Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I don’t like surprises. I would be disoriented and would probably feel trespassed if someone threw a surprise party for me (hint: don’t); and I’ll go as far as to say I’m not even that attracted to the idea of a wrapped gift.

In typical Grinch style, I’ve suggested to Luca that we just go shopping a few days after Christmas so I can pick what I want. This way, I’ll like it, I will use it, and most importantly, I’ll know what it is. (What would be the fun in that, he thinks.)

Luca, on the other hand, loves surprises. He loves the anticipation. He loves not knowing what he’s going to get – even if it means he might not like the gift once he opens it. (What a waste, I think, if he can just tell me what he wants.)

Every Christmas, loving him and wanting to do for him what I would like done for me, I go down a list of things I think he’d like, looking for an approving reaction. When my guess is correct, he looks at me in dismay. “That would have been so great” he’ll say longingly “but now it won’t be a surprise.”

Every Christmas, loving me and wanting to do for me what he’d like done for himself, he places a carefully, beautifully wrapped gift near our fireplace. “What is it?” I ask, looking at it suspiciously. “You know I can’t tell you” he’ll say. “You’ll have to wait until Christmas”. He beams. I groan.

If he ever does listen to me and determines not to go out and buy me a gift, I’ll feel I took Christmas from him. And we’ve briefly considered having him buy the gift I choose, and having me surprise him with something wrapped, but we agree that won’t do. The fun is in the sharing of the experience, we assure each other.

Luckily, we’re both good at choosing gifts for the other so at the end of the day, I’m pleasantly surprised, as oxymoronic as that sounds in my world. And he’s surprised, then pleased (which would be something like triple-pleased, in his world.)

So who can you relate to more? Would you rather know what you’re getting and receive exactly what you asked for, sacrificing the surprise element; or do you prefer the anticipation?

(Photo from Red Envelope catalogue.)


Miguel Cane said...

Dear Dushka,

I guess I identify with both.

Let me explain:

I love, same as Luca, to give surprise gifts. Sometimes I go a long way to do it, and it's worth it.

But I also identify with you. I can't abide surprises brought up to me.

And to be honest, I've never felt really as a good getter. I always feel I don't deserve gifts (or compliments). I know it's something I have to work on.

But, just to let you know: I am most happy to reunite people with pieces of their childhood, or getting them something they've coveted for the longest time.

I delight unto pleasing others.

That evens it, I guess.

Much love to both of you.

castaway MC

David said...

Emma is the planner in the family, and therefore can't STAND having to wait for her surprises but NICE surprises win every time for me. However, I need to know about unwelcome surprises (such as needing to go shopping, cleaning the car/house) or I get very grumpy. That's when the planmer comes out in me, i.e. "I had planned to spend the afternoon watching soccer...but now!"

Anonymous said...

We economists are so useless that we wrote an academic paper on what is commonly known as the "Deadweight loss of Christmas". Dushka, you would have been a good example of the people referenced in the study. I will include an abstract here. Suffice it to say that there is a valid reason economists do not get invited to Christmas parties and that we are seen as accountants without the personality.

Cheers Dushka, Gabriel Sod

After hundreds of years of attacks on Christmas, economists have finally gotten into the act. Yale University's Joel Waldfogel, writing in the American Economic Review, condemns what he calls "The Deadweight Loss of Christmas." Once you cut through the calculus and graphs, his conclusion is clear: though Christmas generates a $50 billion gift-giving industry, a tenth to a third of that is sheer loss. Why? Because the recipient doesn't always get what he wants. Given the chance, the recipient would have purchased something else.

All of this follows directly from his underlying theory. In neoclassical economics, the consumer is best off when he chooses, within his means, the highest-rank good or service on his "utility" scale. If he can afford a steak, and he has to settle for a hot dog because the restaurant is out of t-bone, he experiences dead-weight loss. It's even worse if he has to pay the price of steak and gets a wiener instead.

So it is with gifts. They generate a net loss, this theory says, unless the recipient would have otherwise purchased, with his own cash, precisely what he unwraps. Of course, this is rarely the case. To provide empirical meat to his theory, Professor Waldfogel interviewed students. The students received an average of $438 in gifts, for which these kids reported they would have paid only $313 if they had done the shopping themselves. The gap narrows when the gift is from a friend, and widens when it's from the family.

Imagine Mr. Waldfogel attending your next Christmas gathering. Aunt Janie gives her nephews soap-on-a-rope, and they all praise her for her generosity and thoughtfulness. The economist then prods the youngsters to 'fess up that soap-on-a-rope isn't so great after all, and with the $9.95, they would have bought the newest Spice Girls tape. He declares the gathering a waste and encourages the party to break up in the interest of everyone's economic welfare.

Professor Waldfogel proposes that we could eliminate these losses, which could be as high as $13 billion per year, by giving money instead of gifts, and letting the recipient spend it as he chooses. But then why not take matters one step further? What is the point of all this shuffling around of cash in the first place? According to neoclassical theory, it would be far better if everyone just clung to his own bank account and spent his own money as he saw fit.

Ana said...

Este comentario no tiene que ver con sorpresas pero la foto de tu blog me hizo pensar que este año en lugar de poner un arbolito de navidad que luego se va a la basura voy a poner mejor varios mini pinos plantados en unas macetas lindas, que luego pueden ser plantarlos en algun lugar.
Gracias por abrirme los ojos a mi consciencia ecologica.
Un beso,

Dushka said...

Gabriel, I think I'm a closet economist (and now understand why I've never gotten invited to parties - but that's subject for another entry.)

Ana, eso hago yo. No tengo ni arbol, ni luces, ni adornos - solo pinos super chiquitos (hago un mini bosque) y nochebuenas.

Mandame una foto de como se te tu casa adornada ecologicamente!

IZ said...

yo odio que me hagan fiestas sorpresas. siempre pongo cara de "what?".

Dushka said...

Exacto. Y, de hecho, tampoco me gustan las fiestas. Mejor una cenita!

Anonymous said...

You once threw a surprise party for my birthday. Since you hates surprises (now) you might have known (then) that I'm not so keen on them myself, but I was stuck with it. Dressed as is, and confronted by at least 30 people, I had to deal with feeding and entertaining them. And I did. I guess that's the lesson of surprises. You deal with them and then feel triumphant, that you were able to cope, and survive and prevail. Signed: your mother.
P.S. Luca has a point, too, and Tomás normally agrees, but this year we did it your way and Tomás picked out, deliberated and finally bought his own Christmas gift. Now he's having a wonderful time fiddling with it.