You can’t ask me that

Why you'll never get an honest answer when you ask what someone wants for Christmas

Continuing her series tackling socially unacceptable questions, Christine Manby asks if the social charades around gift-giving are far more trouble than they’re worth

Wednesday 02 January 2019 11:02 GMT
Illustrations by Tom Ford
Illustrations by Tom Ford

What do you want for Christmas? That’s a lovely question to be asked, isn’t it? Well, sometimes. If the person asking is a dashing billionaire who is so into the season of goodwill that they’ve got a special present wrapping room hidden somewhere on their yacht, it’s great. Especially if you fancy them like crazy and you don’t mind being beholden to them in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways. Then it’s “Pass me the Cartier catalogue, baby. I’ll underline all the things I like.”

When the question comes from anybody else, it’s not usually so easy. Of course, we all know what we’d really like for Christmas (Cartier watch catalogue page three, item five). But it’s unlikely that’s what your retired Auntie Jill is hoping to hear. Or your sister, who’s given up avocado toast to save up for a house this year. Or your new squeeze, who hasn’t known you quite long enough to buy something that significant.

In situations like these, revealing what’s on your Christmas list can be fraught. You don’t want to appear too greedy or presumptuous. You don’t want to suggest something over budget that will mean your sister has to live with your parents for another three years. You don’t want to frighten your new lover into ghosting you by accidentally implying you’d like a deeper commitment in the form of something from Gucci. But at the same time, you can’t ask what the parameters are for fear of embarrassing the giver. Is there a more excruciating question than, “What’s the budget?” And so most of us, when asked what we’d like for Christmas, mutter something like, “Oh you don’t have to get me anything. There’s nothing I need! Christmas is for the children.”

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