I was going to write about packing but we have an emergency situation Darling, so cancel any trips as you don’t know how to pack but we (that’s the royal we) can’t address packing until we lay down the law on giving.
You see, ma chérie, a person who shall not be named (may dust cover their name) asked moi for advice on packing and in the course of the conversation the person (may the wind take their name forever to distant valleys) said that they didn’t know how to fit in the gifts they were bringing to the foreign country they were visiting.
“Gifts?” I asked with that certain warning lilt you know so well. Oh yes, person (may the aphids of a thousand roses nest in their geraniums) was going to visit a school for children in a low-resource area and had decided to bring gifts. And had announced this to various other people who also donated.
Now giving to people in need is blessed, but only when that gift will assuage some need they have, not assuage a person’s need to give. As this particular person (may their tea ever be tepid and over-sugared) spoke, there was a lot of “I am sure they will love this” and not one, “I checked and this is what is needed.”
Now I am the last person on earth to believe in practicality, but schools in hard to reach places with limited budgets need some frivolity (colored paper, foil paper, stickers, colored pencils) but they also need pens, paper, backpacks and things I don’t know of because I have never been there – they don’t need what YOU think of, they need what THEY need. So ask them or get in touch with someone with a reasonable chance of knowing (contact a charity which does work in that area). Do not pack up 25 pounds of whateverness and dump it on them. No. Never. Darling, this is not who we are.
We are the people who give what is wanted or needed – not bathroom scales and fruit-of-the-month for people who we think are overweight, not scented candles because we love scented candles, not something we made by hand because it is so very lovely, not trips to Paris because everyone should see Paris. We give to ourselves what we like (and can we just say, we have such perfect taste!) and to others what they like (even if it makes us shriek in horror).
Start with the easy stuff: kisses and hugs. If the person is not running towards you with open arms: ask permission before you descend and envelop, even for close relatives, even if you are wearing a magical perfume. Ask. “You look so adorable, young Christabel in your charming frock, may I give you a hug?” If the little terror says, “No.” Smile and say, “Well then I must, I simply must give you air kisses” and blow kisses at her.
For all children, ask the parents, and feel free to prep it with a ‘when I was a new mom I loved having a schnitzel press, would you like one or is there something else that you would prefer?’
Give teenagers what they ask for, seriously, who would want to be a teenager again? It’s miserable. Get exactly what they want. If they say, “nothing” find a nice environmentally correct zoo and sponsor an animal in their name. I am partial to gifting wombats and lemurs.
Wedding gifts are from the registry – do not get creative. Put that creativity to use in making asparagus hummus or tie-dying socks, do not get creative with wedding gifts. If the happy couple want cash, give cash. Feel free to have fainting hysterics at the thought of people asking for cash, but either give cash or nothing. And yes, my dear, you have total permission to drink Old Fashioneds and sigh a lot as you arrange for the cash, but not a word to the happy couple. The word ‘grasping’ shall never leave your mouth in public.
For adults, you should have a good idea, always remembering that you never give anything that you are not reasonably sure is wanted – the more expensive, the more difficult to procure and the longer it has to travel, the more sure you need to be.
And for the difficult people, find ways to compromise: give theater/ symphony/ opera/ ballet tickets or gift certificates at museum shops, pay for summer camps or dinner at a nice restaurant. For those who don’t have small children and/ or demanding jobs – give dancing, calligraphy, pottery, singing, metallurgy, swimming, book-binding, stained glass or scuba lessons.
For the true grumps and trolls, do something good in their name: see if you can pay to have a good restaurant deliver dinner to a fire station one a week or a landscaping business ‘pretty up’ some wayward area. Call your local library and see what they would like. Check local Red Cross and women’s shelters (sometimes they need business clothes, briefcases and purses for when clients go to job interviews),
For those with clothes, housing and food, help them get out into the world – for those who lack necessities, take yourself out of the picture, don’t think what you might like in their situations, give what they need. Give what they want. I so seldom invoke meekness, but this is the right situation: be meek. Ask then give.