19 December 2003
What is the acceptable answer to the question "what would you like for christmas?", when that question is asked by someone in a position and prepared to buy you gifts, rather than, say, a market research interviewer, or Santa? Is it greedy to say a digital camera?Anna says
"Oh, don't worry about it, don't get me anything.
You want to get something?
No, really, it's fine, you don't need to...
Oh, just get me something little then, something I'd like. Something that only you would buy me..."
This, ladies and gentlemen, is not the acceptable answer.
The acceptable answer that's looked for in this question is;
"What can you buy me?
Well, You can never have too many copies of the new Bill Bryson book, those now pink cushions in habitat never go amiss, and I'm always running out of bath treat baskets from the Body Shop. Incidentally, if all of those are out of reach, there's always my wishlist, available from amazon at..."
When people ask what you want for Christmas, they want an answer.
A quick, easy, answer. Inexpensive, if possible.
A set of coasters, a new health regime, a tablecloth.
They don't want to be asked to reach into their soul and pull you a present from therein, especially not 6 days from Christmas, they want to be told what to get you, from which store, in which colour and, if possible, on which shelf it can be found.
In fact, why don't you just buy it on their behalf.
They can wrap it up, they can hide it, you'll forget about it.
And then in six days time they can present you with it.
Actually, that doesn't sound very good either.
No, The only answer, when someone asks "What do you want for Christmas?" is
In a sultry tone of voice.
Who cares if it's your grandfather asking?
At least he'll not ask again.
People want clear answers, involving ISBN numbers, or store maps if appropriate, but we're afraid to make demands.
When you go to an interview, say, and they ask you "would you like a drink?" the correct answer is:
a) Yes please, a cup of tea would be lovely - milk no sugar, thanks.
b) Sure. Do you have Lapsang Suchong?
c) Oh, some water would be lovely, thanks.
e) No thanks, I'm fine
f) Diet Coke, please, but not Coke Light, that tastes mingoise.
Correct response? Whichever is true. The question was "would you like a drink?" and not "what do you think it would be socially appropriate to request?" because if that was the case, the answer would always have to be (e) or, at a push, (c).
Likewise, with presents, when someone asks what you want, it's because they want to get you something and need to know what. Yes, of course we like presents to be heartfelt, spontaneous, perfectly-suited gestures, but it just doesn't always work like that, especially when you haven't seen the relative in question for three years. So an answer like "oh, I don't mind..." or "nothing special..." is very bashful and coy, but in terms of pre-Christmas shopping aid, totally bloody useless.
There is an increasing temptation to diffuse the uncomfortable situation of demanding material goods by saying something witty and/or urbane such as "My two front teeth" or "world peace" or "my hair back". This latter one works especially well for bald men, as less-follically challenged respondants using this line may just get a confused, blank stare. Do not use a funny line like this. The person who asked you in the first place - if they were indeed asking because they are trying to fulfill your wishes and not out of idle interest - may smirk briefly at your retort, but will inevitably be disappointed, and have to buy you a boots bath gift set because they remain unenlightened.
Do not jokingly say "a pony" either, because you may end up with one, and they're hell to keep in a gardenless flat.
Although we're advocating clarity, please don't confuse this with rudeness. There's a world of difference.
Them: "So what do you want for christmas, then?"
You: "A digital camera and a 128MB Compact flash card."
Them: "Right, then"
After this exchange, the purchaser knows what you want, specifically (especially if you have given them the model number) and can decide easily whether that falls within their purchasing budget. If it does not, they may choose instead to buy you, say, a book about digital photography, or some photo paper and an album, or a nice frame. Items which support your desired wish, in the hope that someone else coughs up for the gadget.
Contrast with the following:
Them: "So, what do you want for christmas, then?"
You: "Do you actually want to know, or are you asking what I would like you to buy me?"
You: "Because if it's the latter, then I need to know how much you're willing to spend on me. What's your annual income and how many close friends and relatives are you buying for this year, and is there a sliding scale of preference (and therefore money) among them, and if so, where do I sit on it? Also, would you consider just giving me the cash?"
Them: "Fuck you"
And you end up presentless and friendless at Christmas, which is not very nice at all.« 18 | Main | 20 »