David Knopf: ’Tis the season for Repetitive Gifting Disorder

01/06/2014 10:46 AM

01/06/2014 10:46 AM

I’ve become an expert on RGD (Repetitive Gifting Disorder). My personal experience includes ceramic black panthers, metal and glass elephant figurines, botanical prints, the color purple and anything having to do with dogs, Italy, soccer, country music, impressionist art and chocolate.

It started with a man named Dennis, a perfectly pleasant co-worker who gave us our first ceramic panther. It might’ve been a stand-alone panther, part of a panther-themed lamp or maybe a matched set of panther-adorned bookends.

I don’t remember because once word got out we liked that first one, others began arriving in packs as if we were a panther sanctuary.

It wasn’t long before even we’d started gobbling up these black cats in thrift stores and bought one for Dennis, who’d gotten the ball rolling. Remember, the panther phenomenon predated both pyramid and Ponzi schemes.

I didn’t know ceramic panthers existed and then all of a sudden they were everywhere. They came in different colors, but being traditionalists, our specialty was black. It’s been 35 years, and I still can’t help but notice them.

Then it was on to elephant figurines. We made the mistake of saying we liked our first one — young, impressionable and well-mannered, of course we sent a thank-you note — and that only opened the flood gates for a tidal wave of elephant whatnots.

I should emphasize that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with one elephant figurine or a single black panther. But things get out of hand when people who have no idea what to give you learn there’s a default gift to fall back on.

That’s how we became “those elephant people, the Knopfs,” a profile that took us almost seven years, a secret address and witness protection to shed.

It reached the point where we could almost sense the next mini-elephant bearing down on us, as if footsteps could be heard on a distant African savanna.

Over the years, I became aware that the botanical art prints I’d habitually given my wife had run their course. How many detailed representations of petunias does one person really need?

Ditto for those tasteful necklaces she liked, the kind that didn’t scream “Look at me!” into the hushed tones of a library workplace.

RGD can be avoided if you just say no when a knee-jerk, shop-worn idea pops in your head. Personally, if I feel myself weakening, I think of Nancy Reagan and wonder if those red suits and ribbons she always wore were gifts from people who didn’t know what to give her.

Repetitive giving and receiving often take on lives of their own, but there are times when customs make sense. Take my wife’s gifts, for example. She often gives me a pound of expensive coffee for Christmas, something I wouldn’t otherwise buy. And there’s that pleasant tradition of giving me boxers for Christmas with silly animal caricatures on them.

I like, wear and ultimately need to replace my boxers, so there’s no rut there, just a comfortable marriage of practicality and whimsy.

Experience has taught me to refrain from giving gifts to people I’m not close to. If I don’t know a person well enough to think of something original, I’m left with three choices.

I can give them nothing at all, move to another state, or, if both of those seem extreme, present them with something like a ceramic panther or an ornamental cut-glass elephant.

I’ve learned from experience these are gifts that keep on giving. Year after year. And maybe it’s someone else’s turn to move into witness protection.


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