Passive-Aggressive Holiday Gift-Giving

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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.

-Bridget Crawford

P.S. I don’t own either the glasses or the coaster.  Anymore.

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