DEAR MISS MANNERS: As a gift for a friend whose birthday is coming up, I have offered a complimentary stay at a condo I own in a beautiful, remote area. I could also watch her child during the trip, as our kids are the same age. Alternatively, the gift could be an outing on our boat.
Today, unprompted, she suggested I get her a facial at her preferred provider in town. I was a bit taken aback, and thought perhaps I misheard her.
I could understand if we had been discussing possible gifts at the time, but the suggestion out of nowhere seems presumptuous. Thoughts?
GENTLE READER: Yes, it is presumptuous. But we have developed a culture of allowing people to choose their own presents. Gift registries are so common now that the very idea of deferring to the donors' ideas is deemed naive.
What if you are given something you don't particularly want? Worse -- what if you therefore missed the opportunity to get other people to buy you what you do want? Miss Manners finds this attitude toward the expected generosity of others to be unseemly, but it is the premise on which your friend's suggestion is based.
In all fairness, your offer of the condominium would involve extensive planning on her part. She could have thanked you and said that unfortunately, it was not possible for her to get away to enjoy your kind offer. Then you could have made another suggestion, or even asked her what she might like.
Instead, she took it upon herself to assume your function of deciding what to give her.
Does anyone stop to think how callous and pointless all this makes the entire concept of giving and receiving presents?
Cynics sneer at the adage, "It's the thought that counts," thinking it hypocritical, when what really counts is getting stuff for free. Or better yet, eliminating the danger of disappointment (to the recipient) and the nuisance of thinking (to the giver) entirely by substituting money for objects.
Thoughtfulness is flattering because it means that someone has noticed what you like, and cares to indulge you. When it works, it is a thrill to receive something wonderful that you may not have known you wanted -- from someone you realize really understands you.
Granted, that may be rare. Those with good intentions may misjudge or not know the recipient well enough. Those with indifferent intentions find it easier to be told how to pay what they seem to owe.
That is why we allow a system of hinting and checking with third parties. But if people are going to outright choose their own presents, they might as well do their own shopping with the time and money they might have spent meeting the demands of others.