To gift, or not to gift, that is the question:

by Ranim Elborai

Happy Halloween folks!a 

It’s not super Halloween-y here in London, but there is a small-to-medium sized pumpkin atop the espresso machine in my “office,” and I guess that’s festive enough for me. See?

IMG_2750Yes, those are naked lady cyclists stuck onto the back of the espresso machine. But I don’t think that makes this post NSFW.

Speaking of bringing things over, the other day was Bag Whore’s birthday. Having a husband she’s extremely fond of, it only made sense that she’d have an intimate birthday dinner with him on the day of. So I held off my birthday enthusiasm for  her a good 24hrs and went over to her place for dinner yesterday.

Having bought myself something really, really special earlier that afternoon (namely, the Chelsea boots of my dreams), I thought it would be extremely bad form to show up at hers with a big lovely gift for me, but with nothing at all for her.

Well, it wasn’t just that.

I’ve been thinking about reviving the gifting tradition amongst my circle of friends.

You see, the birthday gift, as a concept, was a very important tradition to observe when I was a kid. I used to get action figures and dolls and puzzles and all sorts of other toys.

But teenager-dom came along and screwed things up. Since we no longer played with toys or games, gift-giving became problematic. We didn’t have enough money to be giving one another really nice gifts. But we still had to give each other something.

After years and years of giving one another hideous candles and useless figurines; CDs we didn’t really like and books purchased from the WH Smith at some airport as an afterthought; awful re-giftsb like granny perfumes (i.e., a scent that overpowers the sniffer with images of mothballs, fruitcakes and lace doilies) and ornate boxes of chocolate, the contents of which taste awful; we arrived at a tacit agreement: no more gifts. At all.


“Thanks Andrea, this tasteful duck candle was just what I needed to make my bedroom truly unique!”


“The Da Vinci Code! This will look great next to all my other copies of the Da Vinci Code!”


“Oh Sarah, you shouldn’t have!” No really, you shouldn’t have.

What really happened was that we went to university relatively far away from one another. At least, I was really far away from all my friends. All my friends went to uni in the UK and as a result saw quite a lot  of one another.c

But that meant that our birthdays were usually celebrated apart. So no more gifts, because, honestly, who is going to bother sending over some crappy candle to Belfast by post?

Since 5 out of 7 girls had their birthdays throughout the academic year, forgoing the boon of crapp-o budget presents as a result, it wouldn’t be fair if our two friends with summer birthdays would benefit from a windfall.

So yeah, an unspoken policy went into effect. No more prezzies for the lot of us. Which was fine by me.

I thought it was the way mature people conducted themselves: “Right, you know, and I know, if I buy you something for your birthday, it’s most likely going to suck. And I’ll spend forever trying to look for something that you might like, that’s cute, that’s not too pricey so it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable and obligated to me. But you most likely won’t like it. You’ll probably hide it away in your junk cupboard, or keep it around for a year as not to hurt my feelings, then throw it away. Or you might even re-gift it. So how about I just buy you dinner?”

A blasé and resentment-free birthday arrangement, ideal for a non-sentamentalist such as myself.

If you know my sister and I, you’re most likely aware that we’re attached at the hip.d

When I moved to New York, I often ended up tagging along with her when she went out with her group of (mostly lawyer) friends. Now these people are job-holding, bill-paying, mature (well, that’s always a questionable assessment) young professionals, most of whom are around 4 years old than me.

Yet somehow they never seemed to have grown out of the whole birthday thing. Elaborate joint birthday parties were thrown. If the big hoopla wasn’t had, then it was an extended group dinner. A large cake would make an appearance — invariably red velvet.

images-2I’ve had so much red velvet over the course of 4 years in NYC, that I kind of never want to eat it again.

Then, of course, the piece de resistance, the big, expensive, incredibly thoughtful gift.

Rather than buy individual gifts that may or may not be nice, this group chose to go in on one really amazing gift.

But like, really go in on one.

Group emails were sent out speculating on what exactly Isabella wanted this year. If Izzy hadn’t dropped any hints, one friend would go window shopping with her a week or two prior to the occasion to try and feel out what her inclinations were. If that didn’t work, suggestions were sent thrown out, open forum style, and voted on.

The budget? At least 80 (£s, $s, whatever). Sometimes a little more or a little less.

6 or more people go in on a gift like that? Well, that quirky coffee table book from Urban Outfitters is no longer on the menu. Now you’re looking at a tasteful designer wallet, at the very least.

Instead of leaving dinner with a handful of meaningless knick-knacks and not-so-exciting artisanal bath-products, you leave with one really lovely thing that you’ll probably cherish. It’s a good model.

volt1 MMPR_Dinozord_MegazordIt’s the model that childhood favourites like Voltron or The Power Rangers employed. When the enemy monster/robot inexplicably increased to ten times its original size, the individual good-guy robots would all combine to transform into huge robot with major ass-kicking potential. Teamwork!

After several years of being exposed to this sickening thoughtfulness, I think I may have become infected.

I’ve also grown a little more sentimental with age.

Unfortunately, I don’t have quite the same budget that these accomplished  young professionals have at their disposal,e nor do I have the power of numbers on my side.

What I can marshall up is a hatred of ugly things, pronounced notions as to what would be useful and what would be not, and a little bit of time to do some rummaging.

So what did Bobo get for Bag Whore?

0213-1495-055000-174_01_470_505   images-1      images-3

  A box of socks from Hobbs with hearts on them, and a so-called statement necklace (not actual necklace) from H&M. I dispensed with wrapping paper for the necklace by putting it inside one of these cute plastic baggies (also from H&M).

Hopefully the socks fit her, because she probably hates the necklace. But they keep telling me that it’s the thought that counts.


  1. Brace yourself for a wholly US-based commentary below. If you’re not from the US and could care less, I’m sorry. Even though today is technically the day, Halloween is already old news. I say this not just because I already delivered my Halloween-related rant for the year last week.

    When Halloween falls on a regular weekday, everyone schedules their parties the previous weekend. If you’ve got kids, they may have even gone trick-or-treating before the 31st.

    By the time the 31st actually does roll around, everyone’s already got their mind on Thanksgiving. At most, your officemates might show up at work today with some second-rate costume.

    This is because Halloween is a great holiday we all want to celebrate, but we don’t get the day off for. Instead, the US Federal Government recognises Columbus Day as a national holiday. This comic from the Oatmeal goes into some depth as to why no one should celebrate Christopher Columbus ever. (Briefly, it’s because he was a raping, pillaging, genocidal sociopath.)

    So what I’d like to propose to the US government is this: ditch Columbus Day; give us Halloween, or better yet, the day after Halloween, off.  (back)

  2. You know, when your mom receives something she doesn’t quite like as a gift and she turns it into a gift for someone else. I have one friend who always did this. She knows who she is.  (back)
  3. And had a lot more fun to boot.  (back)
  4. This may not be the healthiest thing for our social/romantic lives, but we’re working on it.  (back)
  5. In fact, I’m currently making negative money. If you’ve got any bright ideas on how to monetise this baby, or would like to advertise on The Handbook, hit me up at! Seriously!!!  (back)