Gifts for People You Hate, 2016

This has been quite a year, hasn’t it? It’s been the sort of shit year that leaves a lot of people dreading the holidays. So although I started this series years ago as a nod toward the idea that most of us heave a sigh and do whatever dance of holiday obligation has been laid out for us, I’m going to start by making a case for self-care. Make the plans that feel right to you, see the people whose company you enjoy, eat foods you like, give gifts only if you want to.

For some people out there, though, self-care can involve conflict avoidance, and that may mean buying a gift for someone they loathe because presenting a festively-wrapped box with a present inside is just easier than opting out.

As always, I tried to adhere to certain basic principles. The gifts should be cheap, but they shouldn’t be obviously cheap. They should be easy to find/purchase (which is why I provide so many Amazon links). And they should be the sort of gift you can present as if it’s an honest attempt to give them something they’ll like, even as it’s totally, totally wrong.

(And the usual disclaimer: I don’t give gifts to anyone I don’t like, so if I give you something horrible, it was accidental.)

Occupational Novelties

One of my college friends had a box of mugs, all of which said something like “world’s best teacher” or “I (HEART) MY TEACHER” or “check it out, it’s a picture of an apple, on a mug, for a teacher!” on them. His mom, of course, was a teacher, and she was inundated with teacher-themed mugs as gifts.

There are occupations that seem to attract related tchotchkes: doctors, lawyers, cops, teachers, nurses, and military service people are solidly on that list. You can present a themed mug, t-shirts, decorative wall plaque, or throw pillow, and cheerfully assure them that this made you think of them. They’ll thank you with feigned enthusiasm and add it to their collection of mugs, t-shirts, plaques, and pillows.

If it’s some profession that you almost never see stuff for (garbage collector, IRS auditor, agricultural extension agent…) then either this will be exciting and novel, or they’ll have twelve iterations of that item. Use your best judgment. (A lot depends on the rest of the family.) (Honestly, even if they’ve never seen an IRS auditor Christmas ornament before…this may be a suitably terrible gift.)

Terrible Gifts for Animal Lovers

There is an entire universe of bad animal tchotchkes out there. For example, this cat, which is holding a salt and pepper shaker and which just looks weirdly wrong. Cats don’t sit like that, they don’t hold their arms like that, and that is a seriously weird facial expression. Or there’s this clock, which comes in a wide variety of dog breeds. Normally, if you’re trying to buy a bad gift for a dog lover, one easy approach is to buy the wrong breed. Like, if the person owns golden retrievers, buy them something with pugs all over it. In this case, each dog is sufficiently off kilter that you should definitely buy the RIGHT breed.

Apparently there are now dog-breed-specific Monopoly variants. You’ll want to use your best judgment here, though: don’t give one of these if you’re going to get roped into a game of Monopoly. And from the department of “WHY? WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT THIS?” is a toaster that toasts a dog onto your bread. (One of the irritated reviewers notes that in order for the dog shape to show up properly, you’d better be using white bread. There’s also just the fact that when I make toast, it’s because I want toast, not because I want bread with a tiny design branded into the center of the slice.)

In the category of “bad gifts I have personally given with the best of intentions” would be a Siberian husky angel Christmas ornament (it wasn’t this one, but same basic idea) I once gave my mother-in-law. My in-laws raised and trained sled dogs and they were, in fact, amused by husky tchotchkes. But my mother-in-law looked at the husky angel with deep and obvious skepticism and said, “I have never yet met a husky that deserved that halo.” (Sadly, there are no husky-as-devil ornaments for people to hang on their tree. I think that would’ve made a good foll0wup the next year.)

There are quite a few people who have some animal they like a lot, and a collection. Giving them something for their collection tends to be a good gift. To make it a bad gift, find something that’s way too big; that’s supposed to be useful but definitely isn’t (like it’s supposed to hold umbrellas, but it only holds the sort of long, skinny, non-collapsible umbrellas that almost no one carries these days); that’s ugly and weird looking; that’s identical to some item they already have, or that’s the wrong category. People who want little elephants to put on a shelf probably do not actually want a giant elephant afghan blanket. People who love unicorns may not actually want photorealistic unicorn leggings. Etc.

Terrible Gifts for Drinkers

***I’m going to preface this section by stating for the record that I am not suggesting that anything on this list would be an appropriate gift to a person with an actual drinking problem. (In particular, don’t gift a booze-related gift to someone who’s been going to AA.)***

So let’s talk about wine. I like wine. I drink wine with my dinner quite regularly, mostly fairly cheap (like $10/bottle) red wines. (We used to drink a lot of Malbec. Then in the last year everyone else discovered Malbec and now the prices are going up.) You don’t actually need anything all that fancy to drink wine. I do think actual wine glasses are worth keeping around, and you need something to open bottles with. If you want to get a little bit fancy, some sort of vacuum-style plug you can shove in to an unfinished bottle will ensure it keeps longer. (You can, in fact, just shove the cork partway back in, and 99% of the time it’ll taste fine for a couple of days.)

There are all sorts of wine accessories you can buy someone that are pointless and bulky. For instance, all the weird items that will hold a single bottle of wine for you, including one that looks like a sparkly pink stilleto shoe, a some novelty gadgets that defy gravity, and this caddy that lets you dress your wine up as Santa for some reason.

You could also buy a decanter. Decanters are not pointless; they do let you decant wine, which I know some people like to do. (I have been enthusiastically enjoying wine for years without a decanter, and I don’t feel like I’m doing it wrong. Feel free to make your case for decanters in the comments if you want.) The obnoxious thing about decanters is that they tend to be large and weirdly proportioned and glass, i.e., super annoying to store. Here’s a reasonably cheap one. Or if you think they might already have a decanter, you could get them one that’s larger and weirder looking and thus, presumably, better.

There are also fancy-ass wine bottle openers, like this cordless electric wine bottle opener. Some of the best bad gifts try to solve a problem that doesn’t actually exist, and super-fancy wine bottle openers are a good example of this. (There are people who need a fancy wine bottle opener due to arthritis, but most people can use a standard-issue corkscrew and probably already own a couple.) Since it’s rechargeable, the recipient will have to leave it set up on their counter, with the charger plugged into an outlet, in order to ever use it.

The vacuum-type wine bottle stoppers serve a purpose, but a decorative wine stopper is really no more useful than a cork, and if it’s made of decorative blown glass will have to be carefully stored between uses so it doesn’t break all over the place.

Finally, here is a set of stemless silicone wine glasses with a dorky “his & hers” design. The idea is that with these nice unbreakable glasses, you can bring your wine with you on picnics and drink it out of something classier than a Solo cup. Several reviews note that these cups smell weird and plasticky and the smell never goes away, and also the flexible silicon sort of collapses in on itself while you’re trying to hold your cup. (Bonus points if you give this to someone who lives in a state like Minnesota where drinking is actually illegal in all the parks, and you’re going to want to drink your wine out of something non-wine-looking anyway just to avoid potential hassles.)

For the beer drinker, there’s a wide variety of novelty bottle openers out there, including mermaids, the Milennium Falcon, and a bunch of openers that look like weaponry. Pick something that looks uncomfortable. You can also go the overly bulky route with this complicated magnetic thingie (this one’s actually desirable if you want un-bent bottle caps, but otherwise is a large and complex alternative to one of the simplest mechanical devices in existence), a countertop style that will take up space in their kitchen, one that has to be mounted on a wall, and one that mounts to the fridge with a very strong magnet but apparently doesn’t work for crap.

The beer equivalent of a decanter is probably a beer glass set. There are totally people who use them, but the vast majority of beer drinkers just drink their beer out of the bottle (or can). For extra irritation value, though, here is a set of 10oz beer glasses, since they’re probably drinking 12oz bottles.

Deplorable Gifts for Trump Supporters

I was going to suggest this mug (which accurately portrays Trump as both hideous and empty-headed) or this t-shirt (which is a parody of itself that most Trump supporters probably won’t really recognize) but I’ll be honest with you: I think Trump supporters, more than any others, need a charitable gift this year.

Charitable Gifts

For the person who voted for Donald Trump because ABORTION:
The Ali Forney Center
Lost-n-Found Youth
(Both organizations are shelters for homeless LGBT teenagers. You may also have a similar charity in your town.)
I know the lives of children are precious to you, so I have donated in your honor to a charity that cherishes and protects lives that have been thrown away.

For the person who voted for Donald Trump because GUNS.
Freedom is important to both of us, so I’ve donated in your honor to an organization committed to defending our constitutional rights. 

For the person who voted for Donald Trump because BUILD A WALL.
I’ve donated in your honor to support Americans who are working together to defend themselves against violent outsiders. 

For the person who voted for Donald Trump because LAW AND ORDER.
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
I know you care deeply about crime and crime victims, so I’ve donated in your honor to an organization that supports, protects, and assists victims of serious crimes.  

For the person who voted for Donald Trump because BLUE LIVES MATTER.
Everytown for Gun Safety
I’ve donated in your honor to support an organization committed to providing safer streets for police officers (and everyone else). 

For the Donald Trump voter who is sincerely outraged at the idea that Donald Trump supporters are a bunch of racists:
I know you don’t condone hate groups or hate crimes, so I thought you would appreciate a donation in your honor to a group that is working to make racism socially unacceptable again.

For the person who voted for Trump because they were convinced Obama and then Hillary were going to impose Sharia on them:
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
I donated in your honor to a vigilant watchdog group protecting us from religious tyranny.

For the person who proudly refers to themself as “deplorable”:
At this point I’m in favor of an open declaration of war.
The Clinton Foundation
I donated in your honor to the Clinton Foundation. MERRY CHRISTMAS, MOTHERFUCKER.

Happy holidays to all my readers!

Passive-Aggressive Gift Giving Guides from Previous Years:

2010: Beyond Fruitcake: Gifts for People You Hate
2011: Gifts that say, “I had to get you a gift. So look, a gift!”
2012: Holiday shopping for people you hate
2013: Gift Shopping for People You Hate: the Passive-Aggressive Shopping Guide
Gifts for People You Hate 2014: The Almost-Generic Edition
Whimsical Gifts (for people you hate), 2015

Also, if you’re amused by my writing, check out my essays at Bitter Empire:

My Twitter feed: @naomikritzer

And my fiction that was published online this year:

Zombies in Winter

or last year:

Cat Pictures Please (Clarkesworld, January 2015.)
Wind (Apex, April 2015.)
So Much Cooking (Clarkesworld, November 2015.)
The Good Son (Lightspeed, March 2015 — reprint. Originally appeared in Jim Baen’s Universe, 2009.)

And if you just can’t get enough of my writing, you could consider buying:
Comrade Grandmother and Other Stories (short story collection)
Gift of the Winter King and Other Stories (short story collection)
My novels (there are five of them)

(I also have a short story collection coming next year from Fairwood Press! Which will be available in PRINT as well as e-book format! No “buy” link for that one yet, though.)




8 thoughts on “Gifts for People You Hate, 2016

  1. I am very entertained by this series 🙂

    I’m a mathematician, and the “best” tcotchke aimed at us is the math wall clock. I’m actually quite fond of the one I received as a gift from my aunt, but I’m sure that some people get too many.

    This is a good example, with some nifty features: it will annoy the obsessive mathematician by having a small error in one of the digits (pi is not exactly 3.14!), it ticks loudly, and it will break within 6 weeks. Alternatively, you can get a neon version which looks spiffy and might not break, but comes with the message “Time is passing in this class. Are you?” Either give to a teacher who has enough of these already, or give to a college student for extra passive-aggression.

    But this one is even better for passive-aggressive gift-givers: not only is it ugly and mathematically uninteresting, it starts with 1 at the top of the clock instead of 12!

    Alternatively, you can give people math measuring cups, because people want to have to solve a math problem to know how big their measuring spoon is (or flip the spoon over for the answer). For added challenge the equations come off in the dishwasher!

    I tried to find some math gifts with incorrect equations on them, but it was harder than I expected, at least on amazon, where sellers are responsive to reviews. This mug , which I actually saw on a colleague’s desk a couple weeks ago, would be great for that (the inverse square law should actually have a square! why are both limits of the integral -infinity!) But the manufacturers claim they’ve fixed the equations in the newest edition.. No idea if they’re right though; hopefully the typesetting is still horrible, though?

    Outside of math, though, you can get your chemist a periodic table shower curtain that thinks that carbon is a noble gas! (My family actually got that curtain for ourselves, and it a took a bit for anyone to notice this; so this is probably best for the highly detail-oriented. There are various similar models that are correct, though.)

    • Oh, wow, these are GREAT. I mean, for certain values of great.

      I think my favorite is the clock that has a 1 at the top.

      One of the hazards of this project is that I always find a few items that I don’t remotely need but find myself wanting, and “a periodic table shower curtain” is now on that list. (But I’d want one that didn’t think carbon was a noble gas.)

    • For awful math mug or t-shirt gifts, Cafepress is your friend. I’ll admit that I haven’t found an actual incorrect equation there yet, but there are loads that are just dumb and more than a few that are in bad taste. However, you’ll need to tailor it to the individual; for example, I find this mug actually nice and interesting, whereas this one is just… no. Also, many Cafepress mugs can be ordered in a large size which will stick out in the cabinet and be annoying to store.

      And you thought the typesetting on that Amazon example was awful. That mug doesn’t even have the excuse of having equations on it.

      Even for a fan of the show, this mug is pretty stupid, and if they’ve expressed their like for The Big Bang Theory in the past, well, now you have plausible deniability. (plus a mug in a shape that isn’t useful for storage unless you have a whole bunch of similarly unusually-shaped mugs)

      It’s too bad that it’s probably rare to find the person to whom this could be plausibly given who would also be bothered by the fact that the first symbol on there is a brace, not a parenthesis. (a PEMDAS mug would probably only work for an elementary-to-middle-school math teacher (maybe high school). You’d need to use your own judgement about who would care that { is not a parenthesis)

      There’s also apparently a whole category of math-related tchotchke with the slogan “insπre” on them which would be annoying enough in a nice font, but uses some sort of off-centered handwriting-like scrawl. You want that in a math clock? Here you go. (unfortunately, that gets a bit pricey) I find the “3.5 π = 11” assertion even more annoying than the “π – .14 = 3” one, especially since that font makes π look like square someone left the bottom off of.

  2. With regards to wine carafes (I like and use mine, which is similar to the first listed – you know that red you need to open an hour or two before drinking or it tastes like hairspray? Whack it in a decanter, swish it around a bit, drink immediately. Otoh, you might be drinking better wine) – in the spirit of this list, I’d strongly reccomend the more oddly shaped ones. Firstly, they’re likely to be of fairly fine glass and so present your recipient with the ever-present joy of potential showers of red wine and broken glass if they’re careless with your gift, but a second and perhaps under-realised bonus is that they are an absolute nightmare to clean. You can’t fit them easily into a dishwasher and if you do, any detritus will inevitably end up crusted in the twiddly bits (mmm, salty-soapy-gritty Cabernet Sauvignon) but you can’t clean them by hand without investing in specialist tools for stupid-shaped decanters. Multidimensional frustration from a thoughtful gift!

    • you know that red you need to open an hour or two before drinking or it tastes like hairspray?

      I open my wine as we’re sitting down for dinner and it tastes fine, unless it’s just terrible wine. (A few times I’ve had wine that tasted like I’d licked out an ashtray. This problem was not solved by leaving it open for a day — if anything, it got worse.) I’m not buying expensive wines, so… yeah, I don’t know if this is just variance in taste preferences or what.

      I had not considered difficulty in cleaning when selecting bad presents but that is an excellent point. Something really oddly shaped is going to be a complete pain in the ass to wash!

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