The act of gift-giving: an interview with Nicole

Gift-giving is not a modern world concept. In ancient Greece, people offered decorative gifts to show respect, form relationships, or demonstrate hospitality by providing the guests or travellers with a meal and a resting spot. They also offered presents to Gods in exchange for protection. 

While the symbolism of gifts has not changed much, the way, we nowadays choose to express it has significantly changed. In our consumeristic society, gift-giving is based almost entirely on things-giving. We offer things to people to show our love, respect, happiness, and support—the bigger or more expensive the gift, the better. In developed countries, we tend to offer things to people who have everything anyway, so we accumulate more unintentional possessions that we will likely never use and probably store forever or chuck in the bin. And pretend we are delighted by a random gift while we silently cry for yet another ugly vase, kitsch candle holder, set of kitchen towels or horrific coasters. Thanks for the extra clutter.

On this subject, I interviewed Nicole. She is my best friend, my Berlin family and a person with whom I share the same values in many aspects of life. We do not necessarily share the same viewpoints in all matters, but our principles in life are the same. Nicole is an incredible elementary teacher with years of teaching experience in American public education and international schools. She has lengthy studies in education and leadership; she is a visionary and resourceful teacher who nurtures unconditional love for her job with a primary focus on student learning and wellbeing. Nicole is moreover a passionate book reader and collector, a hard-working runner, an enthusiastic traveller and the most generous, affectionate and honest friend I could ask for.

With the Easter holidays -aka another gift-giving season- approaching promptly, I asked Nicole to share her opinion on gifts, which also reflects mine to a great extent. 

Why do we offer gifts?  What do you believe is the symbolism of a gift?

I am not an expert when it comes to giving or receiving gifts. Quite the opposite 

actually, but I do know how gifts make me feel and how they make other people feel. 

A few years ago, a friend introduced me to the concept of the ‘Five Love Languages’. 

They say that most people fall into the following categories when it comes to giving 

and receiving love: acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation 

and physical touch. I’m not sure how accurate these love languages are. In my 

opinion, almost all humans enjoy physical touch. That is scientifically proven to 

increase mood, happiness and feelings of love. Additionally, I believe most people 

enjoy acts of service, spending quality time with others and receiving words of 

affirmation. The only ‘love language’ that I question is receiving a gift, but perhaps 

this is because I do not enjoy receiving gifts. When I think about gift-giving, I try to 

imagine when or why this started in human history. We know penguins give nice 

pebbles to their potential mates when they are trying to impress their hopefully, soon 

to be partner, birds give the gift of dance to their potential partners, and so on. 

Obviously, gift-giving is not specific to humans, but when did the first human give a 

gift? What was it? Why did they do it? I’m assuming it was also to impress a 

potential mate, but I haven’t done my homework on this topic.  But why gifts now? 

Perhaps from tradition. Maybe from family values, or perhaps from societal 

pressures. For me, the answer to the question, ‘why gifts’ is not as important as the 

reflective questions including how do I feel about giving or receiving gifts, how do 

those close to me feel about giving or receiving gifts, and have I discussed these ideas 

with my family and friends? I think it is absolutely necessary to talk about 

gift-giving and receiving with family and close friends so that no one is indirectly 

hurt while receiving or failing to receive a gift.  Personally, at this stage in my life, I 

believe society has trained us into thinking gifts are a symbol of love. Here, this is for 

you. I thought of you. I hope you like it. One small, or large, gift can be a gesture that 

is symbolic of the time, energy and investment that is needed for someone else to feel 

good. With that being said, I think recently a lot of people have been questioning the 

purpose of tangible gifts. They have stopped buying material goods to give to their 

loved ones, and have been investing in their quality time and shared experiences 


What are your criteria when choosing a gift? How do you select the right present?

When I have to buy a gift for someone, I panic. I worry because most people in my

life have what they want and what they need. What can I give them that is special,

unique and purposeful? I do not want to insult them, and I do not want to buy 

anything just for the sake of buying something. After I am done panicking, I try to 

relax and think about things they may have mentioned in the last 6 months. Are there 

any upcoming events they were looking forward to? What are their hobbies or 

interests that are completely special to them? Is there anything out there that this 

person wants but hasn’t purchased for themselves for whatever reason? How can I 

surprise this person or really make them feel special? After I’ve thought about the 

answers to these questions, the final question I often ask myself is, how would I feel 

if I received this as a gift from someone else?

What are your expectations when receiving a gift?

This is a difficult question. I do not think I have any expectations when receiving a 

gift per se, because I do not like receiving gifts. Personally, I worry that I will look 

inappropriate when receiving a gift. I worry about, when is it the right time to open 

the gift, do I have to open it in front of this person, am I making other people 

uncomfortable by opening the gift now or by waiting to open the gift, what is my 

current facial expression and is it expected for this moment? A lot is going through 

my brain, but it is hardly a moment of joy for me. Personally, receiving a gift is like 

ripping off a band-aid. Let’s do this quickly folks! I love you regardless of what you 

have given me. Your gifts are appreciated, but they do not mean as much to me as 

your presence in my life. I think, by now, most of my close friends and family know 

this about me. They know I have moved a lot and that I do not like to accumulate 

things. Additionally, I have the world’s worst poker face and I may have ruined a 

Christmas or two by inappropriately reacting to a gift.

Physical gifts or experiences? 

Experiences 100%. Nothing can compare to making memories with a friend or a 

loved one. ‘Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.’

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *