As a holiday gift-giver, I acknowledge my share of “hits” and “misses” — sometimes with the same gift. One family member never met a gift certificate she didn’t like. Another considers a gift certificate the ultimate in impersonality. In the context of repeat gift-giving (such as to family members), a giver can learn by error and usually beg forgiveness with protestations of good intentions. The donee can enjoy the gift certificate anyway. Not so with passive-aggressive holiday gifts, though. The donor intends discomfort and the donee will throw or give the gift away.
What is a passive-aggressive holiday gift? In my experience, it typically comes from a former intimate, a “friend” or a frenemic (i.e., frienemy-like) co-worker. It’s a gift given with the dual intentions of (a) meeting a socio-cultural expectation and (b) making a snarky (or worse, unkind) comment. The gift recipient typically is a one-time (not repeat) recipient (such as one assigned through an office secret-Santa draw). The giver usually offers one of two possible defenses to any expression of scorn from the social network: “It was a joke,” or “I didn’t mean it as a joke.” The donee must be have some expectation good intentions on the part of the giver. Most importantly, the transfer’s passivity-aggressivity arises out of the nature of the relationship between the donor and the donee. That is, what qualifies as a passive-aggressive if transferred by A to B might not be passive-aggressive if transferred by A to C.
A few examples illustrate the point:
Example #1: Party 1 and Party 2, former intimates, have a disagreement. Party 1 says to Party 2, “For someone who claims to be so smart, you sure are stupid.” Shortly thereafter, Party 1 gives Party 2 the “Smart Women Crave Good Company” glasses above.
Example #2: Party 3 and Party 4 are colleagues and social acquaintances. Party 3 is a 70-year old male who is known around the office for making sexist remarks. Party 4 is a 25-year old female who started work at the company last year. Party 3 and Party 4 are both friends with Party 5, who recently invited them both to a holiday gift exchange. Party 3 gives Party 4 a coaster bearing the “Rosie the Riveter” image above and a note that reads, “You seem so interested in women’s rights.”
Example #3: Same facts as Example 1, but no harsh words are spoken by Party 1 to Party 2. Party 1 gives Party 2 the “Smart Women Crave Good Company” glasses to celebrate the publication of Party 2′s book.
Example #4: Same facts as Example 2, except Party C is a 70-year old male who is known around the office for his support of progressive women’s causes.
My advice? Go with the gift certificate.
P.S. I don’t own either the glasses or the coaster. Anymore.