A metal ladle, a pack of tea towels, an M&M-sized glass bowl hilariously wrapped in a football-sized box...These are just a few of the horrors crowdsourced from Twitter when I asked the women of the Internet about the worst presents they’d ever received in the name of Christmas.
One woman revealed that she’d asked for ‘smellies’ and her bloke bought her a plug-in air freshener. Another said that her dad had bought her mother teaspoons “because the house needed teaspoons”. Yet none of these compare to the hapless chap that bought his missus a toasted sandwich insert. No sandwich toaster, just the insert. Outstanding.
Granted, these are extreme examples of present fails, and yes, most would concede that a packet of crisps and a baking tray (true story) won’t cut the mustard.
Nonetheless, a lot of fellas fall foul of panic buying, impulse purchases, persuasive sales assistants and shopping centre bewilderment at this time of year, resulting in C grade efforts when a little forethought and preparation can easily net an A*.
1 Thou shall know your audience
Thanks to a seemingly unending barrage of Christmas advertising, a lot of men think they know what their ladies want, but actually couldn’t be more wrong. Indulgent bathing products, jewellery and sweet treats will no doubt be well-received by a lot of lasses, but not all, and those whose tastes are a little more niche or alternative will be left disappointed by generic offerings.
For example, one Tweeter had been dropping hints for months about an upcoming tour by her favourite comedian. Very obvious hints, by all accounts. Then Christmas morning rolled around and she opened up an extravagant toiletries gift basket, “which was just not my thing at all,” she says of the textbook panic-buy. “If he’d actually paid attention to what I said, or even just had a look around my flat, he’d have known that.”
2 Thou shall plan ahead
The reason Santa makes a list and checks it twice is so he’s not flummoxed at the last minute by impulse buys, opening hours and out of stock items. By all means spend an afternoon browsing shop offerings, but before you purchase anything make a list of what you want to get, and from where. And stick to it.
Make sure the stores you want to visit will actually be open when you get there, too, lest you end up pawing sadly at the shutters, gazing through the windows at that one item unavailable anywhere else in town.
3 Thou shall not take a stab in the dark
...regarding dress sizes, because if you get this wrong it will haunt you for the rest of your days. Too big, and you’re insinuating that the recipient is fat. Too small, and you have created a mire of humiliation when the recipient is unable to squeeze into your otherwise lovingly chosen dress/skirt/crotchless pants – and for that you will suffer.
It’s not difficult to sneak a look at the labels in clothing already hanging in her wardrobe, or to nab a similar item for an afternoon in order to make a comparison in the shop...
4 Thou shall enlist the help of others
If you’re stuck for present inspiration there’s no harm in asking others for advice – sisters, friends, and so on – indeed, doing so can provide valuable nuggets of intel that will net you big brownie points. But for crying out loud, make sure that you consult people that actually know your intended gift recipient. As one Tweeter lamented, “My then-boyfriend bought me a scented candle one year. His sister assured him I’d love it. I’d never even met his sister. I hate candles.”
5 Thou shall pick your battleground with care
If you’re easily dazzled by big shopping centres, steer clear, otherwise you’ll end up blinded by festive advertising and offers and end up shell-shocked, wandering the mall with arms full of ill-advised purchases, stuck in a world of Escher escalators and unable to find the exits. Similarly, if you hate crowds, Oxford Street will prove a formidable foe.
Know your weaknesses and shop accordingly. Seek refuge in the world of online shopping, if needs be, but in this case pay particular attention to commandments two, six and ten. If you're buying something from abroad, consider using your credit card, as any purchases you make between £100 and £30,000 (as if!) will be protected under the Sale of Goods Act if they're faulty.
6 Thou shall not shop under the influence
...of booze, hunger or sleep deprivation. You need full control of your cognitive functions and battling your way around John Lewis on an empty stomach is guaranteed to result in impulse buying. Ditto shopping while drunk – if in the morning after you can’t remember why you bought the item, chances are she’ll be thinking the same.
7 Thou shall not be swayed by attractive sales assistants
Yes, they smell nice and are making fluttery eyes at you and are leaning over the counter more than is strictly necessary, but they’re also working on commission and want you to hurry up and buy something so they can cash up and go home.
It is also highly unlikely that they know, in all honesty, that your girlfriend will “absolutely love” whatever it is they’re trying to flog you. Sales assistants are the sirens of the shopping seas. Proceed with caution.
8 Thou shall not blow the budget
Monetary value does not equate thoughtfulness. If she hates gold jewellery, for example, it won’t matter how much you spend on it. Much better to identify something that she really wants (see commandments one and four) than try to convince yourself that battering your credit card makes you a great gift-giver.
9 Thou shall recognise the importance of presentation
For extra brownie points, make sure your gift is wrapped properly. Women don’t expect bows and scissor-curled ribbon, but probably will shake their heads at wrapping in the form of plastic bags, yesterday’s free sheet and bin liners. In any case, most shops offer a gift wrapping service, often for free.
10 Thou shall reward yourself verily
Christmas shopping is hard, so positively condition yourself by ‘self-gifting’ at the end of the ordeal (after all, there’s no guarantee that your missus is going to get you what you really want, either). But don’t go overboard, as this honest male Tweeter demonstrates: “I went out to buy my sister’s Christmas present one year. I ended up buying myself an Xbox and forgot about her completely. I think I got her a calendar at the last minute.” Lovely.