boxofdelights: earring (Default)
[personal profile] boxofdelights
Have you participated in a white elephant gift exchange? Did you enjoy it? What did you enjoy about it? What rules did your gift exchange follow? Can you articulate any unspoken rules that everyone followed (like "don't gift a puppy"), or describe an occasion when an unspoken rule was broken?

My book group does this every year. I don't remember whether they started it before I dropped out, but it is the kind of thing that, when faced with, I generally find reasons to be elsewhere. Because it is the kind of thing that has rules, but nobody will tell you what they are. But this year, someone other than me was brave enough to admit to being made uncomfortable by not knowing what the rules for an acceptable gift were.

The six of us who attended November's meeting talked it over, not very successfully. Some people participate in more than one of these, and were more willing to talk about how it works (or doesn't) in their other group. One woman mentioned someone giving broken venetian blinds. One woman said that, in her other group, a sex swing got regifted every year. One woman mentioned receiving a shoebox full of hotel shampoos and lotions, which, she thought, was not intended as a joke gift. One woman who wasn't present at November's meeting was mentioned as always spending too much *and* adding homemade cookies.

One woman advocated for doing whatever pleased you, taking into account the fact that everyone else would be doing whatever pleased them. One woman, who had been trying to express how bad it can feel to receive a box of crap, especially when you have put time and thought into a nice gift, felt that the discussion had portrayed her point of view as selfish.


I would love to hear from a wider network, if you care to post a pointer to this.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-19 12:09 am (UTC)
newredshoes: illustration, woman with whale swimming inside her head (comics | making universes)
From: [personal profile] newredshoes
Here from network! The ones I've participated in have always had rules like "Must be purchased at dollar store" or "Must come from your basement."

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-19 01:02 am (UTC)
newredshoes: Cartoon, T-rex with toy claw arms (<3 | she-rex)
From: [personal profile] newredshoes
I think that would be awkward, yeah, but not a problem. The person who brought the cookies could defuse the situation by just offering the cookies to everyone, and acknowledging that she's made a mistake with the price, whoops, haha, someone's going home happy tonight -- you know? But I think clear communication and rules from the outset would help everyone involved, and they don't have to be complicated. Is there a way to clarify within your book group?

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-19 01:35 am (UTC)
telophase: (Default)
From: [personal profile] telophase
Where I come from,. if it's a white elephant gift exchange, the gifts should be silly and/or useless. My parents went to one and came home with a fabric wall hanging of a calendar three years out of date, for example.

If it's not supposed to be silly/useless, then it's a Kris Kringle exchange.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-19 01:36 am (UTC)
mishalak: A fantasy version of myself drawn by Sue Mason (Nice)
From: [personal profile] mishalak
I have a vague recollection of participating in one such exchange and finding it a tiresome bore because I got a cheap lousy plastic thing and thus was excluded from any of the stealing or other participation while the nice things went flying about.

I like the idea of a mathom exchange. Where everyone brings something of value that they have no use for. Possible rule, "bring the most valuable thing you have no use for"? Then after all the presents are opened have an open outcry exchange. Though, come to think of it, that may work better if everyone brings three items. Then people can end up with one thing they really want or a whole bunch of things they slightly want.

If it is a crafty group a made things exchange could work. If there are some non-crafty people have them buy something at an agreed upon value thinking of how much your craft work is worth.

Or there could be a service exchange. Two and a half hours of babysitting, two hours of help with yardwork, etc.

Or a hybrid version where you bring one mathom, one thing you bought for under $10 or made in about three hours (the assumption being that your take home after expenses is about $3/hour), and one voucher for a service.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-19 02:28 am (UTC)
j00j: rainbow over east berlin plattenbau apartments (Default)
From: [personal profile] j00j
I'm not a big fan of these because they usually result in this kind of awkwardness, or everybody getting a useless cheap plastic thing they don't want. Happy my workplace doesn't do it. I have heard of some funny ones, where they're at least amusing cheap items (like a container of bubbles! bubbles are great). I definitely prefer one with clear rules people stick to about how much to spend, what kind of gift, etc. Food gifts like cookies can also be tricky if people have allergies/dietary restrictions, unless it's a "secret santa" type exchange where you at least know who you're giving to.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-19 03:23 am (UTC)
sasha_feather: Retro-style poster of skier on pluto.   (Default)
From: [personal profile] sasha_feather
Ditto!

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-20 05:39 am (UTC)
krait: a sea snake (krait) swimming (Default)
From: [personal profile] krait
This pretty much sums up my limited experience. There are always one or two people who disregard the price limits in the upward direction, leading to a few coveted items amongst the dross (and probably insecurity on everyone else's part who did follow the rules) -- and then one or two people who disregard the price limits by severely undershooting (the year my parents went to one such party and returned with wind-up "chattering teeth" remains the ur-example in my consciousness), creating discontent on the part of everyone else and throwing wrenches into the fun of swapping and stealing.

Not a direct experience of mine, but I've several times heard of people whose group did "Ornament Swaps", where all items were Christmas ornaments; that might be an attempt to even the playing field somewhat, along the lines of commenters' suggestions that items must be 'useless' (because let's face it, who doesn't have A. enough ornaments already, and B. no functional use for them eleven months of the year?)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-19 02:28 am (UTC)
sonia: Quilted wall-hanging (Default)
From: [personal profile] sonia
I participated in one of these years ago, with a group of people I didn't know well. I don't remember if there were guidelines up front about the gifts. I gave a small functional ceramic item (pitcher? bowl?) from the stash of things I made. I don't know if the recipient liked it, but it seemed appropriate to the general level of gifts.

I came home with a swirly glass paperweight type thing that I really like and still display. I debated the social dynamics of stealing it, and felt that the prior owner was very disappointed that I did so. If I had continued socializing with that group, there might have been fallout from that.

On top of anxiety about gifts, there's potential anxiety about wanting, greed, winning, social hierarchy, etc. I'm just as glad not to have participated in a white elephant party in a long time! It seems like part of the point is inducing uncomfortable tensions.

On the other hand, I've happily participated in swaps where people bring (nice) things they no longer want and place them unwrapped in the middle of the room for people to take turns choosing from. I've given art pieces I wouldn't otherwise have known what to do with, and gotten a skirt I still wear occasionally.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-19 02:55 am (UTC)
isis: (Default)
From: [personal profile] isis
I hate these. I did participate in a good one at a backpacker's (hostel) in New Zealand; the rule was that items had to cost $3-$5. I ended up with a notebook, which was useful.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-19 03:06 am (UTC)
snippy: Lego me holding book (Default)
From: [personal profile] snippy
My workplace does this, but I don't participate, for the very reason that some people bring genuinely nice gifts (that then get "stolen" the maximum number of times) and others bring gag gifts that somebody gets stuck with. I am too fragile around gifting to tolerate the inequity (childhood problems), so when the holiday party gets to the white elephant exchange, I go home.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-19 11:53 am (UTC)
rmc28: Photo of me shortly before starting my first half-marathon (Default)
From: [personal profile] rmc28
I've played this game a few times (with the 'stealing' rule) - the first couple of times were ok, the rule was explicitly "something you already own and want to get rid of - no buying any plastic tat" and hosted by friends who are openly and strongly environmentalist, so it was definitely played more for "let's see if we can move stuff around to where it'll be wanted more".

I ran a game of it at a party in our house with a different mix of people, and unfortunately it caused quite a nasty argument between two couples who had different interpretations of the rules about stealing and both wanted the same thing. I found the greed-induced nastiness pretty unpleasant and very unlike my previous experience of the game, and so I've not felt inclined to host another attempt at it. A real pity because when it works, it can be really nice (as indeed my first couple of experiences of it were).

Most years there is an opt-in secret-santa at work, with a strong rule of "no more than five pounds to be spent" and a reasonable undercurrent of "buying from a charity shop is fine and makes the money stretch further". I usually join in and try to choose something reasonably suited to my recipient, and I've usually been happy with what I've got.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-19 05:19 pm (UTC)
brigantine: (snowman stickup)
From: [personal profile] brigantine
Uuugh, these. They can be fun, or a bit fraught. I prefer to avoid them.

I recall one exchange at a previous job that went well, though it wasn't quite white elephant. We bought new, small gifts with the rule that it be under $10. Our group included only the ladies from work, who met at my boss's house, there was food and alcohol involved (and a very friendly dog whom we all adored, which is a great a tension-breaker if there'd been any), and we all had a good time. But I have a feeling that our amusing evening was more the exception, less the rule.

Had one at a different job, where it included a broader range of people, and it was more strictly white elephant, with the rule that it had to be of an estimated low value, but in decent condition and something at least amusing. It went mostly okay, but still, there was that part where people switch gifts, and some folks were better-natured about it than others, and some of the gifts were just stupid and in my opinion ought to have been trashed long ago, so.... yeah. I'm not actually that keen on 'em.

Clear rules, though, and a fair knowledge of who you're with can make a big difference, I think.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-19 05:39 pm (UTC)
the_siobhan: It means, "to rot" (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_siobhan
I *hate* games with no clear rules and would likely run very far away from something like that. My workplace does a secret santa where there is a spending limit and people are trying to gift something nice. I do participate in that because I know what the expectations are.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-20 01:08 am (UTC)
malnpudl: (Default)
From: [personal profile] malnpudl
The white elephant exchange baffles me. It's like agreeing to play practical jokes on each other -- and I hate practical jokes.

I always try to get people to do something else, if an exchange is absolutely required. "Get something nice, $10 limit" seems reasonable. For a book club, make it a paperback, something you think the recipient might like and probably hasn't read. Better yet, require that everyone exchange used books?

Or, you know, just get together and enjoy the company and forget the whole forced gifting nonsense. *eyeroll*

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-20 05:56 pm (UTC)
brigantine: (snowman stickup)
From: [personal profile] brigantine
It's like agreeing to play practical jokes on each other -- and I hate practical jokes.

Ugh, yes, that! :P

(no subject)

Date: 2013-11-20 11:42 pm (UTC)
jesse_the_k: Macro photo of my Blue Heeler Lucy's deep brown left eye (Calm the fire)
From: [personal profile] jesse_the_k
If I ran the world, I would plan a nice sit-down with silly questions to answer in a Round Robin — what's your favorite animal? when you were a teenager, what nickname did you wish you had? what was the first scary thing you did in a car? — and some bottled drinks and declare it done.

If giving is insisted upon, could one do a collection (opaque container so you can't see what others are giving) and pass that along to a food bank (presuming that's as non-controversial as things get).

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