Gift Wrapping and Medium Expectations

As I handed the t-shirt I was buying to the woman behind the counter, she smiled at me and asked me if I wanted it gift wrapped.

It caught me off guard because it was early October and I didn’t know any store offered gift wrapping outside of the Holiday season. Wrapping presents is something I actually don’t mind doing. I’m pretty good at it, not perfect but proficient. I like the process of getting a gift ready. The care involved. The precision I generally struggle to master. And seeing as this shirt was a gift for my nephew, and I had no idea if we had wrapping paper or tape in our apartment, I gladly obliged her offer for gift wrapping.

I then watched as she took a small white paper bag with handles, put a giant piece of orange tissue paper in it, followed by the t-shirt, tied the handles together with a piece of orange ribbon and handed it back to me smiling brightly. “There you go, have a great day.”

I smiled back and walked out of the store muttering to my fiance. “This is not gift wrapping. This is gift bagging. I could have put this in a bag.” To me, it was a transgression. To my fiance, somebody who by this point is now used to my ongoing whispered tirades about the customer service of any experience, it was another thing I would let bother me until it eventually didn’t.

But then it happened again in a different store in a different city. Again, buying something for my nephew, this time a book, I handed it to another smiling, bright-eyed young woman on the other side of the counter who looked like it was her life’s most joyful purpose to sell soap and sundries. She looked directly into my eyes and asked, “Would you like me to gift wrap it for you?”

I, again, accepted the offer, completely forgetting what had happened last time. And again, I watched as a bag was procured, this time a blue plastic one, a piece of tissue paper was stuffed in, followed by the book, and handed back to me with a smile like I was being handed a donut cake with my name on it. I thanked her, gave her a closed mouth smile and walked out of the store muttering again.

“What is happening here?”

Gift bag me once, shame on you. Gift bag me twice… Come on! I am officially on guard now. This holiday season, whenever I purchase something, if I am asked about a free gift wrapping I will have to cross-examine the store clerk. “When you say gift wrap what exactly do you mean? Can you walk me through the steps you would use to as you say “gift wrap” my purchase? Show me. Show me what you mean with your words.”

Or I will just pass on the offer and wrap it myself.

I suppose I could blame Amazon for redefining what “Gift Wrapping” means. At checkout, you are given an option to add gift wrapping to your purchase. However, what they mean is basically putting the gift in an appropriate size fabric sack with a ribbon. This is definitely better than both of the experiences I had, but still not necessarily what I would expect when someone says “gift wrapping.”

And that is my point, perceptions of a singular concept can vary significantly. The more our culture creates, and the more individually customized our experiences can become, the more what used to be standard becomes less so. Our perceptions become individualized, our shared definitions change or disappear.

While gift wrapping is a small and silly example, it does not make it irrelevant. Perhaps my definition of gift wrapping was always skewed, or maybe there never was a gift wrapping definition. Maybe I experienced isolated instances, or maybe our collective expectation has changed. In a world as busy as ours, who can expend the precious seconds and cost to wrap a gift?

I spend more time these days asking follow up questions to others and myself.

Often times those questions are about what the expectations were going into a particular experience. Our expectations are formative, they often guide our experience, pre-determine it in some ways. I feel like I am always in the process of calibrating my expectations, reevaluating them to see if they are doing more harm than good. Sometimes my expectations are irrational, and sometimes they just aren’t met.

It’s part of being a person; figuring out when I want to adapt, when I need to, and when I’ll stop trusting other people to do something I can do better myself.

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