It’s that season again: the season for gift-buying guides. There are gift-buying guides out there for just about every category of age and interest, but I’m one of very few people writing a gift-buying guide for people you are socially required to give a gift to but frankly can’t stand. Whether it’s a family member or a coworker, sometimes it’s a whole lot easier to just cough up a wrapped object than to go through the drama of opting out, and I am here for you.
(There was a letter to Dear Prudence this year — second letter down, and be warned, the first letter is a very different sort of horrifying — from an indignant mother-in-law who gave her daughter-in-law a gift card for yarn, and was mad because the daughter-in-law used the yarn she bought to make her a beautiful bedspread as a gift the following year. If the daughter-in-law is here looking for ideas, WELCOME and OH MY GOD YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW IS THE WORST, HOLY CRAP, and this year may I suggest that you give her a toilet brush holder that looks like a cowboy boot and save your beautiful hand-made creations for people who appreciate them?)
Annual disclaimer: I don’t have to give gifts to anyone I don’t like. If I’ve ever given you a gift that was terrible, it was genuine cluelessness on my part and I really was trying to get you a present you’d like. (This sort of cluelessness is super common, and provides everyone else with crucial plausible deniability when choosing gifts inspired by this list.)
ON TO THE IDEAS.
Clothes They Won’t Wear
Some new photorealistic fabric-printing techniques have come along in the last few years and have resulted in some truly amazing clothing items, like this sweatshirt.
Is that sweatshirt the best hoodie ever made, or the absolute worst? I mean, the great thing about this sweatshirt is you could buy one for both your best friend and your worst enemy and potentially get exactly the response you’re hoping for from both, depending on who you’re friends with. This sweatshirt is available in a variety of other designs (from this and other vendors) including Christmas T-Rex, monocle cat rides a unicorn, and space bears (also lots of really, really ugly patriotic-themed ones) so if you’re bracing for a large family gift-opening event you could get everyone a sweatshirt and just switch up the designs to suit the recipients.
I feel like the ideal gift-item that will be worn once and then occupy closet space forever is a knitted wool item that’s attractive, yet unbearably itchy. There are two problems with this: (1) wool sweaters are kind of expensive and (2) yarn quality has improved since the 1980s and I think there are fewer itchy sweaters around than there used to be. You could, however, pick one up at a thrift shop, have it carefully dry cleaned, and pretend you got it at a craft fair. Mittens, hats, and scarves are also really unpleasant when made with itchy wool.
Gadgets They Won’t Use
Back in 2014, I suggested giving someone a cheap, dysfunctional SmartWatch to fill their life with frustration. Those watches are still around and are sufficiently functional that it won’t be obvious that the goal was torment, but still dysfunctional enough to guarantee hours of annoyance. This one typically gets less than a half day of battery life, and the time and date reset every time you turn it off. It’s under $20 and available with two-day shipping. This one broke after someone wore it in the rain. (You’ll want to check “other sellers” if you’ll need it before Christmas.) This one gave someone a rash.
For a lower-tech gadget, how about a cool-looking but completely nonfunctional barometer? (I mean, even a working barometer is solidly in the category of gadgets that most people will have no use for. If I want to know what the weather is going to be like, I check my weather app like everyone else.) As a bonus, the dysfunctional barometer is too pretty to throw away, but too fragile to put anywhere it might get knocked off the table.
Sadly, this smartphone-controlled salt dispenser is not actually available yet (and the Twitter account has been dead for a year, which makes me think it may never be available.) Apparently it was supposed to tell you how much salt you should put on your food (because goodness knows, none of us can figure that out for ourselves without a smartphone helping us out) and it plays music! Or would, if it had been made.
Overspecialized Kitchen Gadgets That Will Take Up Shelf and Drawer Space
This category never gets old, because new weird, overspecialized gadgets come out every year.
You can get a very inexpensive mini waffle maker. The thing about waffles is that they’re delicious, but kind of a pain in the ass to make, and making them really small does not actually make them any less of a pain in the ass. Alternately, you could get a specialized gadget that makes waffles shaped like bowls: the maker is larger than the mini-maker, and also, waffle bowls are an even less practical food item than mini waffles.
Also available: a specialized omelet maker. There are people out there who eat enough omelets that they would make good use of an omelet maker; obviously, if you’re looking on this list for ideas for gifts for that person, you should go with the mini waffle maker instead. Finally, there’s a breakfast sandwich maker that will simultaneously toast your muffin, heat your pre-cooked breakfast meat, melt your cheese, and cook your egg; it has rave reviews from all the breakfast sandwich eaters who love it, but in order to make use of it you definitely need to be the sort of person who will have the eggs, ham, muffins or bread, and cheese all in the fridge simultaneously. Buy it for someone you dislike who is definitely not that sort of person, but feels like they should be.
There are a lot of little hand-held gadgets that are going to be a pointless waste of drawer space for most people. Here’s one that slices avocados and another that makes perfect pineapple rings. A lot of these very specialized devices are genuinely useful if someone is (a) disabled or (b) eats a lot of that particular food. Most people do not like fresh pineapple enough that they really need a gadget that does nothing but slice it up. Alternately, here’s a strawberry slicer that looks like a strawberry or an egg slicer that looks like a whale. Finally, there’s this lettuce slicer, which frankly baffles me. It’s really not clear to me how you get the lettuce sliced all the way through, using this thing. Also, you need to have enough manual dexterity to use a knife to cut the lettuce into a small enough chunk to get it in the holder, which is probably harder than just slicing it the rest of the way up. I don’t know who this is for, other than that super annoying coworker you drew in the office gift exchange.
Throw Blankets They Won’t Want On Their Couch
Throw blankets are one of those generic, always-okay things to give, or at least they are in my climate.
There are lovely holiday-themed throw blankets available and the thing about these is, the recipient will be opening them on December 25th, and they’ll be as dated as the Christmas tree by January 1st, at which point they’ll probably want to shove them into a closet, where they’ll take up space until next year. (This wouldn’t work if you were buying a gift for me; if it’s a soft blanket we’d just leave it out until spring, when all the blankets get put away. We also have a Halloween dish towel that lives in the kitchen towel drawer and gets pulled out and used year-round.)
There are also some really ugly throw blankets, like this one of horses posing for a group selfie or this one for “sports fans” with balls all over it. I’m pretty sure I know people who would LOVE this one with three wolves howling at the moon but they probably wouldn’t be thrilled about the fact that this blanket apparently sheds everywhere. Sadly, the ones with Elvis printed on them are all more than I think you want to spend for this sort of gift.
Do-It-Yourself Gift Basket (of crap)
To make a gift basket, you basically need the following: a basket, some raffia filler, one of those cellophane bags to keep everything in there (can be optional), and ribbon. And then you fill it with a selection of goodies.
If it’s for someone you like, you can do a selection of fancy cheeses, chocolate, jam, gourmet sodas, etc. If it’s for someone you don’t like, the possibilities are just as endless. For that “no, seriously, it’s a present!” vibe, look for stuff in fancy packaging; for the “oh god what is in this?” reaction, look for stuff with artificial sweeteners.
Some specific possibilities: go to the spice section and look for the spices that come in fancy jars, and then pick some that you think your recipient is unlikely to use more than twice a year. Lots of cookbooks will tell you how much better whole spices are than the pre-ground ones. And, I mean, they’re not wrong, but most of us use pre-ground spices anyway because grinding up spices (other than pepper, which goes in its own specialized grinder) is a pain in the ass. Available as whole spices in pretty glass jars at many grocery store: caraway seeds; cardamom pods; celery seed; cloves; cumin seed; coriander seed; mustard seed. Lots of these are things that very few people use all that frequently anyway. My grocery store also has dried chunks of shallots and crystallized ginger. Pick a selection and throw in a jar of Himalayan pink salt to tie it all together, ideally a package with crystals the size of popcorn kernels, because those are completely useless unless you grind them up. Then don’t put in a salt grinder. (Or, do put in a salt grinder because seriously, there’s absolutely no reason to use freshly ground salt instead of just buying salt with the crystals pre-sized to what you want and putting it in a shaker.)
You could also do a “coffee basket” with a package of attractive yet terrible coffee (did you know that there’s a Folgers Cappuccino, a Maxwell House French Vanilla, and a Hills Brothers English Toffee? I have not actually taste-tested any of these but I think the odds are high that they’re terrible) and two very ugly mugs, like those generic Santa-Snowman-Penguin mugs they sell at every Walgreens this time of year, or something like this guy.
You could do a “snack basket”: buy one of those multipacks of little cracker sandwiches (like these), break up the multipack because somehow a dozen separate little packages look better than a box of 12, add a bag of Funyons and a pack of jerky in the weirdest flavor you can find. (Or get the turkey kind. The turkey version of everything is reliably less tasty than the normal kind.) You could throw in a bottle of the Sparkling Ice drink. It doesn’t even matter what flavor you choose; all Sparkling Ice drinks taste vile because they’re full of artificial sweeteners. Alternately, there’s now a Watermelon Perrier in little cans.
You could also skip the basket entirely and buy a Seasonal Popcorn tin at the store and stick a ribbon on it. DONE.
One cautionary note: bear in mind that whatever you package up might be offered around, so make sure it’s something you’re willing to choke down at least a little of. (This is less of a risk with spices but a very high risk with anything that looks like a cookie.)
As always, you can give someone a toilet (“piss off”), a stove (“here’s your symbolic lump of coal”), or manure (“no further explanation needed”) through Oxfam.
The World Wildlife Fund still doesn’t let you adopt a blobfish, but has symbolic animal adoptions for the Koala Bear (when you want to say, “you coast by because people inexplicably think you’re adorable, even though you’re actually a lazy jerk”), the Black Jaguar (when you want to say “shut up, colonizer“), and the Crocodile (when you want to say, “you’re a dinosaur.”) (The Black Jaguar in particular might also make a pretty decent charitable gift for someone you actually like who would think it was cool, and I’ll note the WWF is making it super clear that yes, this is a Black Panther!)
Edited to add: and in response to gifts from those people you hate, Geek Calligraphy has the perfect subtly hostile thank-you card. (And also a covertly hostile Mother’s Day card, for people with terrible mothers they nonetheless send cards to. Order it now, and you’ll have it when you remember you need to get a card in May!)
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
Gifts for People You Hate 2016 (the fuck everything edition)
Gifts for People You Hate, 2017
My Twitter feed: @naomikritzer
And my fiction that was published online this year:
Field Biology of the Wee Fairies, September in Apex.
The Thing About Ghost Stories, December in Uncanny.
Also new this year: a short story in this anthology, which would make a great gift and is under $3.50 for Kindle.
My fiction published online last year:
Waiting Out the End of the World in Patty’s Place Cafe, Clarkesworld, March 2017.
Paradox, Uncanny, June 2017
You could also order my short story collection, Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories.