Illustration: Gifts
© Daniel Egnéus

Oh, all those good gifts!


The drama of every generous person: What on earth should I get them? And its twin torment: What will they give me?

I like March because my birthday falls in March. Birthdays can be depressing for many people because they regularly present us with the cold, hard, humorless numbers that dampen our spirits, reminding us that we are yet another year older. Many people share their dislike of growing older and long for the opposite: to grow younger. But honestly, how horrific would that be? To be 40, then 30, and then 20 again. Back to clubbing. And then 18 and learning to drive. Then 16 and – oh, the horror of it!

I, for my part, prefer to age, year by year. And let’s not forget that birthdays do have their good side: There are the gifts; granted, often rather odd gifts, but nevertheless. I once received a bottle of Wuppertal Monorail wine, but I haven’t drunk it yet for fear of detrimental effects. Sometimes the presents are simply dumb, like T-shirts with something really funny printed on the front. But sometimes they are plain fantastic. My favorite was a 40th birthday gift from my good friend Shirana, who, I suspect, has her Persian roots to thank for her present-picking talent. She gave me an 800-meter reel of all-purpose thread. I was a little taken aback at first, but then I saw that it was really good all-purpose thread, it looked nice, and on top of that, it was a generous reel – so generous, in fact, that today, eight years on, there’s still some left. So you could say the thread reaches back through time and also into the future. Granted, it could simply be that I don’t need it very much – truth be told, I actually only use it to wind round the occasional rolled roast.

I like March because it holds the hope, for me, of receiving gifts. But I also like April because that’s when quite a few of my loved ones have their birthday. And what’s even better than receiving gifts? Precisely! Giving them. Because giving springs from great generosity. Giving away things you would love to keep for yourself is a capacity that testifies to a truly great spirit – and who would not wish for that?

But now I am plagued by a couple of problems. Even it is does sound, ahem, a trifle conceited: The reason for this is my boundless generosity! In the euphoria of bestowing gifts, I have lost all track of what I have given to whom. Worse still: Even if I had made a list and included all the vouchers, discounts and other good deeds not directly linked to the object – and truly, there were many – it wouldn’t help me much because it couldn’t impart the degree of pleasure, appreciation or even delight the gift elicited from the respective recipient.

Was I always right with my generally well-considered choices? Doubts raise their ugly head. Didn’t my cousin look pretty uptight two Christmases ago at the sight of the designer pepper pot he had just unwrapped before a less than convincing, almost croaked “Thanks” issued from his throat. Didn’t I detect fleeting disappointment on my rather too sassy niece’s face when the contents of the voluminous parcel, in which I had ensconced my gift in the manner of creative packaging artists, turned out to be a pair of tiny, South Nepalese wooden earrings?

Now I fear that the treasures I have lavishly and gladly bestowed have not always been fully appreciated, given their reception accompanied in the best cases by a shake of the head or a muffled whisper, and in the worst cases, with scorn and derision. Oh dear! The thought alone could almost break my heart. Could. Had I not, in the depths of my despair, happened on an idea that should ease my suffering, at least temporarily, even if it does fly in the face of my generous nature. For the next, let’s say, two years, I will simply keep everything for myself. Then we’ll see.