It is common in December to both give and receive gifts. After all, it’s Christmas and there is lots of merry-making. I experienced something this December that made me realise that there’s another aspect to all this ‘gifting’ – returning a gift. It made me wonder if there is a correct way to receive, give and return gifts.
Let’s start with receiving gifts. I confess that I’ve made so many mistakes when I’ve received gifts. I’ve opened packages in front of the person who gave me the gift when I wasn’t supposed to; I’ve not opened gifts immediately when I should have. I’ve even lost a gift and accidentally thrown one away! The incident I remember the most was when I was about 18. My cousin returned from the US and brought with him a few t-shirts. He asked me to pick one. I looked at them and commented that they were so large that I could use them as a nightie. Everyone in the family told me off for making this comment. Apparently, a t-shirt from the US was so valuable that I had offended him by suggesting I would only use it to sleep in. I suppose, I was expected to wear this over-sized t-shirt and parade it around town. Anyway, I learnt my lesson; henceforth, I’ve never said anything more than, “Thank you,” when I receive gifts from the family.
Then there was the utterly embarrassing incident when I was spring-cleaning a few years ago. I found a whole box of tea bags and I knew I wasn’t going to use them. I didn’t have the heart to throw them out and decided to give them to a friend I knew would love some tea. A week after I gave her the box of tea bags, she texted me to say that the expiry date (which was printed on the side of the box and I hadn’t bothered to check) had passed. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she added, “You know, these were the same tea bags I bought for you as a gift from one of my trips overseas.” I was mortified and apologised profusely. Mercifully, we’re still friends.
As for giving gifts, I’ve also learned that when I give a one, I don’t bother to know what the recipient does with it. For example, I’m certain that many people I give a copy of Ladoo Dog to probably throw it away or give it to someone else. Perhaps, the saris we give relatives are made into other clothes or recycled. Frankly, I don’t worry about what happens to the gifts; my duty and desire was to give a gift and I fulfilled that duty.
Now, what happens when you return a gift? This is what happened to me: in September I met an author from England who is about to have a book published. I gave her a copy of my latest books – Ladoo Dog and Mad Heaven – simply because I’ve been giving them out like sweets to everyone I meet. More than anything else, I wanted to share stories of my ‘baby’. In October, I helped this author get some publicity for her book by putting her in contact with people I who could help her. In the process, I also thought it would be good to discuss with her another book project I was working on. I was careful to keep all the emails separate so that there was no overlap between the two projects.
About ten days ago, I received an email asking for my postal address. I was a little perplexed and will admit that I skimmed through the rest of the email. Although I didn’t understand why she was asking for my postal address, I gave it anyway. I was naïve enough to think that, perhaps, because of the publicity I’d arranged for her book, she wanted to send me a copy of her book as a gesture of thanks. This has happened before and, many times, members of the media receive gifts for attending an event. In PR-lingo, these gifts are called ‘goody bags’.
In the next email, I realised that she was returning my books and it occurred to me that she hadn’t read them, nor did she even know the title of my books. She was doing this because she understood ‘how expensive it was for me to publish my books’ and they were already in the post. I didn’t even have time to say, “Save your money in postage; just throw the books away or give it to someone else.” Then again, maybe my books were so horrible that she would never give it to someone she knew. Yesterday, I received the package – it was not even sent my normal post; it was sent by courier service.
In all honesty, I’m hurt as I feel that my books were so offensive that she couldn’t bear to look at them. She wanted them out of her sight as fast as possible. What am I supposed to do with these returned books? Should I give it to someone else? Should I throw them away? Should I keep them as a reminder of this whole incident?
In spite of being hurt, I tried very hard to do the mature thing and see it from her point of view. Perhaps, she thought that I gave her my books as a way to ‘bribe’ her to come on board with the other book project that I’m working on. If this is so, then I do apologise and I’m left thinking that I didn’t make it clear enough that the books were a gift. Maybe, this is a very English way of doing business; however, since we’re not venturing into business together, this was a way of making sure there was no trace of a connection between us. In moments of melancholy, I think that perhaps this is all karma for the one time I returned a gift. In my defence though, this person had hurt me very badly and I wanted nothing more to do with him.
I don’t think I’ll ever understand what happened here. In my mind, I made a gift in good faith and it was returned with such precision and speed that I’ve barely had time to breathe. There’s nothing now to do, but write this experience off as yet another strange thing that the English do and let it go.
What about you? Have you returned a gift? If so, how did you do it and how did you feel about it? Has someone returned a gift to you? How did you feel and what did you with the returned gift?
By Aneeta Sundararaj
(12 December 2014)