Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Christmas Public Service Anouncement

This is lifted somewhat from a post I did before my son's last birthday, but it's even more fitting around this time of year. Feel free to forward it to friends and relatives as needed.

PEOPLE - if you're buying gifts for children who aren't your own, here are a few big, big hints:

- don't ask a parent what the child is interested in, then completely ignore all suggestions. It may come as a surprise, but parents spend a decent amount of time with their off-spring and tend to know what will be a hit. And there's nothing more irritating for us than spending time e-mailing suggestions, to have them all completely ignored.

- don't harrass said parent into giving you a list within 24 hours of receiving your e-mail/phone call. Parents are busy, and they may even have to have a few sneaky conversations with the child to determine what would be a good gift suggestion

In fact,

- do ask the parents for input before buying anything. The child may be in need of an umbrella, which can be a fun gift to buy; perhaps they have just been given a new sleeping bag, which sounds like the ideal gift, but you really only need one.

- don't buy age-inappropriate gifts. If you're buying for a 5 year old, no matter how "verbal" or intelligent s/he is, a toy designed for 6-8 year olds will probably be beyond his/her developmental ability, which will in turn lead to tears and tantrums from the child as they struggle to "play" with it, and pissed-off parents who have to cope with the aftermath. It's not a compliment to buy toys that are meant for older kids, nor will they "grow" into them without first being very upset that they can't use them right now.

- do wrap the presents before sending them. Small children are usually around when you open parcels, and cannot be trusted not to go after them even when you've told them it's not for them, and "hidden" them on a high shelf. A wrapped present, at least means that they might not rip the paper off. And sending unwrapped gifts also means that someone else will have to wrap it nicely for you. Come on - unless you're having something shipped directly to the child's house, and have notified the parent beforehand, wrap the damn thing up.

- don't buy crap. Buying cheap gifts is insulting to anyone, but when something breaks within ten minutes of coming out of the wrapping paper,small children tend to become slightly hysterical. In my opinion, parents are within their rights to explain to their children that the gift was "not made very well", even if there is a risk that this will be repeated to the gift giver at the first opportunity. Should this happen, parents should simply look the offending adult firmly in the eye and say "It broke almost immediately". You, the parents, shouldn't be the ones apologising.

- do exchange something that is broken or unsuitable yourself. If a child simply wants something else, then no, the gift giver shouldn't have to exchange it.

- do send the gift on time, if you're important to that child. Usually, small children have no concept that their godparent has forgotten to send a gift on time, but if you know that the child will remember, at least phone up on the day and tell him/her it's on its way.

- do make sure it will ship. There's nothing worse than a present arriving in the mail that's shattered beyond repair. The parents can't really ask you to get another one, and might end up having to fork up for a replacement if the child is particularly distraught. I realise that ham-fisted parcel delivery people may be to blame, but pause a second before buying the gift in the first place, and ask yourself "Will this arrive in one piece?"

- do attach a gift receipt if possible. In the US, you're nearly always offered a "gift receipt" when buying something. This allows the recipient to exchange it if they want something else, it doesn't fit or they already have the item. The gift receipt doesn't state the cost of the item, although that will be discovered if and when they exchange it for something else.

- don't eschew money. I used to pride myself on always being able to come up with good gift ideas, but as children (particularly boys) get to the 10-14 mark, it becomes more and more difficult. Besides, they're usually saving up for something and are grateful for the cash. I-Tune gift cards are a great alternative too.

- do be polite about the whole Christmas thing. If you're really too busy or disinclined to buy presents, think of a way to explain this nicely. "I can't be bothered this year", or "It's too much hassle", however true, are quite the insult.

- do discuss any changes in tradition before enforcing them unilaterally. If you've decided you're only buying for kids under 10, or only buying one gift for the entire family, have the decency to let people know, or even discuss the issue, before December 24th.

If I've missed anything, please feel free to add to my list.



  1. Nothing to add, apart from is there anyway we can get this automatically forwarded to every grandparent in the universe?

  2. All incredibly true - and I'm with PM, if only all the grandparents in the Universe were reading your blog....

  3. Actually this is a grandparent reading. In order to become a grandmother I first had to have my own children. So I also have a little insight into appropriate present buying and how annoying it is when that is not done. That's why when my own children were young each set of grandparents was given a list of present options and that is why I now request them. We've all managed fine with no tears or tantrums from children,parents or grandparents.

  4. An idea for teens - ipod voucher thingames and for the 8-10 year old set Club penguin coupon thingies. Just a thought.

  5. ExpatMum -- Just wanted to say hello. I've just recently found your blog and love it. I also bought your book and am enjoying every word. My English boyfriend has giggled reading it too -- telling me over and over just how smart you are! I'm moving to England in two weeks and I can't thank you enough for such a great resource!

  6. Wow Rachel - smart boyfriend! No seriously, thank you so much for popping in to say that. It's very flattering indeed. Good luck with your move, you'll love it. And don't forget to join in the discussions over at my US/UK blog Pond Parleys. (See side bar.)

  7. I am printing this out and sending it to all the family - still think they will ignore me though....

  8. I'm a new step-parent and have already laid down rules about gifts and gift giving (holiday related and in general). My mother is a shop-o-holic. She buys stuff and never takes it out of the bags. So I wanted to make perfectly clear that appropriate gifts were fine, but buying gifts just to buy them was not. Hopefully she will do as she has said she will. It took us years of horrible stocking stuffers (even into adulthood) to finally get her to start getting us practical things like washing detergent and toilet paper. Not as exciting to open, but great not to have to spend your own money on later.

  9. We have one rule only - if in doubt, clothes or books.... You can never have enough of either, and even at 2 1/2 L is delighted with new ones. Works for me too...

  10. As long as there's a gift receipt in there so we can take back anything that doesn't fit, clothes work. In fact, as long as there's a gift receipt - anything works. If I remember to take things back that is.

  11. Here here! i want to cut and paste thi post and send to all my rellies/friends in the UK immediately!

  12. THANK YOU for writing this, can you give it to my MIL???


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