Enough weddings,birthdays and soirees this time of the year have turned December into a month for giving gifts. Diwali season is now a distant second. While much ground has been canvassed on giving gifts,very little is discussed on receiving.
The ideas about giving range from charity to social graces,but receiving is looked upon as narcissistic. More so in India,where our customs demand we accept a material item as grudgingly as possible to show how unnaturally selfless we are.
It is a rather silly prejudice. If someone is expected to give well and generously,shouldnt there be some shared social pressure on the recipient as well?
Most people I have given gifts to have accepted it hurriedly and tucked the present away in a corner. Or have fussed so profusely,Id begun to feel my humble gift wasnt good enough for them.
When did saying a genuine thank-you go out of style? Is it not important to receive with grace and a grateful heart too?
Im alarmed at the small number of grateful people Ive met this year alone. A small cash gift for an engagement ceremony had the brides mother phone me to thank me. A bottle of rose water face-spray was lovingly accepted by a friend who was happy to be introduced to an Indian luxury product. A hand-crafted set of table silver had the recipient describe it to others with such glee.
But a bottle of Veuve Clicquot went unnoticed. As did a set of coffee mugs from Goodearth. When I texted a designer saying thank you for such lovely candles during Diwali,she was surprised with the acknowledgement.
Sometimes it is our lack of basic etiquette,but its mostly our misplaced sense of materialism that doesnt allow us to accept whole-heartedly. Indians especially consider it rude to open a gift in front of the giver,whereas in the US especially,it is important the giver sees your first reaction. Indians receive with guilt and awkwardness,we open our presents in private.
Give and take is a fundamental relationship-building exercise. My grandmother is rather open about the unspoken. She says to give a little more than the person is expecting to receive (yes,like children,everyone is expecting prezzies at some time or the other). That way,she reasons,the recipient returns the favour,and the friendship is continued.
I also think it is fine to judge a gift. The adage its the thought that counts doesnt mean at least they got me something. It signifies what the giver thinks about the recipient. Gifts are often thoughtless. These could be perfume from duty-free shopping to an ugly vase to a really cheap bottle of wine. Many people think gift vouchers are lazy,but I think theyre a practical and sensible option.
I love receiving gifts. My birthdays coming up and I have a wish-list ready every year for anyone who asks. I genuinely believe Im doing my friends and family a favour by not allowing them a wasted purchase.
But Im known for my mean-girl receiving skills too. At least on two occasions,I have returned presents I thought were plain tacky. A gentleman recently offered to buy me a car and that was the last time I spoke to him.
At my baby-shower a few years ago,a prominent Mumbai socialite gave me her daughters used toys. When she was pregnant again a few months later,I bought her a set of onesies from Mothercare. I left the price tags on. Only to teach her the joy of receiving something new.