate fountain or S’more’s maker is more an insult than an old photo album or high school letter jacket; both treasures.
I’m not talking about giving stuff you have no use for. That’s no different than buying gifts people have no use for. Both are tacky, waste energy and end up in landfills or in third world countries in huts with no electricity. Who knows what these harebrained inventions are thought of there. No doubt it’s not good for foreign relations or how Americans are perceived.
I’m talking about the items your friends and family constantly note. I have an ancient Emile Henry baking dish that with crazing so intricate, it looks like it could be a map of Paris. I wrote of it in the post Haunted Cookware. I also have a friend that adores it. It cost me 99 cents. Luckily for me, she is one of the few people I was fortunate to score a gift. Lucky for her, her gift is old and French and will be welcomed, perhaps not as much as the ceramic baker would be. I’ll make a deal with myself, if 2011 is anything like 2010, 2009, and 2008, she will have it in 2011 and I will be happy to give it to her.
Call me tacky. Call me cheap. But, you can’t call me stupid for spending money I don’t have because the American retail system makes me feel obligated to buy gifts that my friends and family don’t need.