Monday, December 22, 2008

Plastic Schmastic

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of plastic. I'm talking about those ubiquitous cards that you can buy in lieu of something of beauty, an object. I was shopping this morning at Ralph's, our local grocery store chain, and came to the end of an aisle that was anchored by a post, a column of literally hundreds of these plastic cards. Olive Garden, American Express, McDonald's, Nordstrom, Kohl's, the list goes on and on and the vast array of amounts -- $5, $10, $25, $50, $100 -- was bewildering.

I hate gift cards.

I'm no stranger to credit cards and pack a lot of plastic in my own wallet. But this custom of giving someone a gift card instead of a gift just really bugs me. If it weren't for the luxury of a blog, I might just think about this endlessly, an interior kvetch as I went about my day, and forgive me if you think I should be writing about more important things. Like Sophie, my disabled daughter, for instance. Or the joys of parenting two wild and crazy little boys. Or maybe The Husband -- fertile ground, there.

But I want to talk about my growing disdain for gift cards. I want to be brutally honest.

I hate gift cards. I think they're easy and lazy and thoughtless. They're ugly, too. I've bought my fair share of gift cards for other people, and I always feel uncomfortable with it, like I haven't really given a shit and I might as well just get a giftcard. Buying gift cards makes me think of the long lines at Kmart, the people who go to Best Buy in the wee hours of the morning the day after Thanksgiving, the mindless texting of the teenager, the person walking her dog with a Bluetooth hanging from her ear, yakking into the air. Buying a gift card makes me think of the many I have in my own wallet, the $1.34 I have left on a Starbucks one, the $13.56 I have on an H&M. I have bits and pieces of plastic right now taking up space in my wallet.

I realize that this is a "fancy person's problem," as my friend Debra calls it. My friend Johanna and I might call it a "bourgeois complaint." But this is a blog, so I don't care. And if a person visiting it thinks this blog is written by a shallow, dull woman, well, they should just check out some of my other posts. (You'll get your insight, new reader, trust me -- the depths of feeling and horror that I plumb are infinite).

But I digress.

I want the person buying me a gift to really think about ME. About what I'd like. I want to have dropped hints for a while, have browsed through some fabulous store or website and that person who's going to buy me a gift just knows that I'd like it. Or maybe it's handmade and weird and creative. One of my favorite gifts that I ever got was from an old ex-husband (I have about a hundred of them). It was a book of Buddhist poems from a used bookstore, and he'd underlined one of them in the Table of Contents. When I went to the page, there was the most perfect, beautiful poem. Something about the moon. And me and him, probably.

Lest you think I'm a complete bitch, I don't want to go out and buy a bunch of giftcards, either. I want to carefully choose something for those I love and appreciate. I want to actually take the time and do it. Call me insane but I'm yearning for a time when Christmas gifting was more than a slew of plastic to be spent at a later date. In fact, I'd rather get some crazy ugly Christmas sweater with bears golfing or something than a gift card. Just think of the stories that sweater would tell.


  1. My 7 year old has "Target Gift Card" written on her wish list (among other things) .... she likes the dog with the eyepatch spot. After she uses a gift card she keeps it just for fun.
    My husband has a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card that's already a year old and never been used. I daydream about stealing it and using it for myself (knowing he will never even notice that it's missing).
    .... now I'm going to be contemplating the meaning of gift cards ;) .... maybe they're a modern day fruitcake .... except, those are actually quite a labor of love - to those who love them.

  2. shit. bette return the Forever 21 gift card I got you....

  3. I've calmed down about the gift card thing -- or perhaps it's more a case that I've surrendered to it when it comes to certain people.

    I HATE gift cards for all the reasons you've listed. I just feel like it's one step away from cash and if I'm giving or getting cash as a gift, what's the point? I'd rather just skip the whole thing entirely.

    On the other hand, I have learned that there are certain people -- I'll just say that they fall into the in-law category -- that would actually prefer to receive a gift card than something personal (something I probably think is very cool, but that they won't appreciate). I seem to be dealing more and more with people who would rather receive gift cards or specific non-personal items than things that I consider to be thoughtful gifts. The world doesn't seem to want to return to that thoughtful gift sensibility, so I guess I have to accept that.

    Fortunately, my significant other is a wonderful gift giver and he's found or made me some of the most delightful, personal gifts I've ever received and he appreciates a carefully chosen gift.

    The Christmas gift exchange thing has really become something I could easily just pass on these days, I'm sorry to say.

  4. I appreciate receiving gift cards, especially from people who are not computer-savvy (or even computer-equipped). I'm addicted to books and courses on CD, and not the bestsellers you can get off the shelf. So the B & N or gift card something I really appreciate.

    I see your point, but I'm glad the gift cards haven't gone away.

  5. Steve, I'm actually with you on the bookstore gift card thing. I do love to browse at either place. This year, though, I bought all my books (at a slight premium) at our local indpendent bookstore -- I just felt like it was important during these hard times.

  6. After I moved out of my house post marriage break-up, there were dozens of gift cards my husband had been given over the past few years (not by me) pinned to his bulletin board. I'd bet triple their worth that he will never use them. Unspent gift cards make a tidy profit for the company's that sell them--I read that somewhere.
    Gift giving is an ISSUE for me though.......I give a nice hunk of cash to my son and daughter-in-law for their birthdays because I know the household budget is tight......but I'm pretty sure that gets used for something they desire. I usually give my younger daughters who are still partially supported by parents something smallish and meaningful.
    I hate gift cards, too. I always think about plastic in general--how the production of it is usually a source of pollution and how some companies don't recycle them.



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