Guys aren’t supposed to like giving gifts. Well, that ain’t me.
By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on December 10, 2013
According to most movies and TV shows, guys aren’t supposed to like giving gifts. They portray us as rushing through stores, grabbing the first shiny thing we see, and impatiently thrusting a credit card at the sales clerk. Apparently speed-shopping is just another guy sport in which besting our last time is the main object. If you’re wealthy or a celebrity, gift-selection duties are shown as being handed off to a harried assistant who later whispers what’s inside the brightly wrapped package just as the man hands it to the unsuspecting recipient. And, as the recipient gushes over the thoughtful, generous gift, the assistant glows while the inconsiderate man smiles awkwardly. Picture Bill Murray in Scrooged.
Well, to paraphrase Bob Dylan: That ain’t me, babe.
I love giving gifts. To me, it’s an opportunity to show someone what they mean to me. And since I’m not an especially chatty guy, I rely on my gift to express words I might have neglected to say. That level of emotional connection isn’t revealed by a generic present like a gift basket of smelly cheeses from around the world, or even an expensive trinket that glitters but has no personal meaning to either me or to the recipient. On the other hand, some gifts I give are to people I don’t know well but still want to show appreciation. To make sure my gifts reveal the proper level of affection and appreciation, I’ve developed three rules for gift-giving that have proven successful over the years.
Rule #1: Pay Attention
The key to great gift-giving is customization: select something that shows you’ve been paying attention. When I was a kid, the best part of giving was watching loved one’s faces as they opened my clumsily wrapped gift (which, despite my best efforts, looked like I’d wrapped it using my elbows and teeth). I’m sure there were some Oscar-worthy performances of glee from my parents and friends when they saw what I’d gotten them, but in my heart, each gift was selected for them based on paying attention to whatever they spoke most animatedly about during the year.
The nice thing about this rule is that it covers almost any budget. The emotional impact on the recipient isn’t measured by how much you spend but by how much it reflects you having listened to them. My friends and family know that I love to read history books and mysteries. Nothing excites me more than getting a book that someone read or heard about and thought that I might like it, too. It’s an insight into how they see me, and it creates a bond in that we can later talk about the book.
People generally talk about their life passions to their closest friends. Once you’ve determined what their passions are be sure to customize the gift specifically for them. For example, I have a friend who loves golf, but I wouldn’t get him any golf gag gifts because acquaintances of his have been doing that for years, and most end up in a cardboard box in the garage. I wouldn’t buy him any golf equipment because I know that athletes are very particular about their equipment and like to pick it out themselves. And I don’t want to just give him a bland, non-personal gift card to a golf shop. Instead, I might give him a round of golf at a course he’s always wanted to play or a lesson with a golf pro (if his ego can take it).
I want the gift I give to be an experience more than just a dust-collecting monument to my generosity, which they might feel obligated to display whenever I’m around. So, I tend to like to give books, DVDs, play tickets, concert tickets—the sort of thing that is a joy to experience and creates a pleasant memory that they can share with others. DVD box sets of Downton Abbey or The Wire will stay with them longer and more intensely than a box of Godiva chocolates.
Not everybody likes that kind of gift, however, so for those people, I must dig deeper.
Rule 2: Find Your Go-To Online Stores
I do a lot of gift shopping online because going shopping at the mall means facing a lot of fans, signing bags and receipts, taking phone photos with them, etc. While that is a pleasure most of the time, my busy traveling schedule doesn’t allow me that much time to shop. If I go to the mall with two hours to shop and spend an hour interacting with fans, I don’t get much done. So: online shopping.
I have a few go-to sites that provide fun, unusual, and clever gifts that make me smile just thinking about giving them:
1. Mental Floss. Brainy games, clever T-shirts, and unusual books. Examples: Charles Dickens and Jane Austen action figures, Med School and Law School in a Box, and a T-shirt that says “Ambiguity: What happens in Vagueness stays in Vagueness.”
2. Uncommon Goods. This site has a variety of gifts that include art, clothing, jewelry, and home and garden goods. This is the place to shop for friends who delight in imaginative takes on common objects. If you have trouble picking out gifts for friends with infants or toddlers, they have an especially wonderful kids selection that will have parents oohing and aahing.
3. Sundance. For my friends who love women’s clothing (most of whom are women), this site offers a wide selection of quality fashion. Their selection of sweaters are especially flattering and artful (and giving a woman a sweater shows thoughtfulness without implying anything more). I’m not big on giving jewelry because people’s tastes are so specific. But if you think you really know the woman’s taste, they have some lovely pieces that are both distinctive and subtle.
4. 32 Bar Blues. A lot of my guy friends have to shop at big-and-tall stores. But for the rest who like to dress fashionably, I can always find something at this eclectic site. The clothes and shoes have a blues musician vibe—understated but heavy on coolness.
Rule 3: Obligatory Gifts Don’t Have to Suck
All of us have people we don’t know that well, we are obliged to give a gift to anyway. Most people just grab a bunch of gift cards for Applebee’s or iTunes from the gift card tree at the local supermarket and are done with it. There’s nothing wrong with that and I’m sure the recipients appreciate a free onion ring tower. If I know that the person loves music but I don’t know them well enough to choose a CD, then an iTunes gift card is perfect.
But there are some other choices that show you appreciate them a little more than a musical greeting card might imply. One such gift is a magazine subscription. Seriously. Most people have several magazines that they like to read; they look forward to the next issue. Giving a magazine subscription is like giving a gift every month, and each time the new issue arrives, they’re reminded of you. Also, they are easy to renew the next year.
Another type of gift that is both memorable and appreciated is one based on a favorite TV show. Each of the networks has their own online shop. At the HBO store you can get Game of Thrones hoodies and shot glasses, Newsroom iPad covers, True Blood sunglasses, and much more. Once you find out their favorite TV show, there’s a mug, poster, game, or T-shirt in their future. Most are functional and fun.
In Conclusion: Embrace Manly Gift-Giving
I was reading an article the other day that offered advice to men on how to shop for gifts. Each suggestion was about how to shop faster, cheaper, and with as little effort or thought as possible. To me, that kind of cartoonish characterization of men is as condescending as the male stereotypes of the muscle-bound meathead, nasally challenged nerd, or American Psycho corporate climber. We are so much better than that. The opportunity to give a gift is the opportunity to define ourselves as the kind of person we want to be: thoughtful, generous, and caring.