Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Passive-Aggressive Guide to Giving Christmas Gifts

Every holiday season, millions of people review their Christmas gift list and ask themselves, "Why am I getting THIS person a gift again?"

Our lives are filled with people that we don't really want to gifts to, but feel contractually obligated to do so. Maybe it is your least favorite niece or nephew who accidentally spilled Kool Aid on your beautiful leather couch. Maybe it is the co-worker you secretly don't like, but you're getting gifts for everyone on your team so you have to get a gift for this person, too. Maybe it is someone close to your significant other and you've never quite figured out what it is your S.O. sees in this person.

It doesn't matter; what matters is that you have to buy a gift for someone you don't particularly care for. It is a tough place to be, but this guide will help you find the perfect gift that is both passive and aggressive at the same time.

The main thing to do is to not think of gifts as objects - think of gifts as a message. A message that says, "I am supposed to like you and do something nice for you, but my heart is not really in it. So I am honoring the letter of this gift-giving law but not the spirit." There is a deep vein of tacky in everything about Christmas for this sole purpose. Tacky Christmas ornaments. Tacky Christmas clothing. In fact, Paul McCartney let the world know how much he passive-aggressively hates it by penning the worst song ever and then associating it with Christmas.

The key to being passive it to avoid the "watching with glee as the person opens the present" experience. You don't want to see the flash of disappointment as someone opens an ornate package only to find it contains tube socks. Well, maybe you do, but if this person also doesn't like you, the passive-aggressive gift might lead to a fight, and the whole point of being passive is that you want to avoid a fight while remaining as annoying as possible.

By hiding from the gift opening experience, it opens the door to writing the passive-aggressive note. The passive-aggressive note is a long-honored tradition by people who pride themselves on being "helpful" in quotes when everyone knows good and well they just want to be as grating on the nerves as possible.

Classic example - For Christmas, give a person a Diet Book with a sweet little note on the cover page that reads, "I know you have been struggling for some time, and I just wanted to help. Merry Christmas!"

This example accomplishes so many things at once:
  • It takes on the veneer of being helpful.
  • It is really snarky and more than a little insulting.
  • It is personalized.
Personalized gifts are KEY to being passive-aggressive. Everyone gets tacky gifts from their passive-aggressive friends. But truly passive-aggressive people simply REGIFT the tacky present. The best way to block the regifting process on a hideous present is to personalize the hideous present.

For example, a Christmas sweater with a big goofy reindeer on it can always be re-wrapped and sent to your Uncle Murray next Christmas. HOWEVER, a Christmas sweater with a big goofy reindeer AND a monogrammed name of "Mitch" on it... Well, Mitch, you are stuck unless you have a kid with your same name and you want to punish the poor child.

Because children receive the most presents at Christmas time, they also receive the most passive-aggressive gifts. Ask any child how they feel about getting clothes for Christmas and you will hear a heartfelt tale of woe. It is possible to take passive-aggressiveness up a notch, however by giving children wonderful gifts that are sure to drive their parents insane.

For example, give the child a book of knock knock jokes. Or, better yet, give the child a set of drums. Or a collection of fun silly polka songs. The success of Barney the Dinosaur comes directly from passive-aggressive relatives giving presents to the children for the sole purpose of driving the parents beyond the border of nutsville.

In fact, a lot of industries are based on passive-aggressive gifts. The impulse buy aisle before every check out counter is a hotbed of passive-aggression. Nothing quite says, "I didn't think of you until the last minute, so here is a can of peppermint bark," than waiting until the last minute and buying a can of peppermint bark.

So there you go. Buy something crappy. Dress it up. Personalize it. Write a passive-aggressive note. And then run far, far away.

Merry Christmas!


Churlita said...

That's awesome. When my girls were younger i called a moratorium on all knock knock jokes.

M. Robert Turnage said...

Hey Churlita, orange you glad I didn't say banana?

NoRegrets said...

Hey, you do know Trader JOe's has the peppermint bark at the checkout. Are you saying it's a bad store?

And thanks for the photo of the upside down Christmas tree. I've heard of it, but never seen it in the wild.


Susan said...

I just opened a gift and now am wondering if the person who gave it doesn't like me...

M. Robert Turnage said...

NoR, Trader Joe's is awesome. I do most of my Christmas shopping in the checkout lane there.

Susan, if you are in doubt, then the person absolutely adores you. Come on! You are Susan! Everyone likes you!

InvisibleMarketing said...

Exhibit A.

Pamela said...

PS, I love peppermint back and would gladly accept Exhibit A.