DEAR MISS MANNERS: Over the years, the gift-giving experience of grandparent to granddaughter has developed into a kind of predictable dance: A grandparent will call us and note that granddaughter’s birthday/Christmas is approaching. They will then ask what she wants.
We will decline to answer, stating that a thoughtful gift given from the heart with a personal touch is always appreciated. They will push back, insisting we name an actual gift.
They will ask us to run out and get it, pay for it ourselves (reimbursing us by check at a later date), wrap it, and present it to their granddaughter on the appropriate day.
Please note, I’m not offering a complaint about the generosity of any of the grandparents. They are thoughtful and generous in their spending, and it is always appreciated and properly thanked.
GENTLE READER: There is no grandparent conspiracy to foist off the shopping, as far as Miss Manners knows. Rather, she suspects that the grandparents are actually reacting against the prevalent debasing of the ancient custom of giving presents.
One such travesty is the gift registry or wish list, by which people select their own presents with the expectation that others will do the shopping and paying.
That, in turn, quickly led many people to forgo the farce of shopping for preselected items. Instead, they simply pay their relatives to buy their own presents, making the custom even more crude and pointless.
It may seem as if this is what the grandparents are doing, using you as an intermediary. But Miss Manners is guessing that they are resisting those trends and want to surprise and please the children with real presents.
The difficulty is that they may not be in a position to observe the children’s current interests or to know what they already have, or what you plan to get for them. So what you could provide, instead of a shopping service, is advice:
“Vanessa loves building things. She has regular blocks, but anything unusual, such as museum stores have, would be good. The twins have just discovered dinosaurs. If you have any doubts about a particular item, just call us.”