It was embarrassing to fire up my snowblower this morning; total snow accumulation would hardly bury a penny. Little came out the chute; it looked more like wispy steam. But still, it felt faster than pushing a shovel all over, and I love power tools.
To justify myself, I buzzed my neighbor’s sidewalk too. Brian has a real job and actually goes to work. I thought about doing his driveway too but decided circling his house unexpectedly might give his lovely wife the creeps.
My total invested time was about twenty seconds. Shortly after, little Sam, their son, appeared at my door with full plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies. He looked as perplexed as I. Their total invested time: one hour. My breezy little gesture became a windfall. I considered whether if I washed her car she’d paint my house.
Americans are the only culture in the world who consider a gift to be a social burden. If someone sends you a Christmas card, dangit! Now you have to send them one in return. We have to defend ourselves against gifts, neutralize them, lest we be embroidered with a big red D for Deadbeat. If not yourself, you know someone who buys and wraps an extra gift or two, just in case some weirdo shows up at the last minute with a present. “Why, I was just about to bring this over,” you lie. “You saved me a trip!” It’s a Strategic Gift Defense System.
I previously wrote about gifting salami. It’s perfect for this application: it keeps forever since it’s not really food, and yet it has the air of, “Hey, I just whipped this up!” If someone gives you one of those Hillshire Farms gift boxes, with salami and warm greasy cheese and some random jelly thing and those unmarked, cellophane-wrapped hard candies made anonymously in China, all snuggled in a fake grass nest as if a chicken just laid it, you can just toss it on top of the fridge indefinitely and pass it on when needed. It’s the aikido gift.
Some people just duck their friends, as if gift-giving was akin to being served a warrant. If they can’t find you to give a gift, you don’t have to give one back. Plus, it gives you an excuse to stay inside and watch TV all day.
Outside of the U.S. it’s rude to give a tit-for-tat gift. (Yeah, your spam filter is going to flag that.) Indeed, the biggest honor a gift can get in many countries is to be passed along to someone else. The farther it goes, the better the gift. If I gave you a Wii and you immediately handed it to someone else, I’d say, “Hey, give it back then!” Ironically, the one gift we do pass on and on is that salami.
So maybe I’ll keep blowing my neighbor’s snow just to see how long before she throws open the window and yells, “Knock it off, Jackass!”