Monday, December 10, 2007

Wish List Etiquette

I always feel a little uncomfortable when someone asks me what I'd like for Christmas. I'll usually say that there's nothing I really need, that I'd be happy with anything, etc, but when people insist, I'll try to think of a few things that I know I'd like. I do at least try to be cognizant about the person's financial situation, their closeness to me, and so on, but it's hard to come up with ideas.

I'm probably not the only one who feels a little selfish when I'm asked to make a wish list, but I find myself asking family members that same question every year. I love to search for unexpected items that just scream a friend or family member's name, but these items don't always fall into your lap. But that doesn't always happen, and at the end of the day you want to know that the recipient is receiving something they really love.

There's definitely a good and a bad way to go about making a wish list. The first rule is obviously that, unless someone has asked, don't send them one. They may have already gotten your present and will feel badly if it doesn't match any of the items you listed. It also sends the wrong message about your attitude toward gifts, that you expect and deserve something, when every gift should be treated as a special, unnecessary treat.

But what if someone (mom, grandma, boyfriend, brother, etc) asks for some suggestions? I think the best route is to stay vague, so that they don't feel pressure to buy one specific thing, which they might not like or may be out of their price range. When my aunt asked me what I'd like for Christmas, I said that I'd appreciate anything I can use when I get my first apartment after graduating in May. I know there are so many things I'll need, and it would be great to have something practical that reminds me of my aunt when I use it. By opening it up to the wide category of home stuff, I figured that she could find something within her budget and not feel too worried that she'd be getting something I wouldn't like or use.

If you didn't have a specific situation like mine, you could always mention something you're interested in. I was really into throwing wine and cheese parties for a while and one Christmas my family got me everything I needed for entertaining, which was great. A person might run the risk of purchasing something you already own, but let them take the initiative to ask for something more specific.

If someone wants more specific suggestions, be sure to make a list that includes things from a variety of price points, and items that are easily available (I usually will send a few links to sites where you can buy the items so that the person doesn't need to search all over for it). I always have a long list of books on my wish list at Amazon (full disclosure - I benefit if you shop at Amazon through links on my site), so I'll usually send a few links to those to family members who ask what I'd want, and books are great since the person can buy one or a few depending on how much they'd like to spend. If you've got a family member who's not very internet-savvy, listing the titles of the books you're interested in is a good idea, since they can always find them at a local bookstore.

I think it's also important to take the other person's interests in mind when you're making a wish list. When my sister mentioned that she's been looking for a new purse, I was so excited to start looking for one for her Christmas gift. Finding the right gift is difficult in itself, don't make it harder by asking for things the other person has no knowledge about or interest in.

I'm a big believer in giving charitable donations as gifts, and I think it's acceptable to ask for a charitable donation. I would give the person multiple options (other charities and regular items, in case they're uncomfortable with the organizations you listed) and would avoid listing any charities that might compromise the other person's values. Unless you know for sure that your mom supports the same candidate, has the same religious affiliation or feels strongly about a divisive social issue, don't request donations to these types of charities.

We live in such a materialistic culture that it's often easy to fall into the trap of feeling like we deserve expensive or lavish gifts if someone has the financial means to purchase pricey things. I was mildly disgusted to read about the rising trend of shoppers making wish lists at their favorite stores and then having the store contact loved ones to recommend that they purchase the items. I think Anna Post (Emily's great-great granddaughter) is spot-on when she said, "A gift should be about the relationship between the giver and the receiver. When you have a middleman like that, it becomes a business transaction."

I don't think anyone has the right to ever be angry or disappointed if they receive something other than what they requested on a wish list. This is a petty, selfish, materialistic attitude that totally goes against the real meaning of the holiday. Be grateful for anything you receive, don't worry too much about searching for that "perfect gift" and let the holidays be about spending time with your loved ones and expressing gratitude for having them in your life.

What are your thoughts on wish lists? Are they tacky or necessary?

14 comments:

cate said...

I really don't think wish lists are appropriate past the age where you're going to post them to Santa, with the exception of a wedding registry. I love your idea, Meg, about being vague, and I think that's a much better way to go. A simple "I always appreciate things for my apartment," gives the giver a choice of everything from scented candles to expensive furniture. If you like to read, say "I can always use something new to read!" If you like music, say "Anyhting off of iTunes is always appreciated." Basically, figure out your tastes and a vague way of mentioning them. Putting together wish lists/Christmas registries screams picky materialism to me, as though you're so concerned with gifts that you haven't stopped to pause and consider the best answer of all, which is "I always love your gifts and am so happy you're thinking of me. Please surprise me!"

cat said...

If someone requests a wishlist, go for it. There is really nothing more annoying than someone trying the coy "Oh I don't know, I don't want anything, I'll be happy with whatever." We all know that's not the case, we all know there are things the person wants, and that just makes me want to actually not get them anything and watch them be completely disappointed even though that's what they wanted.

To that point, when someone asks what I want, I name a few general things that are varied and not too specific. My sister got to the heart of what she really needs for student teaching and beyond and is telling everyone who asks to get her clothes for teaching or contemporary children's books. She'll get a wide variety of things that all fit what she said, and that's great.

Point being, just be happy for what you do get. Nothing ruins Christmas faster than someone pouting over what they did or did not get.

Anonymous said...

Meg, I've always been uncomfortable with wish lists too. They seemed selfish and demanding. However, my husband -- a good-hearted man who abhors shopping but wants to make his loved-ones happy -- always asks for a wish list. It makes it easier for him to decode the female brain, I guess! So my two cents: if the gift-giver wants a wish list, go for it... you'll make them happy!

Katherine said...

Quick note: "feel badly" is a common mistake people make. It's incorrect because using badly (an adverb) would be a modifier on feel, meaning that you have a bad sense of touch, like the villain in the Bond movie The World is Not Enough where he couldn't feel the difference between the girl's soft skin and any other textures. It should just be "feel bad," even though that sounds like it's wrong.

Aaaanyway, nitpicking aside, my family and I have always been much more business-like about the issue of gift-giving. It's just the way we do things. I think it would be much better if we only gave people good presents, things that they'll definitely enjoy or things that they specifically asked for, but too often it all just turns into a ball of stress and an obligation. It's really hard to get someone something that they don't already know that they want, and so in terms of materialism, I think it actually may be less consumerist (or whatever) to just get something off of a list, if you don't have the time/knowledge for a surprise gift, because otherwise people get stuck with tons of crap that they have to dispose of in one way or another. Sure, it's the thought that counts, but personally I would rather get nothing at all than something I really wanted or something that was really suited to me--saves the Earth some waste, saves both giver and receiver time and money and stress.

Anonymous said...

my husband and i ask each other what we want, but that's only because we just buy what we want anyway. i don't ask other people what they want and i'd feel uncomfortable being asked. my brother-in-law used to tell us what he wanted, without regard for how much it might cost. i happily ignored his demands and he sulked. i hate greedy people. i don't want anything for the holidays or birthdays. i'd rather people stop buying gifts and just exchange ornaments and other small things that are meaningful. i can afford gifts, but holidays have become about gifts for too many people.

Anonymous said...

My sister-in-law sent out wish lists for her young daughter to all of the relatives, unasked, but for some reason, not her son. On top of it all, my in-laws decided that no gifts would be exchanged this year (except for the grandkids, I suppose) - but no one bothered to tell my husband and me until after we showed up for Thanksgiving dinner with gifts in hand. *sigh*

Jen38 said...

This is a fabulous post. I'm with you and Cate on being vague, however, sometimes I think it is completely appropriate to just say what you really want. I also love the idea of donating to a charitable organization in lieu of a gift.

My Mom always asks for a wish list from Amazon, which gives her a good idea what our family might be interested in. She doesn't have to purchase from the site, it just gives her some specific clues and estimates of their prices, etc...

I am going to bookmark your blog. Keep up the great work. ;)Jen

nadarine said...

On one hand, my mom asks me for a detailed, cross-referenced, linked, price-checked christmas & birthday list every year. The woman likes to know that every present I unwrap is exactly what I want, and nothing but. Which I appreciate, even if it takes the surprise out of it. (but hell, I'm 25... a little old for surprise!)

However- I just got a christmas card from my boyfriend's parents today. They enclosed a rather generous cash gift, which is wonderfully generous and totally unexpected, but a little uncomfortable. If his mom had asked what I'd like for a gift, I'd have provided her with an idea that fell in the $15 range, and that I'd feel more natural accepting.

Anonymous said...

Off-topic, but have you seen this article from CNN about girls posting pics of themselves boozed up on Facebook? Thought you would probably have some comments...
http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/12/10/face.book/index.html

Deodand said...

If someone asks you the question, "What do you want for Christmas?" and you don't answer, I feel it's a bit rude. Their intention is to give you a gift you'll love, and the polite thing to do is to make that easy for them.

I do consider my relatives' lists to be a jumping-off point, and I feel free to not buy anything on the list. It's also a peek into what's going on in their lives and minds. The list can be taken as much more than a material thing if you put a positive spin on it.

lisa (http://sololisaynadamas.spaces.live.com) said...

I think giving someone a wish list is appropriate if the other person asked for it; it just makes the other person's life easier because he/she isn't stressing out over what to get you, particularly if you're the type of person who 1) usually doesn't ask for anything, 2) has everything, or 3) buys what you want anyway which doesn't leave a lot of options open for the gift giver. I like your idea of suggesting items at different price points, Meg.

Katie said...

the only people i give wish lists to are my parents, because they ask for them. especially my mom, who is very busy (also relatively internet savvy) and would much rather get a bunch of direct links so she can just shop online when she has time. i might link some specific things, but rest is more vague. it's worked really well for my family - it takes the stress and guesswork out of it for my parents, who don't have time to aimlessly browse the mall. with other family members and friends, i would never send a wish list, i just give vague ideas, like what has been mentioned.

kelly said...

I'm echoing other commenters: if someone asks for a wish list, send them one, and (good advice, Meg!) include items at several different price points. Sending out a wish list when it has not been specifically requested is tacky. (As an aside, this is also true of wedding and baby registries. Yes, make a registry, but provide the registry information if and when it is requested. I have seen registry information included on wedding invitations, and that is really not appropriate. At all.)

Anonymous said...

Like Katie, the only person I give a wish list to is my mom, as she asks for one each year.

My partner and I have set up a registry at a department store, as we only seem to want/need things for our home lately. My mom totally appreciates this and it makes her shopping a bit easier.

I know it takes the surprise out of this, but I'm (somehow) disciplined, and don't check the registry for updates.

xo

Sabina