"I think people need to regard gift giving as a communication," Dawn Bryan said. "The ideal gift communicates appropriate and desired messages about both the giver and the receiver."
Wisdom, indeed, for this holiday season, and it comes from someone who describes herself as a gift guru. Bryan is founder of Selectivite, a company that specializes in corporate and individual gift programs (her clients include Neiman-Marcus and Gucci's), and she has just come out with a book, "The Art and Etiquette of Gift Giving" (Bantam hard-cover: $18.95). It is an encyclopedic accomplishment that has an appropriate chapter on international and ethnic gifts, particularly of importance in the melting pot that Los Angeles has become:
- In dealing with Arabs, it is an insult of offer your gift with your left hand--and if you must do so, apologize so that the recipient is assured that no insult is intended.
- For someone from France, if the gift is flowers, the custom is to always send an uneven number of cut flowers. "An even number is not only considered gauche, but they are thought to be more difficult to arrange artistically," Bryan explained.
- To someone in or from West Germany, that same gift of flowers shouldn't be given wrapped in paper. Also, unless you have romantic intentions, don't present red roses, because those are usually reserved for sweethearts.
- As for Italians, don't give chrysanthemums, except for funerals, because they denote mourning and death. The same is true of the color purple.
"With these stipulations, flowers are safe as a universal gift anywhere," Bryan said in an interview. "No one will object or be offended. If you are simply going to someone's home for dinner, flowers are always acceptable."
So much for social invitations during this upcoming period of Christmas and Hanukkah, but how about some practical advice for the customary exchanging of gifts?
"People should use such gifts to their own advantage," Bryan said. "If you want the recipient to think of you as being creative and clever, you might want to give the services of a liveried butler or maid to be used on some special occasion.
"If you want the person to think of you as thoughtful and practical, you might want to give a pasta crate."
You can, the author went on, fit the gift to a particular liking or trait of the recipient:
For a chocoholic, consider handing over a 174-piece Monopoly game replica made completely of you-know-what, right down to the hotel pieces. Neiman-Marcus in Beverly Hills handles this one, for instance, as do other local stores selling classy candies.
For someone who is left-handed, consider giving a watch that winds on the left, or a camera with controls on that side.
For a traveler, a Wizard of Wine II calculator with a data base of 549 vintages.
For the elderly or disabled, an automatic card shuffler.
Most of the gifts suggested in the book are available in Southern California, a spokeswoman for Bryan said.
"Start a collection for someone, and you've solved the next dozen Christmas presents," the author advised in the interview. "You might select the first crystal piece, or silver Christmas tree ornament, for a pair of newlyweds."
"The Art and Etiquette of Gift Giving" even has a chapter on gifts that should never be given. They include citrus fruit to Californians or Floridians, a pet (unless parents agree or adults request) or perfumed stationery to anybody. "That last one is just my personal feeling," Bryan said. "I think perfumed stationery is gross."
For the Extravagant
If money is no object, suggestions for extravagant gifts include a hot air balloon with carpeting, a cellular telephone, a wet bar or a television set. Or a life-size replica of Rome's Trevi Fountain. Or a radio-controlled toy submarine for the swimming pool.
At the other extreme, for a considerably more modest dent in the purse or wallet, give a kite, or a dozen pencils, or a pizza.
Take care, the author advised, when considering a surprise gift, such as a singing/dancing telegram: "Some people are easily embarrassed. Surprises often are more fun for the planner than for a shy recipient."