The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

A Pre-Xmas Question

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Here's one for you to mull over...

Which would you rather have for Christmas (or birthday, if you don't celebrate this festivity)?

A surprise gift, or something you wanted?

You can't have both.

Now in broad, generalised terms, my feeling is most blokes would far rather get something they wanted, even if they knew in advance what it would be.

It's the female take on this that I feel far less confident in guessing.

Of course I would love to be able to buy Maggie a surprise gift of something she'd really like.

But our previous 19 shared Christmasses have clearly demonstrated I can successfully do one or the other, but very, very rarely both.

So it's a case of trying to figure out which is likely to be the least disappointing for her...
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68 comments

Gitta said...

Whenever I have to buy something for a family member and I don't know what, I "study" them. By this I mean that every time we go shopping together I look at what they seem interested in. The things they say they don't really need, what mostly means that they can't afford it right now. And then I buy that for them at a later time. Then it's a surprise and something they really wanted, or at least they really liked.
Of course when you do Secret Santa and you picked your dad for the fourth time in a row and all he seems interested in are socks and stuff that goes way over budget, it doesn't really work...

Falak said...

Most people give hints about what they want for a gift Maybe during a casual conversation they would let slip a statement like "Oh I wish one day I would wake up and find that book on my table" or something lamer or smarter along the same lines. Keep an ear out for subtle hints and maybe you might just be able to gift her something she wants and surprise her. Best of lucK:)

V said...

Honest answer - it depends how rich or poor i'm feeling! If i'm skint, then pratical things I are best (whether I know about them or not). This year Mum's paying for an electrician. Why would I want a another handbag (unless I need one), when my kitchen lights don't work and the bill will be a problem? A new fiddle case last year for the same reason.

BUT, suprises that are useful, or beautiful or thoughtful are always welcome - and can be very small or simple.

What doesn't your wife buy for herself that you know she'd like, need or enjoy? Small things like the more expensive moisturiser, or a framed photo can go a long way. Is there something that she's putting off or making do with?

If you get something entirely practical, known about or not, it's always worth topping it up with a little cheer or indulgence or suprise. Best of both worlds, but only you can prioritise practical or surprise. One rule holds true though - NEVER BUY DOMESTIC ITEMS UNLESS REQUESTED!!! An ironing board can never say 'I love you....

Anyway, just one girl's perspective, I'm sure you'll hear many others,

V

Annie said...

Could you not get the thing she wants but don't tell her that she's getting it? and then buy her a small, inexpensive, but meaningful surprise?

I'm sure she'll be happy whatever you decide to give her.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Since I am into living simply and there is nothing I really 'need', and I do not want anything I have to display or, god forbid, dust.... I prefer to receive something I want because it will fit with my zen approach to life.

Even books .... I would prefer to read something I have chosen than something chosen for me ... I've invariably been disappointed by those.

karatemom said...

Always nicest to receive something I have wanted..especially most for women because we tend not to indulge ourselves with things we want.we tend to get for others and not ourselves....AND..if we truly get something we have wanted as a surprise EVEN better..ie)for me last year hub and boys got me this laptop...always wanted never asked..was huge surprise ...i cried.!!

Dan said...

Surprise all the way mate (does that make me a "bird"?

Nothing better than opening something up and not having a clue what it is.

starrlife said...

I personally enjoy something from the heart from my man more than something that I want. Jewelry that is romantic or sentimental, a special framed photo, book about a special interest. You know her and what she enjoys I'd bet. It's not so much that surprise that I like, it's the thought. This drives my husband crazy since in his family they all tell each other what they want- which I find abhorrently practical. I can buy myself the practical things in life....oops you hit a nerve!

Katie Roberts said...

Depends.

(I could leave it at that - but thats not very helpful)

I have found as I get older, I am happy if I get what I request.
Last birthday I wanted one thing: A capo for my guitar, but everyone forgot. (That was no a surprise I enjoyed very much.)

I have taken to making requests as I would rather get something I want, need and like. As there are many simple things I go without and it seems to make it easier for my mum, sis and son. I don't really care if its a surprise or not.

Mind you if I knew a man who tuned into what I need and want of his own accord that would be wonderful!
If you really feel she'll like it - THATS the trick I think!

Happy Shopping. (hope the commercial xmas madness doesn't get to you too much)

Danielle said...

My dad bought my mum a set of kitchen knives a couple of Christmases ago ... he has never lived it down!

When my husband asks me what I'd like I always tell him a surprise ... but I also give him a few ideas to put him on the right path, so I can be sure I'm going to like it, but don't know which it will be ... hence the surprise. This year I have no idea what he got me ... it's kinda scary! ha ha!

Mimi and Tilly said...

I used to be all about the surprise, but now I like gifts that I know I need. I live a much more frugal life than I did in the past so getting things that I need really leaves me feeling good. My partner always asks me what I want for birthdays and Christmas, and then gets me a small surprise gift to open on the day. I like that.

ALH said...

Something my parents always do that I like is that they get me what I want (which is fabulous because I wanted it) and sometimes it's a surprise, sometimes not. The thing they always surprise me with are little stocking stuffers to go along with the thing I really wanted and that way I am surprised and have what I wanted without them spending way too much in the process. Good luck with your xmas festivities!

Madame DeFarge said...

Goodness knows, but when you find out the answer, can you tell my husband, so that he can learn from your experience. He hasn't learnt from his in the past 12 years. Grump.

Zaedah said...

If the giver knows the givee well enough, a surprise gift can actually be something the receiver wanted (even if they didn't know it until they got it!). When it's given with thought and insight, there's nothing I want more (except for world peace and George Clooney).

Anna van Schurman said...

People think I'm hard to buy for so I usually get what I've asked for. But I love surprises, especially when I didn't even know that I really wanted the thing I get. But I have to tell you I am usually disappointed by Christmas gifts, so I focus not on the stuff but on the family togetherness and other happinesses of the season.

cannwin said...

If the person has been asking for something for awhile I'd definitely go with what they wanted.

In my case if my husband bought me a Roomba, a nice camera, or a bicycle (one of those cute cruisers or a Madsen). Then I would be a very happy woman indeed. I've been asking for one or the other for years. YEARS!

But since he tends to buy surprise gifts I'll accept them. Especially when they are a set of pearls. Of course that happens infrequently, what happens typically is that I get things HE wants. Like a remote controlled car (battery wrapped separately) or a pair of x-large sweatpants that drown me and happen to fit him perfectly.

He's a very sweet man that grew up with 9 brothers. He doesn't get women at all.

The Pollinatrix said...

I pretty much always prefer to be surprised. I'm going to great lengths right now, including some outright lying, in order to surprise my oldest daughter with a gift.

I can't speak for your wife, but generally speaking, I think if you go for the surprise gift, you can't go wrong if it's something pretty and/or luxurious. (Returnable helps too, just in case.) I'm a big fan of quality bath stuff and/or candles, myself.

A small but quite satisfying gift I got last year was a small leatherbound notebook that I used for all my to-do and grocery lists. It's something I would never have bought for myself.

Jayne Martin said...

I'd rather get something I want and to that end I make lists and hand them out, advising people to coordinate so I don't get two of the same thing. I can suck the fun out of just about anything. ;)

Katie Roberts said...

Am I right in thinking, we would all love a well chosen mystery...but most of us have given up believing its possible?

Or am I just being cynical?

:) Just call me Ms.Grich

Kim Ayres said...

It's all very well saying that I ought to have an idea of what she would like, especially after 19 years, but therin lies the problem.

I know the regions, not the specifics.

I know she would like smelly, pampery things, but not which ones. And experience has shown I will inevitably pick the wrong kind.

Or I'll see some earrings I'm sure she'd love. As it's several months before xmas, I'll point them out in the shop and say, "Oh, these look like your kind of thing..." only to be greeted with a look of sadness and pity that I could ever think she might like those.

So back to the basic problem: the only way I can be sure she will like what I get her, is to ask her, in which case, no surprise.

Or I try and guess, in which case there's a huge chance I'll get something that wasn't quite right - the wrong kind of smelly, pampery thing; jewellery she wouldn't really want to wear; a book she wouldn't actually want to read.

Over the past 19 years, again and again it has been proved that my powers of guessing the right thing are completely and utterly useless.

So, it's back to the choice - do I check with her before I buy something (wanted gift, but no surprise), or try and guess what she'd like without asking (surprise, but unwanted gift)?

Nitewrit said...

Ah, Kim, here's the cunundrum. Is the surprise gift something you like. If the surprise gift is something I like, I would prefer the surprise, since I can always get myself what I want. After all, if you traded lists and you stay with the wants, you are just sort of buying for yourselves through another. The real question is how do you act and how will they feel if you show it if the surprise gift is something you don't like?

larry

Katie Roberts said...

Here's an idea. Buy her the definite like, no surprises. Then spend the next twelve months finding out what smelly stuff she likes (either citrus, earthy or flowery?) etc. Think of that project as your real gift to her. We women cant be that hard to figure out! Can we...?

Patrick said...

I'm sure she'll like your gift, whatever it is. =)

debra said...

I love things that have "heart"
and that come from that place.

Rachel Fox said...

I think most women like surprises...just good ones of course! On the whole I think I prefer really unexpected 'presents' - things you can't wrap up really...a trip, a change, a plan...something that shows you really care, that you've really thought about what your woman would like in her life (and not just managed to buy something and wrap it up).
An example? When our daughter was born my man cleaned our house from top to bottom when I was in the hospital (I was in for 2 days). When we got home the place was clean and sparkling with flowers on the table (and not the messy tip it was when I left 2 days earlier...I'm not exactly the queen of housework...). I still remember coming in with the baby and just thinking 'wow, look what he's done!' It doesn't sound romantic but it was (he was tired too after all...long labour and I made him stay awake for every minute of it!).
That's what women like...to know you're really thinking about them.
x

hope said...

If it's a surprise, then all the gift has to convey is, "This made me think of you" and you pretty well have it made. Unless of course it's a kitchen appliance to make something for you. ;)

Now if she's longed for a special set of artists brushes, then do the homework and find out where you can get just what she wants.

That said, I've been married 29 years and it is usually the "surprise" gift I receive which I value most...because I know it was only meant for me.

Good luck...and Merry Christmas!

Charlie said...

I can't help you because I'm in the same leaky boat with you.

But I agree with Danielle and the knife set. A few years ago, my BIL gave my SIL an electric frying pan. He was thinking "practical," she was thinking "girly," and after she brained him with the frying pan he wasn't thinking at all.

The moral of the story is never do practical!

Kim Ayres said...

But this is half the problem. I have a great deal of sympathy for Danielle's father - a set of good kitchen knives sounds like a great present.

For most blokes, something practical is ideal, and we struggle to understand why a woman wouldn't want something that would make her life easier, when we would. Buy us a set of tools and we're in our element.

It took me years to understand why anyone would buy someone flowers - they're dead within a few days - what's the point?

Truth be told, I still wouldn't say I really understand - I just learned that when I bought them, it always got a good reaction. So I buy them, knowing they will go down well, but never really understanding why.

Fay's Too said...

I reckon you're doing ok, if you've had 18 Christmases with her.

Stella said...

I prefer to get something I want, Dave usually asks - smart guy : )

Stella said...

And agree with V - NEVER EVER EVER a domestic item!!!!

Pat said...

AB SOL UTE LY something I wanted.
If you are lucky enough to actually know what your loved one wants - do anything legal to get it. With the best will in the world the person who can hit on a surprise gift that delights is a very rare bird.
Bonne chance:)
Kim : I've just seen what you said about buying flowers. How could you?
One of the things I love about MTL is he buys me flowers - for no reason. That's the whole point.

Kim Ayres said...

Of course I buy her flowers for no reason, Pat. I learned that has to be the point.

Doesn't mean I understand it...

Lorraine said...

I prefer to get cash or a gift card for Barnes and Noble book store. My daughter already bought my gifts and told me what they are, (A crock pot and a book), even though she knows I prefer a Barnes and Noble gift card.. sheesh!

BreMarie said...

I always have this dilemma and the best way to solve it I've found is to have them write a list of wants and needs. One want list and one need list, that way you have items that you know they'll like but it's a surprise which one you will get them. Obviously, the longer the list the less likely they'll be able to guess what they're getting. I always get one item from each list so that the person I'm buying for gets something practical, and something that they just want.

Hope that helps :)

V said...

Ha, ha! Re: Kim's comment- '...we struggle to understand why a woman wouldn't want something that would make her life easier etc'

Look at it like this perhaps...if she got you a set of tools because you wanted to make and fix stuff - brilliant! If she bought you a set of tools so you coud build HER a set of shelves you have no interest in, you may be less chuffed....

Same goes for women. I've loved presents of cooking equipment (knives included) and a coffee machine, because I love cooking and coffee and MY experience is better as a result...if you buy a women practical stuff so she can make better cakes, or more smoothly ironed shirts (even if you think you're making her life easier) if she does't see these things as enjoyable, it's just a bit tactless...buy practical things for actvities that she enjoys, and not simply because they're useful or better.

Hmmmm.....you've opened a great debate!

But, flowers will always just be beautiful and say 'I care and want you to have something lovely because you are'

Tiffin said...

If the choice is between a surprise and something she wants, go with something she wants.

Interestingly, Himself and I have reached that point where we don't want anything...in fact, we are trying to get rid of years of accumulated bumph. So instead we make a donation in each other's names to the local agency which supports battered women and children, as well as to the mission for homeless men. You see, what we both really want is for everyone else to feel as safe, comfortable, well fed and sheltered as we do.

I'm not trying to sound like a GoodyTwoShoes but it's amazing how much better that feels than two people giving each other something they don't need or want and going nuts trying to figure out what to do. We still do stockings for each other though.

Thrup'ny bits said...

That made me chuckle . . . I'd like the surprise of receiving something I really wanted, but that sounds mean.

Many years ago I opened a gift from my first wife. It was a mug with my name on it. I looked puzzled; then she she gave me what she said was the real present which was in a similar sized box. I few weeks before I had been rummaging rummaging in drawers looking for something when I came across the present she'd bought and she felt sure I'd guess what it was because of the size and shape of the box. I hadn't really thought about it. The second box contained a watch which I no longer wear; the mug I still use thirty odd years later!

Alan

alyssa7_ said...

Hi Kim,

I've been reading for a while but this is my first time commenting...
I think my significant other hit the nail on the head last year with his gift... he knew that I really wanted an ipod, but he took it one step further and picked one out for me in my favourite colour (yellow!). A few hours after unwrapping it, I took it out of its box and plugged it into my computer, only to find that it was fully charged and loaded with one song - which he had written and recorded for me.

So maybe try something similar - choose a gift that you know is wanted and needed, and find a way to make it surprising and personal... every woman likes that romantic or sentimental touch!

Good luck!

Alyssa

cannwin said...

Here's an idea. . . (perhaps for next year) have an envelope on the refrigerator or somewhere that she can puts photos or descriptive notes into that will help you with your choosing. She could also just put in pictures of things she wants. That way you are getting her something she wants (specifically) and surprising her at the same time!

You could also ask her to make sure any sizing needs are specified on the paper. I love this idea... if I could only get my husband to go along with it.

Joan Crawford said...

Get her a spa package. She likes smelly, pampery things - you don't know what kind but the spa people do!

It is indulgent and relaxing and silly - which is why it makes the perfect gift.

That's what my husband got me last year - he babysat the kids while mom took a break. Wonderful anytime of the year.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

P.S. On the flower thing - I think Shrek got it right with his whole "I don't like these but they're pretty and you're pretty so I thought you'd like them."

We love flowers because they are so against a man's nature. You love her enough to go way out of your element. Instead of killing a wild boar - you got flowers :)

Fat Lazy Guy said...

Depending on who it was from, I'd prefer the surprise. The fact that they thought enough about me to get me something without any prompting is enough for me.

Mary Witzl said...

I'd get Maggie something she wants. The surprises are generally: 1) expensive 2) disappointing, 3) embarrassing. And the awful thing is, you have to pretend to be delighted. Damn hard work all around.

allencapoferri said...

If you would ask me...surprise. Definitely.

karatemom said...

how about something a bit more creative..using your predicament as the focus..I picture you creating a really cool card using all your computer talents ..create a cartoon say of just what you said.you purchasing for her a particular gift, your character beaming in anticipation her character some how misinterpretting the gesture..then she turns the page again to find a second cartoon..you have created..these characters that resemble the two of you .
going together to a store and her choosing the pefect item of her desire and you beaming..
and on the back page is a gift card for that particular store.

ta da..!! creative gift..she will love all the time effort and care..AND after christmas you take a romantic day together as she goes to choose that perfect gift with you there to share in the happy moment.!!
I would love someone to want to get it right so bad that they went to such lengths.
what do you think of something along those lines ?

Charlie said...

Christmas may be long over before this conundrum is solved, Kim.

Rachel said...

Once I received a bread bin as a present from my husband, now he sticks to what I would like as a present. I think that unless ytou have been paying very careful attention for hints over the previous months a surprise is best avoided.

Helen said...

Oh Bearded One - I have to say that I am a little bit disappointed. Surely after 19 years, you must know that you can buy her something she wants (which is a prerequisite for getting through the next 19 years)AND surprise her with something as well!! Nothing major - just take over the world for her!!! (I always knew world domination was part of your natural psyche!)

hope said...

Re the flowers issue:

At least that one I can take a stab at for you.

If you think about it, at least in years past, the most flowers anyone ever got at one time was at..their funeral. Every woman in my family has always sighed at this floral display and said, "Why not give flowers when one is living and can appreciate them?"

We appreciate their beauty and your giving them to us. Your complete understanding is not expected to be part of that gift. ;)

Pat said...

That's my boy:)

thingy said...

I'd rather be surprised.

It tells a lot about how a person sees me.

mapstew said...

We've both decided that we do not 'want' anything this year, so have decided to buy something that the whole family can use.

But while out in the shops last week I made her try on a biker's jacket, something she would 'never wear', and it looked just fantastic on her. She even said, "this looks fantastic on me, but I would never buy it".
('Cos she don't have a bike, and she thinks she' too old!

Rubbish!

My present problem solved!

Kim Ayres said...

A wide variety of answers and suggestions - which all goes to show there's no definitive answer for this one...

karatemom said...

except for the obvious..for all the wonderful things you have said of your wife and the love you both have for one another. And that she knows you the way she does ..anything you were to choose for her, be it surprise or not...she would happily, graciously adore in the spirit of the holiday season.

True ? I think so .!!

Chocolatesa said...

Ask her? Personally I prefer getting something I want.

erika said...

I haven't read the comments, so sorry if someone has already suggested this, but you could ask her to write a list of things she would like, and then you can pick which one to buy for her. This way there will be a little bit of a surprise element, at least :)

Kim Ayres said...

of course that's exactly what I do - ask her to write a list, then pick something. But it means no real surprises.

starrlife said...

Wow! Great discussion. It is so varied- my Mom and Dad still have the same difficulty so many describe after 50 years but don't give up! She's incredibly picky and he occasionally does get the right gift. Perhaps a concert that you'd both go to together with a wonderful dinner? That you cooked if you have the knack? A foot massage gift coupon for monthly foot massages by you? One gift from the list, one on your own that expresses you? It is not a contest- she loves you and you love her. I've seen some beautiful mother/child necklaces/lockets. You are a sweetheart just to try so hard Kim!

erika said...

I guess my suggestion wasn't overly helpful then :) Still, I would personally choose a practical/wanted gift over the surprise. I know, not too romantic. Maybe you shouldn't listen to me though, because I have asked for a domestic item gift before (I know, sorry), I told my husband specifically NOT to buy me a diamond engagement ring (or anything diamond ever), and I don't get very impressed by flowers. But whatever you'll get her, she will appreciate the effort and the thought, and she will be happy because she will be spending Christmas with you :)

Chocolatesa said...

Ok well I meant ask her if she prefers a surprise or something from her list :P

~:C:~ said...

I love to get something I wanted, but that I wasn't expecting to get - and I mean, not AT ALL.

As a result, I tend to keep my eyes peeled and ears pricked in the hopes of figuring out my intended gift victim's most obscure desire. I then buy accordingly (if within my means). :)

Ruth said...

If I had to choose it would be to have a gift I wanted, no surprise. that way I am sure I can use it (no waste) and am quite grateful that someone loved me enough to put effort into it for me.

asmita said...

I would still say a woman loves a pleasant surprise any day!

Kim Ayres said...

Of course she would like a pleasant surprise, but that would mean a surprise AND something she liked. The question is what to do if you have to choose between...

The Pollinatrix said...

So, do tell - what did you finally decide to get her?

Kim Ayres said...

Something I know she wanted, but it won't be a surprise

Ron Tipton said...

Definitely a surpise but something I wanted. This is easier than it sounds. As one of your previous commenters noted, study the person and see what they are interested in. To take the time and trouble to really figure out just the right thing to give a loved one is, to me, what gift giving is all about. Anything else is just giving a gift to fulfill an obligation.

It has only happened to me a few times in my life that I was truly surprised with a gift that I wanted but I have never forgotten those gifts. I still have them. The other gifts? Long forgotten. Make your gift unforgettable.

mia17 said...

A little late for X-mas shopping, but perhaps will help with future gift giving...

I've been told I'm a great gift giver/shopper. My gift is frequently the favorite for the kids I've shopped for...often for the grown ups too. I sound like I'm bragging...it's not intended.

This really only works when you know the person relatively well...

I try to get a feel for the recipient...try to think like them if you will. Try to remember anything and everything I've ever seen put a smile on their face. I almost never go with something they have asked for...but may use it as a stepping stone to whatever I do get.

I know the gift when I see it/think of it instantly...it just jumps up and down and yells...it's me!! I'm the perfect gift for this person!!

As for what I prefer it depends on the giver. Some people have proven themselves incapable of shopping like I do, from them I'd prefer something I've asked for or a gift card for a store they know I like. (I'm an avid reader so a gift card for the bookstore is always a winner!)
From others....especially people I'm especially close to...ie the man in my life I want more...
I want them to be able to shop like I do...I want them to be able to suprise me with the perfect gift. A few of my x-boyfriends were GREAT at this....sadly most just don't seem to be able to do it. Of course I like whatever they get, because it's from them, but when they get something that means something...that means more to me than anything else. That they know me/get me...not sure how else to explain it.

Oh and on the flowers topic...flowers for no reason are great. Not on a regular basis...they are a waste of money, and will be dead within days, but every once in awhile, for no reason will put a great smile on my face. I think it's just a small token of "I was thinking about you today" kinda thing. It doesn't even really have to be flowers...any little thing will do.

Hope that helps...
Mia

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