Robb Report Singapore

Didn’t We Almost Have It All

With a nod to Whitney Houston, Andrew Leci questions what you get as a gift for the person ‘who has everything’?


A FEW YEARS back I found myself in London over the Christmas period. Having been an expatriate for quite a while, it was not a common occurrence, but it necessitat­ed a series of events – family reunions, lots of eating with several other people, and festive cheer – that can be either pleasures or pains, depending on how favourable one feels towards one’s family and friends.

My sojourn also created the requiremen­t for buying lots (and lots) of presents, and I don’t enjoy shopping. Quite frankly, I’d rather be poked in the eye with a sharp stick than trawl around a mall, and I have never understood the concept of ‘window shopping’. How many windows can you buy in a lifetime anyway? And how do you get them home afterwards? I digress.

Shopping, however, was a necessary evil that had to be embraced, and I told my partner that we were going to one store and making all of our purchases there and then. I picked out bits and pieces from various department­s, in my manic version of a ‘supermarke­t sweep’, accompanie­d by the words, “Let’s just buy a stack of stuff and sort out who we give it to later.”

She was… horrified. “You can’t buy presents like that!” she screeched – the relationsh­ip didn’t last that long; can’t think why. “Could you get any more impersonal?”

I tried to explain that we had a whole load of gifts to buy, with limited time and limited patience (mine, all mine) as far as shopping was concerned, and this was merely the most efficient way of doing it. Count the number of recipients. Procure a similar amount of generic gifts. Nothing tatty or tacky; good stuff; but slightly nondescrip­t, just in case.

As time has elapsed and the bitterness at our separation has abated, I have come to realise that she was absolutely right, and my conduct was deplorable. That’s not the way you buy someone a gift, or at least it shouldn’t be. Thought has to go into the process, but the problem in this scenario was the fact that quite a lot of the individual­s I was buying presents for weren’t particular­ly well known to me – nieces, nephews, parents, those kind of people. How did I know what they liked, wanted or even needed?

The fact is that they probably didn’t need much, of anything. Not because they were all extravagan­tly rich or living off trust funds, but because they were sensible people – they couldn’t choose one family member,

obviously – who bought what they could afford, and indulged themselves with luxuries and exclusive items when the time was right, and always with a sense of guilt at the expense that wasn’t spared.

The gifts I chose for them were arbitrary, admittedly, but I tried to convince myself (and my partner) that intuition played a part, and that I was sure there would be something nice for everyone as long as I labelled everything correctly. This was done with the help of a set of dice and a Ouija board. Don’t talk to me about ‘impersonal’.

So, what do you get for the person who ‘has everything’? It sounds like a stupid question, and perhaps it is when the obvious answer is “something that they don’t already have”, but if they really do have everything, then this doesn’t make sense at all.

The truth is that it’s merely an expression, to denote the fact that the individual concerned is well-heeled, in clover, and in control of his or her own financial destiny. Let’s not beat around the bush, let’s just use the quaint English terminolog­y – ‘minted’. Someone who has plenty of money can buy whatever the hell they like, and won’t need to ask the price. This makes them notoriousl­y and inconvenie­ntly difficult to buy gifts for, particular­ly around the festive period.

Obviously, no one really does have everything.

The phrase itself is more focused on not wanting for anything rather than gathering every conceivabl­e item protective­ly to a heaving chest and sporting a

“this is mine” expression on the face. When one buys someone a gift, it would be nice to think that it would be appreciate­d because it is useful, and if it’s not useful, sufficient­ly decorative to give pleasure – which is useful in itself.

It’s difficult to buy clothes for people you don’t know that well, and even more difficult for people you know too well, because you have to make a judgment on size and fit, and assume to know that person’s personal taste. It’s dangerous territory.

You can’t buy art for someone for much the same reason – not the fit this time, but certainly the personal taste aspect – and it’s difficult to be objective, when the appreciati­on of art is so subjective. If you are going to buy a piece of art though, make sure it’s not abstract. The recipient can read almost anything into an abstract work of art (much like a metaphysic­al poem) and one only wants others to take umbrage when that’s the intention, and there are plenty of gifts I can think of that would induce it. If you have a friend who has maybe let himself go over recent years, a package at a spa specialisi­ng in liposuctio­n may indeed be useful, but, like that person’s weight, is unlikely to go down well. Sensitivit­y is required at all times, even for those who want for nothing.

I did some research on the Internet, and the general consensus seems to be that something quirky and unusual is appropriat­e. Suggestion­s include a Jedi bath robe, a desktop punch bag, and a smart ukulele (who wants a shabby one?). How about a book on how to traumatise your children? That’s definitely nongender specific. Personally, I like the idea of spending an afternoon with a mob of meerkats – this can be arranged, apparently, for a fee – and having your own personal pasta variation created for you.

If that doesn’t appeal, what about a pillow shaped in the form of the codex from The Da Vinci Code, or toilet rolls with the text of War and Peace on them? Neither of these things have been invented yet, but isn’t it about time?

Whatever you decide, originalit­y is key, and practicali­ty is much less of a considerat­ion. Feel free to go a little crazy, but remember to think carefully about who you’re buying for. Otherwise you might end up with egg on your face like me back in London all those years ago. My dyslexic niece didn’t appreciate the game of Scrabble, while my teetotalli­ng aunt didn’t love her book on Bordeaux vineyards – despite its obvious clarety. As it turned out, my parents already owned the book, Traumatise Your Children, and indeed, had contribute­d to the preface. Who knew?

Sensitivit­y is required at all times, even for those who want for nothing.

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