There's a curious dark-side to the generosity of the holidays here in New York. Sure, New Yorkers are kinder and gentler than usual, but that masks a hidden stress that we all share this time of year. All these conveniences we enjoy here come at a certain cost, and at no time is that more evident than Christmas.
Doormen. Babysitters. Housekeepers. Supers. Mailmen. Everyone...they all get gifts.
This shouldn't be a problem. Our super is fantastic, and without him my air conditioner would probably be a pile of twisted, unrecognizable metal six floors beneath my window. Same with our babysitter, who does more for our mental health than any doctor. We want to give them something, and they certainly deserve it.
Where I start getting annoyed is when the paperboy, who struggles to show up before 10 AM on weekends, conveniently leaves a self-addressed stamped envelope tucked into our paper on Dec. 1. Or when our neighbors start asking how much we're giving the guy at the front counter in our local gym. You mean the guy who glances up from his book and nods as I walk by to get a towel labeled with it's grit number? How about nothing? Is nothing enough?
Somehow, New Yorkers have bought into the idea that everyone is supposed to get a bonus or gift for the holidays. They feed on each others anxiety about how much to give, slowly and methodically increasing the dollar values out of fear that they'll be the one who gave too little and will suddenly find chunks of sewage coming out of their pipes. "What if the grocery store clerk is expecting something? What if they cut holes in our bags, or charge us double for our fancy cheeses??? Is $100 enough for them?"
Maybe I'm a complete dick, but I hate the obligation of buying someone a gift. I want the spirit to move me to get someone something. I fully acknowledge that the spirit usually throws it's back out trying to get me to do anything, but I'm generally pretty happy to get something for someone if I like them or they've somehow directly made our lives better. To me, a gift is given out of gratitude or friendship, not expectation.
Oodgie doesn't agree with me on this; she accuses me (with good justification) of being a bad "thanker" with no manners. And if I wasn't so busy clubbing baby seals while defending myself I'd make a better case. But to me, if you're doing what you're already paid to do you should keep your expectations low. No one's giving me a holiday bonus for being a good digital strategist (or blogger, for that metter).
What makes me bring this up? Well, I've been watching a debate unfold over e-mail amongst the parents of Cheeky's school. The question? How much do we want to give as gifts to the pre-school teachers. Now, no one is going to deny that pre-school teachers are both incredibly important and grossly underpaid. I'm happy to toss a few shekels into the hat to thank them for teaching Cheeky to glue leaves to paper. Over the course of week,though, I witnessed the following exchange:
- One parent sends an e-mail suggesting that we all figure out what we're giving the teachers.
- School policy is quoted, in which it's clearly stated that gifts "should be limited to objects of token value, homemade gifts, a card, or something that can be used in the classroom, say, for example, a book. Under no circumstances should parents present teachers with cash or non cash-equivalent gifts..."
- 6000 e-mails ensue, in which I swear the idea of a mix-tape was suggested
- Somehow people settle on something cooking related. As required by law, a bread-maker is suggested.
- Just as things start to settle around gift certificates and personalized aprons, we're informed that our contribution should also cover small gifts for about two dozen other people at the school who I've never seen or met, including the librarian, the elevator repairman and the dwarf that lives under the tree out back.
- In a final, brilliant coup de grace, one parent decides we aren't paying enough and boldly suggests we each contribute $100, presumably so the teachers can go buy a plasma TV or something.
My face was a mask of horror as my inbox filled with responses and counter-responses. First of all, this isn't the Dayton Accords...let's just decide and move on. Secondly, IS NO ONE ELSE POOR!?! I have to buy presents for people I CARE ABOUT, and I may need to dip into my 401k just to buy broccoli (If I cash in the whole thing, I can get cauliflower, too!). And since when did Groundskeeper Willy and the lunch lady become essential to our holiday plans?
So here I am, stubbornly digging my heals in and wondering if my cold rationality is just my excuse for being cheap. Am I being a jerk, or am I the only sane one? Where do you guys draw the line?