Who knows when the first gift was given.  Maybe it was a prehistoric hunter offering a spare cut of meat about to go bad.  Ever since, in probably every society, gifting has become a way of life; and for all sorts of reasons – to celebrate, to show off, to bribe, to express heartfelt affection or merely to follow prevailing etiquette.

Social gifting has largely been the province of women who sociologists tell us generally take charge of the “expressive functions” in our society. Believe me, I’m thankful for that.  I don’t know about the women in your life, but my wife will never miss an opportunity to buy and give a gift.  And will devote considerable thought and energy before deciding upon one.  (no re-gifting for her.)  I will at times question her unbridled generosity, but that puts me in an awkward position.  How do you argue against giving even a token gift?  What would that say about you?  The problem is, once you concede a gift is appropriate where do you draw the line?  And so I go along with her gift giving (and many contributions) which knows few bounds.  I rather doubt she’s doing it to satisfy some competitive urgings (although she will on occasion note that an incoming gift was decidedly inferior to the one previously given to that same individual), but rather because she is by nature generous and given to doing the “right thing”.

So in any given year gifts will go out to a basic list of perennials and to meet a host of one-time obligations.  Within the family there are the usual birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, Father’s and Mother’s Days and numerous holidays which involve gifts.  The children, of course, will receive gifts at any time, simply because they like and expect them.  Then, there are those non-scheduled occasions which always appear to pop up.  That would include graduations, special honors, favors and services received, homes visited, parties attended (despite notice of “No gifts please”), etc.  I’ve never been brave enough to tally our annual gift totals, nor the costs incurred.  I’m unlikely to even come close.  (Would that our tax laws awarded such generosity and allowed itemized deductions for personal gift giving).

My only consolation in this orgy of gift giving is that for the most part I’m given a pass, need not participate all that much in the decision making and purchasing of presents.  I am consulted on occasion with regard to spending levels, although my suggested limits are normally exceeded.  Still, I’m usually thanked by those receiving our gift and commended for my generosity and excellent taste – surely ironic, as you now understand



Pat:  Hello, Marge.

Marge:  Hi, How are you?

Pat:  I see you’re shopping.

Marge:  Just came by for a few items.

Pat:  What’s new with you?

Marge:  Nothing much.

Pat:  Family good?

Marge:  Yeah.  Everyone’s fine.  And yours?

Pat:  Can’t complain.  You see Lynn lately?

Marge:  No I haven’t.  I meant to call her, but I’ve been busy.  How’s your husband liking his new job?

Pat:  It’s a job, you know.

Marge:  Yeah, you’re right.  Well, we should get together.

Pat:  Let’s set something up.  You take care now.

Marge:  Nice seeing you.  Give everyone my best.

How many empty conversations like this have you overheard over the years?  And consider how many you’ve been a party to.



The above conversation proceeded well.  Both Pat and  Marge stopped, faced each other and engaged in a friendly exchange in which some “catching up” took place.  More problematical are conversations between people on the move where neither intends to stop and talk, but each feels obliged to do more than merely acknowledge one another and pass on by.  A “Hi, how are you…good,” will not suffice.  Too impersonal.  Could be considered a brushoff.  At least two or three exchanges must take place to satisfy both parties that they’ve not been abrupt, but have met at least minimum conversational  exchange time.

But this is most challenging because the encounter was unexpected and both individuals are intent upon staying on the move.  Some standard scripts should be considered.

  • Explaining why you are where you are.
  • Why time pressures prevent you from stopping to chat.
  • The weather.
  • Status of kids and family.  Be careful – it could take too long.
  • A future event or occasion where both of you are likely to meet (presumably for a “real” interchange).

Conversations require time to develop and flow easily.  Collapsing the process into but a few seconds creates real difficulties.  If one is verbally agile and can think on one’s feet, it can come off well.  Otherwise, there will be awkward moments for both parties.  Of course you can (as some do) pretend not to notice the other person and avoid the issue entirely.



Act I

Dining out, let’s say, with another couple can be a most pleasurable experience:  a time for catching up and enjoying each other’s company.  There may be, however, a few rough patches to negotiate along the way, awkward moments that require a measure of tact and flexibility.  It could occur at the outset when a table awaits us.  What do you do when both of them, however, decide they’re unhappy with the location?  “It’s too close to the kitchen,” he says; to which she adds, “It’s too noisy there.”  The two of us have no complaints, but you can’t force it on them.  So we’re left, still in our coats, standing around impatiently, waiting in a tight entranceway for the next table to become available.

Now the main course arrives, except not his because he’s ordered an entrée requiring special and lengthier preparation.  We can’t wait to dig in except that it would, given the situation, be considered impolite to do so.  Somewhere it was drilled into us – you can’t start until everyone’s been served.  Meanwhile, the two of them are talking so he doesn’t notice the awkward situation.  Finally, his wife somehow signals him.  “Please get started; don’t wait for me.”   We were about to anyway; still, getting his permission was welcome.

Then, there’s sharing.  Some people, “do-gooders” no doubt, are big on sharing food, enjoy sampling different dishes when dining.  I’m not one of them.  I put a lot of thought into selecting the main dish and look forward to eating all of it.  Besides, it’s not always the case that the distribution involves equal portions.  But what credible arguments can one offer against sharing?  The concept is as unassailable as the Golden Rule.  I could insist that I don’t care for the other dish, but that would sound parochial and peevish.  So plates are exchanged and food passes from one to another.  It’s at that point that I start thinking about how to avoid splitting a desert!

Act II

We all know the type.  As the waiter approaches with the bill he has already undertaken evasive action (heading to the bathroom, looking off in another direction, groping for a wallet that never emerges) in an effort to avoid paying the tab.  And in the awkward moments that follow he sometimes succeeds (though he may be called upon to leave the gratuity.  If he is, he will more than likely maneuver to return unaccompanied to the table after the others have departed to leave a none too generous tip).  A related scenario features two or more individuals locked in earnest combat, each ostensibly intent on paying for the others in the face of outwardly determined resistance.  This stylized ritual usually features attempts to snatch the bill, demands that the waiter only accept his credit card, hurried efforts to pay before others do, and often prolonged and occasionally heated exchanges as each insists he be allowed to “take care of it.”  The drama usually ends with the reluctant “surrender” of one of the players but not before his “right” to pay the next time is acknowledged.  However well-worn these plots are, the actors can be expected to offer spirited and convincing performances.


No outward rumblings characterize this scene, though resentments are kindled, often unintentionally in the following manner.  The call for splitting the bill, e.g., between two couples, usually appears innocent enough though sinister motives cannot be ruled out when there is a clear disparity in consumption levels.  When one couple’s drinks, appetizers, entrees and desserts clearly outweigh the other’s main dishes and coffees, the call to split the bill may register more like a call to arms.  Is it innocent oversight or a calculated coup?  Such speculations have no bearing on the outcome.  The offer once made, must be accepted.  A few kicks under the table, a hurried exchange of glances, but otherwise no outward reaction.  Later on, however, a vow – never again.