Gifts for People You Hate 2021: Supply Chain Mayhem

Welcome, my friends, to my annual guide to passive-aggressive gifting.

In a better world, no one would feel like gift-giving was an unavoidable obligation, and certainly no one would find themselves resentfully shopping for someone they actively dislike, but we’re not in that world yet, and across the globe in December (or November, especially when Hanukkah comes early), people resentfully head to the mall to try to select something acceptable yet inexpensive for their mother-in-law, their neighbor, their obnoxious cousin, or their least-favorite coworker who they unfortunately drew for the office Secret Santa.

And I’m here for you! Once again, I have assembled a selection of inexpensive items that will look like you cared enough to send the very best, while in fact giving people the gift of wasted time, wasted space, frustration, annoyance, etc.

As always, I want to take a moment to emphasize that I don’t buy gifts for anyone I don’t like — if I’ve given you a terrible present, I like you and it was clueless goodwill and not passive-aggression (the very sort of clueless goodwill the rest of you can use as camouflage). I also do not scrutinize gifts I receive for hints that someone secretly dislikes me. (I cheerfully assume that everyone likes me, and occasionally discover that I’m wrong, and then usually forget that the person dislikes me and embarrass us both the next time I see them in public and give them a hearty hello while they’re trying to avoid eye contact.)

Anyway. I’m doing this guide very early this year for two reasons: (1) Hanukkah starts in November (we almost got another Thanksgivukkah) and (2) SUPPLY CHAIN ISSUES. As everyone knows, supply chain issues are wreaking havoc everywhere, on all the things, and this is a particular subtle bonus to passive-aggressive gifters as you could buy something completely bizarre, like you could give the person from your office gift exchange a Bob Ross Chia Pet or an Archie McPhee Yodeling Pickle and then shrug and say “you know, supply chain issues!” and they’ll be forced to assume that the shelves at Walgreens were otherwise picked bare and you did the best you could.

(The shelves are not actually going to be bare. There will be tons of stuff, you just won’t be able to find the item you want in your size, which is always true, but it’ll be more true this year. Also, print copies of your friends’ books may be hard to find, so if you haven’t bought all your friends’ books already, get on that or resign yourself to ebooks.)

Let’s talk about some bad gift options, shall we?

What you look like you need is a new hobby!

You know what your sister-in-law needs? Something more productive to do with her time than reading OANN links on Facebook. Maybe she could take up bonsai. Bonsai is a great hobby, but usually when you gift someone a bonsai, you give them a tiny tree that they can mold and trim. This kit gives you seeds. Do you know how long it takes to grow a tiny tree from seeds? It takes years.

Alternately, here is a kit where you make tiny bowls out of embroidery thread. Per reviews, the glue soaks right through the thread so it’s almost impossible to get it off the plastic shell included to form the bowls on. In the event that your recipient gets it to work, the result is a tiny bowl made from embroidery thread, which can’t be used for much of anything useful. So you can give someone both a time waster and a tchotchke.

For a mere $10, you can buy someone a reasonably nice pocket set of watercolors that comes with brushes and a brush holder. Of course, your recipient will need some watercolor paper. You can then buy them 14 sheets of high quality, large sheets of paper, so that they’ll worry endlessly about wasting it. Alternately, you can buy a similarly thin pad of large, cheap paper. (That one telegraphs “for kids!” though — for maximum psychological pain, a tiny high grade quantity of a key consumable is a good way to make a new hobby feel painfully high stakes.)

Or perhaps you can pretend that you think they’ll enjoy a paint-by-numbers technicolor Darth Vader. (There’s a whole range of paint-by-numbers kits, so if Vader is actually up their alley you could instead get them something with more of a Thomas Kinkade vibe.)

Gifts that seem useful, but really aren’t.

If you know someone who likes to think of themselves as a rugged, self-sufficient type, you could give them a survival kit. There are lots of pre-made survival kits with various types of gear; this one is very small, and very cheap. (A cautionary note for anyone thinking about giving it to a person they dislike but would rather not see actually die in an actual emergency: the flashlight comes without batteries.)

Speaking of batteries, apparently some people find it helpful to take them all out of their packaging and carefully load them into this elaborate case. Definitely give this to someone you don’t like who already has a perfectly reasonable battery storage solution.

There are many people who find compasses to be useful. They probably would not actually want to take this large, showy, decorative compass into any situation where a compass might be useful. (It weighs almost 12 ounces! Imagine using it to orienteer your way through the woods!)

Have you ever tried to fix something while holding a flashlight and encountered the “not enough hands” problem? Maybe you think this problem would be solved by building LED flashlights into a pair of fingerless gloves. According to several reviewers, this problem is solved a whole lot better by a head lamp, since that points where you’re looking and your glove flashlight might or might not.

Most people these days get the bulk of their weather forecasting information via a phone app. It can be nice to have an indoor-outdoor thermometer but the dial kind is a lot easier to read than the classic “mercury is rising/falling” style (which are made without mercury, FYI). You can also buy some very attractive barometers, at various price points, one of which seems to basically be a snow globe for grownups. In other words, a gadget that purports to be useful, isn’t particularly, but IS fragile and attractive so they can’t just shove it in a closet: the perfect bad gift, at least for someone who, if they need a weather forecast, is going to look not at their fancy glass barometer but at their phone.

Would your recipient enjoy owning a fitness tracker? I know a lot of people who enjoy fitness trackers but none of them have fitness trackers with an alarm that once you’ve turned it on, you will never be able to shut off or reset, which according to the reviews is a feature of this budget-priced model. It also only works in metric, and despite being mainly a step counter, is incredibly unreliable about counting steps.

(Almost forgot to include this one!) Via the Black Friday Sales, how about a toaster-style hot dog and bun cooker? All the counter space of a large toaster but so much more pointless.

Let’s Gussy Up Your Home Office

Is your gift recipient still working from home? A ring light is a gadget that lights your face so you look better on Zoom calls. There are plenty of inexpensive, reliable models, but this one is significantly cheaper, provides inadequate light, and will break almost immediately.

There are also a ton of desk accessories that could be either horrifying or awesome, it depends a lot on the recipient. For example, this tape dispenser with a monkey that claps cymbals as you pull out tape. (I love how product descriptions for this sort of thing always call a “conversation starter.” Entirely accurate for conversations that begin with, “what the hell is that?”)

“What the hell is that?” “Oh, that’s my tape dispenser with a monkey that claps its cymbals when you pull out tape.”

Alternately, you could get this kind of amazing skull desk organizer. It has two holes in the back of the head for you to put your pens and pencils in, but also the mouth is open and you can use it to store paperclips and stuff like that. If that’s just a little too far over the line, this motorcycle design is less gory but takes up way too much space for a pen holder. This dragon pen holder is also very large. The Knight Pen Holder is less overall bulky but it also holds a single pen.

There are a whole range of unique decorative staplers, including dragon, T-Rex, and carved wooden animals. None of them are particularly well-reviewed as a stapler, but the carved wooden deer looks particularly difficult to use because of how the head gets in the way of your hand, and it looks to me like the staples you’d have to use in that one are the mini kind, which are both harder to find and really useless.

Finally, let’s talk pens. Fountain pens can be really excellent gifts, and FTR, I’ve bought Jinhao fountain pens and despite their low price, they’re nice pens. But some really emphasize form over function, with sculptural decorative bits right where you’d kind of want to hold the pen. They have various sculptural rollerball pens as well as fountain. Oh, here’s another one that’s really neat to look at but has literal dragon spines where you’d be holding it? (If you’re in a situation where two people need to give separate gifts, you could pair the knight pen holder with a fancy, unusable pen!)

Magazines: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

A magazine you’re interested in is something you can enjoy all year. A magazine you are not interested in is junk mail that endlessly piles up and makes you feel guilty for not reading it!

Smithsonian magazine costs $12/year, comes with a tote, and supports the Smithsonian Institution. This would be a good gift to people interested in American history and historical research. This would be a terrific gift to people who have loud, angry opinions about “heritage” but mostly seem to have gotten their history education from right-wing Facebook memes. (ETA a quick warning: that subscription comes with auto-renewal! So be careful about that.)

The Nib sells print subscriptions that send out 3 issues per year. It’s a magazine that does comics and cartoons — who doesn’t like that? (You don’t have to tell your recipient that you do know it’s left wing comics and cartoons.)

There are several science fiction and fantasy magazines that still publish in paper. including The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction ($39/year), Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine ($36/year), and Analog Science Fiction and Fact ($36/year). If you’d prefer to clutter up their inbox, you could gift them a 12-month digital subscription to Uncanny, Magazine for $24, a 12-month digital subscription to Clarkesworld for $36, a 12-month digital subscription to Apex Magazine for $24… Just to be clear, these are only a bad gift for someone who dislikes science fiction and fantasy! If someone likes science fiction and fantasy and you want to give them a bad gift, look for a magazine that publishes something they don’t enjoy reading. For example, for $35 you can gift a year’s subscription to the Kenyon Review, which publishes literary fiction.

Finally, if you’ve got someone in your gift-giving circle who’s fond of the phrase “I’ve done my own research,” for $26/year you could support their research interests with a subscription to Scientific American!

From the Department of Either Nightmarish or Awesome, Could Go Either Way

Would you like to give someone a sweatshirt with a picture of a sloth riding a T-Rex with lasers shooting out of its eyes? Or maybe you’d prefer a housecat riding on the head of a swimming tiger? Or maybe you’re nostalgic for that old “three wolf moon” t-shirt design but you really want four wolves and also for it to be on pants (that one’s particularly great because there’s a wolf nose lined up with the crotch.) You could also get pants on which a cat in a cowboy hat is riding a shark that’s vomiting a rainbow.

This absolutely awesome t-shirt has cats striding across clouds out of some sort of orange whirlwind with a cat in the background that’s maybe supposed to look like a feline version of a wolf howling but instead kind of looks like it’s yakking. And I think this cat is doing “Warrior Pose 2” in a yoga class but I’m not 100% sure.

They’ve really expanded the stuff with this sort of hyperrealistic printing and you could also gift someone a laser-cat apron, a jumpsuit that looks like an astronaut’s space suit, a one-piece adult romper with a space kitten, and socks that looks like horse’s hooves.

All of this is the sort of thing that is perfect for some people, absolutely atrocious for other people — you could potentially gift the exact same t-shirt (or hoodie or apron) to your best friend and your worst enemy, and get the reaction you’re hoping for from both.

Finally, this one isn’t clothing, but is an object that would be delightful to the right person, horrifying to the wrong person: a glowing, color-changing dragon lamp. (They’re marketing it as a night light, but they also claim it’s a dinosaur. Anyway: someone in your life might need this, either because they’ll love it or because they’ll have to pretend to love it.) Llama and Unicorn are also available.

Charitable Gifts

One of my favorite passive-aggressive charitable gift options is to symbolically give someone an animal that offers a subtle negative comment on their looks, hygiene, or personality. This would be easier if more zoos included all their animals as opposed to just the notably cute ones. I did find a useful article that lists the 19 dumbest animals on earth, though, and there’s a decent chance that a zoo near you will have giraffes, flamingos, sloths, ostriches, komodo dragons, or slow lorises available for adoption. Great Horned Owls are also on offer — owls have this great reputation for wisdom but are incredibly dumb, kind of like certain conservative NYT columnists.

The Minnesota Zoo notes you can sponsor any animal at the zoo for $100 and get a certificate and a fun book if they don’t have the appropriate stuffed animal. Mystifyingly, despite having a “name a hissing cockroach after your ex for $10” promotion for Valentine’s Day at least once, they don’t list their hissing cockroaches. (I bet they’d do it for you if you called.) They do list giraffes, flamingos, and sloths, as well as porcupines, pigs, and sheep.

The St. Louis Zoo offers $25 adoptions and will also let you adopt any animal at the zoo (for $35, you get a picture of the animal), and in addition to the usual stuff (everyone has giraffes), they have tarantulas, a wild ass, and cobras.

Branching out from zoos, the Friends of Saguaro National Park will let you symbolically gift someone the adoption of a Saguaro Cactus! ($35, and you get a certificate.) And the Wetlands Institute of New Jersey lets you adopt a horseshoe crab. ($25 and you get a digital certificate and a digital photo of a horseshoe crab. You could always print it out for them.)

For more animal gifts with negative personality implications, Oxfam Unwrapped has sheep, pigs, and chickens, and they still let you give people manuretoilets, and highly-efficient stoves (if you’d like some symbolic coal). You could also suggest that someone is not merely annoying but potentially dangerous by gifting a mosquito net to prevent malaria in that person’s honor.

Have You Considered Giving Someone My Books?

I HAD A BOOK COME OUT THIS YEAR! Chaos on CatNet, the sequel to Catfishing on CatNet. I also have a short story collection called Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories. You can often find signed copies from Dreamhaven Books or Uncle Hugo’s, both of which do mail order (Uncle Hugo’s is currently exclusively doing mail order). When Amal El-Mohtar tweeted about Catfishing on CatNet she said, “Do you know a queer teen? Are you a queer teen? Are you an adult who misses an internet that felt kinder & purer? Did you love the Hugo-winning short story ‘Cat Pictures Please’? PLEASE do your heart the gift of acquiring & reading this beautiful book.”

So if you want a good gift you could totally give someone a copy of my book. And just from Amal’s description you can probably figure out exactly which of your relatives this would be a bad gift for. I’ll note that there’s nothing on the book jacket that will give away, for example, the scene where the main character and her friends hack an instructional robot to provide accurate sex ed, so if you want to pretend ignorance later, your plausible deniability is covered. You could also buy any or all of these for yourself — if you’ll be spending time this holiday season around highly stressful family members, there’s no escape like a good book. And if supply chain issues have made print copies difficult to find, I am just as happy when people read my books on their e-reader as when they read print copies.

Happy holidays!

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
Gifts for People You Hate, 2018
Gifts for People You Hate, 2019
Gifts for People You Hate, 2020: Pandemic Procrastination Edition

Gifts for People You Hate 2020: Pandemic Procrastination Edition

I really need to migrate my blog so that I can use wordpress,org instead of wordpress.com and install the plug-in that allows me to ditch the Block Editor. I decided I didn’t want to migrate during election season, and like a lot of tasks, procrastinating on it a little made it feel insurmountable. The other problem is, I really hate using WordPress this way (I’m using a different workaround, posting from the wp-admin page, but this is also really annoying) and that means that stuff I ought to be posting isn’t getting posted either. I have got to figure this out before the next election season starts, but I also have a short story due to an anthology on the 31st. It’s a conundrum.

In the meantime, I did want to bring you a belated Gifts For People You Hate, although I imagine obligatory gift purchases are down this year. The pandemic means you have an ironclad excuse for skipping any family gatherings with people outside your immediate household (and I hope you’re doing so) and workplace Christmas parties are not a thing (I hope). But, this year — should you unexpectedly receive a gift tomorrow from someone you didn’t buy for because you don’t like them — tell them it’s in the mail, you ordered it weeks ago but COVID and DeJoy have screwed up the post office so thoroughly you don’t think they’ll see it until January, and then return to this list for ideas!

As always I should note that I don’t give gifts to people I don’t like. If I gave you a terrible gift, I really thought you’d like it, I swear.

On Brand for 2020 Novelties

Who in 2020 doesn’t want a salt and pepper shaker holder that looks like a skull, with the shakers resting in the eye sockets? Or we could go with a salt-and-pepper shaker holder that features the Grim Reaper. Or for something marginally more subtle, there’s a salt-and-pepper shaker holder that’s got a skull with a raven perched on top. Any of these are the perfect way of saying “stop fucking going to parties, and wear a mask, you fucking asshole,” but with a bow on top.

A fairly realistic fake human skull, with a salt and pepper shaker in the eye sockets.

These are possibly in the “actually awesome” category but when everything under “dumpster fire” on Amazon was kind of boring I checked Etsy, and you can buy a miniature dumpster with a fire that ACTUALLY TURNS ON AND FLICKERS. It’s a pointless novelty that will quickly become dated while reminding people of 2020 and therefore it’s terrible (but it’s also pretty awesome).

I saw (and shared) a meme the other day about how if you eat scrapple, you’ve got no grounds to complain about the ingredients of the covid vaccine, and in honor of this I went looking to see if artisan scrapple existed anywhere that you could buy and have shipped. I don’t know if I’m surprised or not surprised to find out that it does not, in fact, exist anywhere that I could find. I did find a t-shirt proclaiming the wearer’s love for scrapple, though.

From Calamitywear (which usually makes Blue Willow-style dinnerware but with stuff like Godzilla on it), you can get a print suitable for framing commemorating the year 2020. Comes unframed, so the person who gets it will have to frame it in order to display it.

And I don’t know if this is exactly “on brand for 2020” but it’s certainly a weird, pointless novelty: a Pencil Terrarium.

This is a picture of pencils in a test tube with a cork in it.

Off Brand for 2020

A cute shoe-polishing kit. Questionable as a gift in a normal year (it’s in the “gifting someone a chore, but fancied up” category), hilariously inappropriate in 2020.

Travel accessories! Packing cubes are actually great but needless to say mine haven’t gotten much use this year. This tech organizer looks like it would be super handy if I were ever going anywhere again. I’ve never found quite the right neck pillow gadget for long flights and maybe this is it? LOLSOB.

Anything makeup-related but a lipstick-brush kit really would feel like it had been dropped from another timeline at the moment, I think.

“Wouldn’t you like a new hobby” Gifts

People have responded in very different ways to the pandemic, and a lot of people have picked up a new hobby. (I now do embroidery while on Zoom calls, because I find it easier to listen if I have something to occupy my hands.) The thing about these hobbies is that they really are only appealing if you chose something that appealed to you — craft supplies for a craft you’re not interested in is just clutter.

And there are so many kits available! Especially on Etsy! Many very reasonably priced. And when you buy them, you’ll be supporting a small business!

Beginning tatting kit. Tatting is a lacemaking craft and the results are very pretty but the process involves math.

DIY lip balm. There are people for whom this would be a fantastic gift. If your recipient is a devoted Carmex user, this will definitely be a bad gift.

Macrame Kit. Macrame is one of those crafts I associate strongly with the earlier part of my childhood — it’s very 70s and not, I think, all that primed for a comeback. You can use macrame to make plant hangers but this kit makes a wall hanging.

Needle Felting Kit. Here’s the thing about needle felting, according to a friend of mine who took it up: it typically involves you accidentally jabbing yourself in the finger with the needle a whole lot of times.

Herb Garden Kit. If this person already gardens, they either already grow herbs indoors or there’s a reason they don’t (like that their cats munch on the basil shoots the second they emerge from the dirt, or knock pots off windows). If they don’t garden, there’s probably a reason for that, too.

Terrarium Kit Without a Container. This actually looks adorable if you already have a container you’re planning to use.

Other ideas: any sort of fancy food or drink if the person is not all that into cooking; any sort of “kit” where the main thing you’re getting is a weirdly impractical presentation (there are “hot chocolate tubes” all over Etsy where you get hot cocoa mix + some candies and flavorings in a corked test tube); any kit for something this person pretty much never uses, whether that’s bath bombs or scented candles or hot sauce.

Memberships and Gift Cards

This is a really hard time for small businesses, and for arts organizations and museums, and one of the ways you can support them is to buy gift cards that can be used after the pandemic. You’re genuinely being thoughtful, here: they’ll be able to use this gift card someday, and you’re investing in that nice thing still being around when the pandemic ends.

You should gift them something from their own community, obviously, but here’s a list of stuff from mine to give you ideas of things to look for.

The Science Museum of Minnesota, which is automatically extending memberships while the museum is closed. I dreamed the other day that I had for some reason gone to the Science Museum, only to find myself wandering around a big space full of people without masks, and I suddenly realized “wait, I’m not wearing a mask, no one’s wearing a mask, what set of decisions brought me here?!?” Anyway: they’re currently closed, but you can still buy a membership, as noted.

The Bakken Museum (“the museum of electricity and life”) is one of my favorite museums in the Twin Cities, and offers memberships for individuals or households.

The Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) sells gift memberships, which is bonus hilarious because the basic admission is always free. (You get some stuff with a membership, like priority access to special exhibits.)

The Guthrie Theater sells gift certificates. Give your recipient a $25 gift certificate, which will be absolutely useless unless they pony up some extra money. (OK, that’s not entirely true; they can use it to stream this year’s Christmas Carol, which is only $10.)

Mixed Blood Theater has memberships. This is a theater in Minneapolis that focuses on “addressing injustice, inequities, and cultural collisions & providing a voice for the unheard on the stage and beyond” — they’ve done some really interesting shows, although everything at the moment is virtual.

For suitable memberships and gift cards, look up art museums, science museums, history museums, and theaters in their area. Any sort of science museum membership seems like a good gift for people who have demonstrated a significant deficit in scientific knowledge since March, although use your own judgment if you’re concerned that this person might be inclined to go straight in the minute things open up, unmasked — you don’t want to give the gift of COVID to a museum staffer.

You could also gift a restaurant gift certificate: to make it a bad gift, you can either give a gift card to a place that’s doing takeout, but with food that doesn’t transport well, or you can give a $25 gift card to a place where a meal is going to cost at least $50.

Masks as Gifts

Got a maskhole in your life? I’m 100% in favor of gifting that person a mask. You can still buy a wide variety of handmade masks on Etsy in a plethora of designs, and you can include a note explaining that just like people give three-year-olds underwear with their favorite characters to get them to use a toilet, you’ve bought them a mask with (Batman, their favorite sports team, Bible quotes, etc.) to encourage them to use this simple, necessary device, and by the way, it goes over their nose. If they actually have a reason to find masks difficult to wear there are a number of add-on gadgets you can get, including inserts that hold it out slightly from your face, extender straps that are an alternative to putting the things around your ears, and stick-on aluminum strips that help you fit it better over your nose so your glasses don’t fog.

Charitable Gifts

This has been such an utterly wretched year that I’m finding it hard to humorously suggest that you give someone a Naked Mole Rat Species Adoption to call them a dick. There’s an awful lot of need just about everywhere, and if you want to make a charitable gift in someone’s honor, I’d suggest a food shelf, homeless shelter, shelter for victims of domestic violence, or any group in your area that’s helping to keep people housed, fed, and safe.

Books!

My book CATFISHING ON CATNET came out in 2019 (just in time for holiday giving last year) and is still available and you can definitely give it as an (excellent) present. You can also preorder CHAOS ON CATNET, which will be out in April.

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
Gifts for People You Hate, 2018
Gifts for People You Hate, 2019

My Twitter feed: @naomikritzer

And my fiction that was published this year, in case you missed it:

Monster, January 2020 in Clarkesworld.
Little Free Library, April 2020 on Tor.com.
A Star Without Shine, May 2020, written for the Decameron Project.

I also wrote an essay, “Didn’t I Write This Already? When Your Fictional Pandemic Becomes Reality” for Tor.com.

Happy holidays! And whatever good luck traditions or rituals you might know of for the New Year, let’s all try to do ours for 2021.

Gifts for People You Hate, 2019

Earlier this month, Captain Awkward had a letter from someone whose crappy sister and brother-in-law was giving her deliberately bad gifts. Not in a “let’s exchange gag gifts” kind of way, either, they gave her a bunch of obviously used DVDs for shows she’s not interested in for her birthday

I actually clicked on that with real trepidation — worried that this might be someone who had clearly read my suggestions and implemented them but for a perfectly nice person (the sort of person who reads Captain Awkward!) Fortunately for my own peace of mind, it was clearly someone who was adhering more to the “open declaration of war” approach. These were not subtly bad gifts.

But just to be clear: please do not use these suggestions to bully perfectly nice people instead of having an adult conversation that goes, “hey, can we just agree not to exchange gifts among adults? I would love to get together for the dinner and skip the present-opening, could we maybe all make a donation toward [some mutually agreeable cause]?”

No, this is a guide for people who have to buy a gift for the sister-in-law who refuses to make any vegetarian/gluten free/edible-to-you food at the big family Christmas dinner other than carrot sticks. Or for those who need a present for one of those Theoretically-Optional-But-Actually-Totally-Mandatory office events, and you drew the name of that person who puts microwave popcorn in the office microwave, enters the 4 and a half minutes the packages always claim it’s going to take, and then nips off to the bathroom. Or maybe you’re Tiffany Trump and shopping for your father. There are, let’s be honest, people who deserve bad presents.

Annual disclaimer: I don’t have to give gifts to anyone I don’t like; this list was inspired by the traumas of friends. 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.) Also, if you give me presents, I promise I am not scrutinizing them for signs that you secretly hate me; I’m thinking “oh wow, a PRESENT.”

ON TO THE LIST.

Continue reading

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.
ACLU
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.
#NODAPL
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.
RAINN
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:
SPLC 
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: http://bitterempire.com/author/naomi-kritzer/

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.)

 

 

Whimsical Gifts (for people you hate), 2015

It’s December, and do you know what that means? That means it’s time for my annual very special article on gift shopping for people you hate.

In a better world, we’d only ever have to be presents for people we want to buy presents for. But the sad fact is that sometimes, presents are obligatory. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that sometimes, giving a present is a whole lot less trouble than the inevitable drama that would result from not giving a present.

Let me just reel out the usual disclaimers before we get started. I love everyone I give gifts to: if I have given you a present and you hated it, I swear I tried to get you something you would like (or at least find briefly amusing) and for heaven’s sake please feel free to donate it to a thrift shop or something if you’ve still got it. And if you’ve ever given me something that could possibly fit one of these categories, I am not talking about you, your gift was lovely and I do not suspect you of passive-aggressive malice, I promise.IMG_20131225_201536

I ran across this totally fascinating document from World War II earlier today. (Props to the Central Intelligence Agency, for sharing this riveting bit of history!) This is a guide to “Simple Sabotage,” which I guess was covertly distributed in occupied Europe as a guide to sabotage for the motivated layperson. Probably the funniest part is the section where they talk about how to use office politics as an engine of sabotage against the Nazi war effort. “Insist on doing everything through ‘channels.’ Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.” “Make ‘speeches.’ Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate ‘patriotic’ comments.” “When possible, refer all matters to committees, for ‘further study and consideration.’ Attempt to make the committees as large as possible – never less than five.” “Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.”

Anyway, the relevence here is that Resistance members and Allied sympathizers in Nazi-occupied Europe could get away with dropping wrenches into machinery, breaking drill bits and dulling saws, tying up phone lines with wrong numbers, and making lots of time-wasting patriotic speeches to avoid decision making because that sort of thing legitimately happened on a regular basis just by accident. That same basic principle is at work here. People get terrible, inappropriate gifts all the time; usually, it’s not because anyone was trying to give them a bad gift, it’s just because buying good presents for people we don’t know well is really difficult. All those inadvertant bad gifts are your camouflage. Adhere to a certain degree of subtlety, and no one needs to know that your goal here was to make your target unhappy with your Simple Sabotage Christmas largesse.

ON TO THE GIFT IDEAS.

Sports Memorabilia

Many people have a favorite team, and if you buy a thing with their team’s logo on it, this shows that you have paid attention to something they like, and are trying to please them. The thing is, even very devoted fans don’t usually want everything in their house to be dedicated to their sports team. (There are exceptions. You probably already know if you’re dealing with one of those, though.) You can find a Tiffany-style table lamp with a sports team logo. A curtain valance. A wallpaper border. A light switch plate. A spandex throw pillow that looks like a giant baseball. A wall clock! A SHOWER CURTAIN. A pot holder and kitchen towel set. The list goes on, and on, and on.

My favorite item on this list, for sheer WTF value, is definitely the Tiffany-style table lamp with the team logo, but it’s $129, and gifts for people you dislike should always be inexpensive. There are far more reasonably priced items.

Like duct tape. Duct tape is not normally something you would give as a Christmas present, probably, but you can present this with the air of someone who’d never seen sports team duct tape before and got overexcited. Use the statement, “when I saw this I knew I HAD to get it for you!” Which is probably a statement you’ve heard a few times over the years, usually just before being handed a terrible gift. See what I mean about camouflage?

Whimsical Housewares

There are well-designed whimsical kitchen items that are both cute and functional. And then there are whimsical kitchen items that will take up space in a drawer or cabinet without being good for anything at all.

1. Mugs are pretty dang basic, you know? How do you even screw up a mug? Well, you can make it take up the space of two mugs or you can give it a handle that you can’t easily slip your fingers through.

2. Oh look, a hedgehog cheese grater! So adorable, but try to picture using it. How do you even hold onto it while grating cheese with it? If you read the reviews, the answer is, “argh!”

3. The Nessie ladle looked so adorable in the magazine articles about it six months ago — I totally wanted one. Too bad they’re apparently both runty and flimsy. (Small ladles can be functional — we have one that we use for gravy — but it sounds like this one comes in an awkward size, too big for gravy but too small for soup.)

4. A sculptural dragon that will embrace your salt and pepper shaker like they are part of its hoard. Okay, to be fair: I totally know people who would honestly love this item. Use your own judgment here.

5. Even most of the people who would love a dragon salt and papper shaker holder are not actually going to install a dragon TP holder. Especially since, according to the reviews, it’s really pretty annoying to install.

6. In the “easy to install but WHY WOULD YOU” category there is a Santa toilet decal. If you give this for Christmas, it’ll already be too late to stick it on when they unwrap it; they’ll have to save it for an entire year in order to get any use out of it.

7. A decorative tabby cat wine bottle holder. This is a bulky storage gadget for a single bottle of wine that also makes it look like the cat is drinking wine directly from the bottle. Note that the five-star reviews are entirely from people who gave it as a gift and say that the recipient just loved it (except for one person who cheerfully notes that his girlfriend thought it was hideous and “mysteriously lost it.”) If you need a present for someone who’s more of a dog person, you can get a dog version and somehow the wine-sucking golden retriever puppy is even more disturbing to look at than the cat.

8. In the “whimsical wine” category there are also whimsical wine bottle covers. What are these even for? Is there a reason that wine needs a cozy? Are these to dress up gifts of wine because you don’t like wine gift bags? My suggested strategy for bad wine gifts is to go to a wine store or Trader Joe’s and tell them that you need a bottle of wine for a stage set, it needs to not be a recognizable brand (so no three-buck-Chuck) but it doesn’t have to be drinkable and you don’t want to spend more than $5. Then stick a sweater on it, I guess. (WHY. WHY DOES WINE NEED A SWEATER?)

9. Whimsical nested measuring cups. Because you totally want to play “Take Apart the Matryoshka Dolls” before you can measure 1/4 cup of flour, and put them all away again every time you wash them rather than just throwing them in a drawer.

10. Whimsical dinosaur fossil ice cube trays. There is a huge selection of whimsical silicon ice cube trays out there. I spent some time last summer in a rented apartment that came with silicon ice cube trays, and I went out and tracked down a real ice cube tray because life is too short to pry whimsically-shaped cubes out of those stupid silicon trays. They are a complete pain in the ass and no one cares about whimsical ice.

Cookbooks

Rather than linking to specific cookbooks, I’m going to suggest that you visit your nearest chain bookstore and check out the discount section, although before buying, make sure that the discount sticker can be easily peeled off.

There are people who love to cook and disdain any recipe that calls for Cream of Campbell’s or Lipton Onion Soup Mix as ingredients. For those people, you want to find a cookbook where the recipes mostly involve assembling the contents of cans. The whole “Dump Dinners” series is arranged around this premise but there are plenty of others out there.

There are also people who really hate cooking and for them, you want to find a cookbook that claims everything in it is “quick and easy” and “ready in ten minutes” but also assumes that you just happened to stumble across 2 finely diced onions, 10 peeled and minced garlic cloves, 2 chopped green bell peppers, and four deboned ducks before you started the process of cooking. If you’re not sure how to identify those, look for cookbooks produced by Cook’s Illustrated or America’s Test Kitchen. (I have a copy of the America’s Test Kitchen Family cookbook, and I even use it, but they have crock pot recipes in there that call for, I swear to God, two hours of prep before you turn on the crock pot. That is not why I have a crock pot. That is not why anyone has a crock pot.)

Alternately, I’m pretty sure that It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great, Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook, could successfully irritate anyone who is not already a member of Gwyneth’s personal cult. Especially as it’s apparently about 2/3 pictures of Gwyneth.

Charitable Gifts: Wildlife Adoptions

Yesterday, someone on my Facebook shared an article about how the Bronx Zoo lets you name their Madagascar Hissing cockroaches after people for $10 per named cockroach. That is an awesome, if thoroughly unsubtle, gift. However, when I visited the Bronx Zoo website I couldn’t find any links to do this, so I think it may have been a limited-time deal last February. (Too bad, because with some effort you can sell it as not an insult, I think. You’d want to focus on the whole “only thing that will survive a nuclear war” aspect of the cockroach personality.)

It’s especially too bad because when you browse Wildlife Adoption options they tend to overwhelmingly focus on cute, appealing animals like tigers and panda bears. No one lets you adopt a blobfish. The World Wildlife Fund (logo animal: the panda bear) has 125 species available for wildlife adoption, but the blobfish is not among them. Dear WWF: I think you are missing an opportunity here. I know (I am sure) that as an organization you are strongly committed to saving ugly animals just as much as cute ones. You could even do one of your themed wildlife adoption buckets with the theme “save the uncharismatic fauna, too!” but for sure you’d need a blobfish in there.

Wildlife adoptions from the WWF are available at various price points — they push the $55 option, which comes with a stuffed toy, but you can also do a $25 option, which is just a photo and a certificate. And while they do not have blobfish, they do have some animals available that might suit your gift-giving needs.

Bonobos. “Bonobos are highly social animals,” the WWF tells you on their bonobo page, leaving out the part where they socialize primarily by having sex all day long. “They communicate in a variety of ways–visually, by touch and vocally,” they say, delicately leaving out the fact that bonobos in captivity have been observed using a self-developed sign language to proposition one another sexually. “Male bonobos stay with the group that they were born into; a male’s dominance is based upon his mother’s rank,” they say, leaving out the detail that bonobos live in a lesbian matriarchy. Get your homophobic bigot relative a bonobo wildlife adoption, and get yourself a copy of Biological Exuberance, which was where I first heard about bonobos. Fun additional fact: they’re our closest primate relative. (Well, they’re probably tied with chimps. But they are definitely at least as closely related to us as chimps are.)

Anacondas. If you think about it the right way, giving an anaconda adoption is a very subtle way of calling your recipient a dick.

The Great White Shark. If you have to give a gift to someone who’s ever cut you down emotionally, give them a Great White Shark adoption and think of this lovely image of a Great White Shark every time you look at their shark stuffie. (SUPER GREAT.)

Vampire Bats. This one is maybe a little less subtle, but hey, you are RESCUING ENDANGERED WILDLIFE IN THEIR NAME.

Honey Badgers. Not surprisingly, the WWF page does not quote this excellent educational video about the personal strengths of honey badgers.

The Sierra Club also does wildlife adoptions and lets you adopt tarantulas, which is awesome. However, Ed and I used to donate to the Sierra Club and they would not stop calling us, so I hesitate to suggest donating to them. Although they will send you a tarantula puppet, and how cool is that? Also, if you can figure out a way to sic their phone solicitors onto your recipient, that would definitely be a gift that would keep on giving, but I’m not sure how you’d get them to do that while not also calling you.

If you want a stuffed blobfish for a do-it-yourself wildlife adoption, by the way, you can order one. It’s kind of astonishing how cute it is, while also being recognizably a blobfish. You could pair it with The Ugly Animals: We Can’t All Be Pandas, a book by the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, which sadly is an educational comedy group and not an actual non-profit. That’s less a gift for someone you hate and more a perfectly fine gift for anyone cool enough to appreciate it, though.

Uncategorizable

I made a note of this one months ago because it was inexpensive and kind of awesome. These are super cute, but they are also spikey cacti in tiny cases. Available as either key chains or jewelry, and there are teeny tiny holes in the case so you can water them occasionally by immersing them briefly in water. Nifty, cute, suitable for stocking stuffers, but there is something subtly hostile about giving someone a tiny cactus.

Happy holidays to everyone!

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

Also, if you’re amused by my writing, check out my science blogging at Bitter Empire: http://bitterempire.com/author/naomi-kritzer/

My (kind of low-volume) Twitter feed: @naomikritzer

And my fiction that was published online this 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)