Regifting: thrifty or tacky?

Tips for saving money

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I went over to a small get-together at a friend’s house on Saturday, and a few of the guests brought a bottle of wine as a gift for the hostess. Since neither she nor her husband drink very much, the practical thought occurred to both of us that they could bring the wine as gifts for another party in the future. Yet the idea didn’t sit entirely well with either of us. So-called regifting was a hot topic last Christmas and seen as a way to fight off consumerism.

I’m all for being frugal but still somewhat constrained by my culture, I guess. In my family, especially in Asia, gift-giving is not as casual as it is here in the States. Gift giving there has a lot more significance, and people understand the amount of thought that was probably put into the present: its price, its quality, its brand, the country where it was made, even sometimes its accessibility (e.g. how difficult it would be to find). Thriftiness and frugality are important elsewhere in life, but just not when it comes to gift giving or hosting. And when someone who’s given you a gift visits your house, the most respectful thing to do is to have the gift prominently displayed somewhere that they can see it. I can imagine that if a person were to find out that his or her gift had been passed on to someone else, it would be both an insult and a reason for relationships between parties to break. Similarly, I don’t to discount stores to buy anything that I’d be giving as a gift to someone else. In Asian society, gift-giving also comes with a set structure and hierarchy, and gifts (and their value) are chosen depending on the type of visit, event, celebration, and proximity of and age of receiver, among lots of other factors. The red envelopes (of money) that you give to the bride and groom with whom you are acquainted will vary significantly from the amount you give to a close friend.

I remember learning Japanese in college and just about giving up right when we started learning the verbs for receiving and giving gifts. In Japanese, there are different verbs and different conjugations depending on whether the giver was below or above you, in your in-group or out-group, and a whole other set for receiving gifts. I don’t think anyone who’d brought the wine on Saturday would have cared if my friends gave them to someone else to use, but it’s interesting how ingrained cultural training can be.

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