Posted by on October 11, 2010
Kirkland McCauley gave his wife an elephant for her birthday. It was not a present she liked or understood, and it made a mess on her carpets. In fact it remained the elephant in the room, the unspoken horror that separated them for the remaining three days of their marriage.
Kirkland bought his present on the Internet. Nowadays it’s easy to be imaginative. Simply scroll through ebay or Google ‘present’ and the choice is, if not unlimited, at least very, very wide. It ranges from ‘adopt a Hyena’ to hot air balloon rides, having a star named after somebody to buying a glass cased piece of Wembley turf.
But being imaginative is not enough, as Mrs McCauley was quick to tell her husband of the moment. The miracle of having a mobile phone that meant he could access the Internet, and thereby arrange such transactions as buying an elephant while down the pub with his friends, did not compensate for the inconvenience. And anyway he always knew she never liked grey.
So choosing a suitable present is an art form requiring a mixture of diplomacy, creativity, sensitivity, and inspiration.
Certainly the Internet can be a great help by opening up all sorts of possibilities. But it is not the complete answer.
‘Unusual’ is not enough. Being impractical is not enough, although it can help. After all, who likes a practical present – an ironing board, new saucepan or paint roller?
‘Frivolous’ often helps, as does ‘extravagance’ – or at least the appearance of extravagance.
Buying something on the basis you have always wanted one yourself is a definite no no. What wife wants the almost complete set of Charlton Athletic football programmes, 1967 to 1983 – missing only the April 1971 Accrington Stanley game?
Choosing something ‘worthy’ or that sends a message is worse. A month in the rehab clinic seldom does the trick.
‘So ‘appropriate’, possibly in a witty way, is the most important gift adjective – but appropriate to the receiver not the giver. The worst that can happen is that the present ’says more’ about the giver’s interests and prejudices than those of the receiver. The best that can happen is that the giver receives in return increased appreciation of his or her thoughtfulness and sensitivity.
Meanwhile Kirkland went back to his job at the zoo a wiser man, and Mrs McCauley was remarried to a big game hunter who always brought her flowers – and jewellery, and chocolates and only the occasional subscription to Rifles and Telescopic Sights magazine.
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