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"Is it tacky to tell someone the gift you got them is high-value?"

McKinley Valentine — 6 min read
"Is it tacky to tell someone the gift you got them is high-value?"
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo / Unsplash

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When you give someone a gift that’s quite valuable – but the person may not be aware. If it was jewellery you could say "this is a genuine emerald bracelet'" easy, but if it was eg a rare porcelain cup that might be Spode or Royal Doulton, or antique, do you not say anything about its value cause that’s gauche and could be seen as trying to impress

Or let them know – not for personal prestige but if they are aware of this they may take extra care – not drop it into the dishwasher or use it to feed the cat or store it in a precarious place?

Oh this is a good question! Like all good questions, it has a whole bunch of complicated interconnected things underneath/inside the question

Care instructions

If a gift needs special care (dryclean only, do not put in dishwasher) then it seems to me the most straightforward method would be to put a little note with the gift that says "care instructions".

1a. As a caveat, I would think carefully before giving someone a gift that requires special care, because to me a dryclean-only shirt is a single-use shirt, however lovely it is. It's similar to how you would never get someone a puppy without asking first, because they may not be prepared to care for it (without the additional cruelty to animals element).

A gift that requires special care is giving them an object, but taking away their time - since, most people are time-poor rather than object-poor, this may not be a good trade-off. (This is no less true of very poor people, since they're more likely to be working two jobs and may not be able to afford childcare, delivery meals, and other time-savers. I think it's worth ruining the surprise and asking first.)

A direct brag is always better than a humblebrag.

(This isn't actually a humblebrag but the same principle applies.) If you want to tell someone that an object is fancy, it will come across way way way better if you just say "I got you this! It's made of real Antarctica lichen!" than if you say "I'm only mentioning that it's made of real Antarctica lichen so you know to treat it carefully".

I am suspicious when you say your intentions are 100% egoless, because who, when buying a friend an expensive fancy gift, doesn't want them to know it's fancy and not just from K-Mart? If you didn't care about the difference, why would you have got them the fancy version in the first place? There's nothing wrong with that. It's fine to be excited about what you think/hope is a good gift, and it's fine to care about fanciness vectors.

(Last Christmas I got my mum a piece of foil from the Apollo 11 Lunar Module. I absolutely told her that that's what it was, because a) I was excited about it and b) without that knowledge it's just a 1sqcm piece of foil which is not a great gift. It would have been bizarre to frame it "I got you this piece of foil! Oh and just as an aside, just letting you know so you take care of it, it's actually been to the moon.")

There's a difference between honestly showing your enthusiasm for having got them something fancy, and using it as a way to show how rich you are or whatever. The indirect way of mentioning a gift's value actually comes across more like a status play than stating it directly would.

Tall Poppy Syndrome

I will note here that the question-asker is Australian, and we have a cultural tendency called "Tall Poppy Syndrome", ie cut down the poppies that grow too tall. So that note that it "wouldn't be for personal prestige" stands out to me because Australians aren't supposed to do anything for personal prestige, although of course we do, we just have to pretend we aren't (healthy!). I wonder if a New Yorker would add the same caveat.

I saw an interview with the Australian actor Ruby Rose, and the American host began, "So, you're very famous in Australia..." and she cut him off -- "I'm not very famous! I'll get in so much trouble if you say that. They don't like hearing that back home."

Be prepared for other people not to value the same fanciness vectors that you value.

So I got sent a free sample of lipstick and was shocked by how perfect it was - non-drying, long-lasting and an incredibly flattering colour. It is now my absolute favourite lipstick. When I went to buy it, I discovered it was this cult item because Meghan Markle wore the exact lipstick at her wedding to Prince Harry. This is obviously a point in its favour for some people - it made me vaguely embarrassed and I worry someone will recognise it and think that's why I bought it. But I did buy an expensive, name brand perfume because it was heavily discussed in a book I loved (White Oleander).

So, something that makes you value an object more, could make someone else value it less. That's neither here nor there re: your question, it's just something to be aware of. It can hurt when someone you care about doesn't value something that you value highly, and have given to them.

It does lead to, though -

4. If you want to tell someone a gift is fancy so they will take better care of it, you are entering into not-okay territory - the idea that you have any ownership over what is done with a gift once you've given it away. If it's important to you that the item is treated well, do not give it away. Strings-attached gifts are not gifts.

For this reason also, the indirect method of telling them it's fancy, where you say it's only so they know to take care of it, will actually come across much worse than the direct method.

If someone is fairly careless with their stuff, a special/fragile object is likely to just be a stressor that they feel they can't actually use. (If you drop cups all the time, a do-not-break cup is essentially a never-use cup, aka cupboard clutter.) So putting pressure on someone to treat an object with special attention may be a lot to ask.

Gift-buying strategy

(Of course, adults generally have everything they need, in terms of gift-y stuff. They might have a shitty version of it though. So getting someone a better-quality version of what they already own is a safer bet than getting something they don't own. There's almost nothing you can't get a shitty version of for $4 on AliExpress, so if they don't have it, it's probably because they wouldn't use it. So I don't think getting someone an extra nice thing is necessarily a bad play, gift-wise.)

Someone treating an object carelessly does not even necessarily mean they don't value it. I do actually have a non-dishwasher-safe mug that I like a lot. I put it in the dishwasher, and I've accepted that I'm badly shortening its lifespan. But that's just the reality of my . (I never had a dishwasher until like 2 years ago and now I'm 100% spoiled, I'll never go back.)

In short: just tell them directly, don't couch it in lateral concern terms. But don't expect them to do anything with this information, and don't be offended if it doesn't mean as much to them, or if they're not up for the task of caring it.

Vectors of invisible fanciness

Ways in which an item can be of more value than it immediately appears:

- very expensive
- very old
- well made, high-quality materials and expert craftsmanship
- brand name
- signed by a famous person
- once belonged to a famous person
- once belonged to your grandmother
- signed by your grandmother, a famous jewel thief
- didn't belong to a famous person, but they wore the exact same shade/scent/cut, and wearing it makes you as glamorous as they are, maybe??
- once involved in a historical event
- made of real [something] where synthetic [something] is commonly used
- probably not a real yeti bone, but the guy selling it seemed so earnest and you didn't want to be cruel
- haunted
- cursed
- blessed
- lucky
- evidence-based (of medicine, skincare, etc)
- mentioned in a song lyric or book
- mentioned in a cursed book in a dead language
- limited print run
- hand-made
- stolen
- stolen by your grandmother, the famous jewel thief
- contains tracking device
- oh no, she's really dropped you in it this time
- i don't understand why you idolise that woman so much, she's a hot mess and you always end up holding the bag

Interestingly, these are all also ways that a thing can be worse, depending on your values
- left-wing types are often kinda grossed out by brand names
- "made of real tigerskin!" will upset more people than it impresses
- you can buy a piece of the skin of the Hindenburg, the zeppelin that had the famous disaster. I thought this was cool, like the Titanic. My partner thought it was gruesome and morbid, like the Titanic. Like owning a bit of the rubble of 9/11
- some people not impressed by the effort it takes to steal the Merkel Diamond

Jokes aside, are there vectors I've forgotten?

This piece was originally published in The Whippet #86 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!

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