Slate's Katy Waldman has cast a cold, malevolent eye upon grapefruit this mid-winter morn and declared it "disgusting," a gift you should never give to anyone you care about. Except, who is giving their loved ones grapefruit? I mean, perhaps an orange in a stocking now and again, like back in the olden days, or even an ancient piece of chocolate candy, but a grapefruit?
Nonetheless, Waldman speaks of grapefruit-giving as "the season’s worst tradition!" (a Great-Depression-era trend) and urges people not to give the fruit because of its teeth-sticking pulp, clothes-staining juice, inherent disgustingness, eating-difficulty level one million, yucky taste, potential to kill you if you take a variety of prescription medicine, etc. etc. etc. I'm not going to defend grapefruit; it hardly needs my defense. But let's say we don't hate grapefruit. Let's say that when someone prepares it for us, we might even eat it. Let's say we still don't want to open a gift-wrapped box of it, but also, that we might just regift it if we did happen to receive a nice Harry and David gift basket. Surely in any case, even to the hatery-est of grapefruit haters, there are worse gifts? Here are a few.
Garbage. Garbage is a bad gift! How do I know this? Once upon a time someone I know (maybe this was my mother, maybe it was also me) wrapped up a bunch of old scribbled-on pieces of paper and some tinfoil from a block of chocolate and rubber bands and wrinkled receipts and maybe a few of those stickers that come on tomatoes and bananas, plus some cigarette butts and a banana peel. We put all this in a box and wrapped that box and presented it to my brother on his birthday. He did not love it. He would have preferred a grapefruit. So, grapefruit before garbage. Lesson learned.
Something "practical." Unless asked for specifically, socks, durable sweaters, underwear, a new lint filter for the dryer, garbage bags, batteries, dog food, condoms, antacid, contact lenses, and any sort of medicine (unless, again, specifically requested) are not very good gifts. Even if you give all of them. Especially then.
Something "helpful." So, maybe you're having trouble in advanced calculus class, or perhaps you simply can't wake up to get to work in the morning and you're this close to getting canned by your boss. Or maybe you're on a diet, and you're struggling. The last gifts you want are calculus books, calculus tutoring help, or a really fancy alarm clock that yells at you to get up in the morning. Or a scale. Do not give the gift of reminding someone of whatever it is they are currently having trouble with. Grapefruit is better, unless it is being given to someone who cannot chew grapefruit, or hold a grapefruit spoon (such spoons, contrary to the beliefs of Waldman, do exist!), or is on a diet and that is the only present they receive. Gifts are not meant to be helpful. Gifts should be fun, something the recipient wants that he or she might not buy on his own. Also, do not subscribe to a health and fitness or diet magazine for a friend or loved one. Do not subscribe to a wedding magazine for a friend or loved one who is either not engaged, or engaged, or is already married, or to whom you would like to become engaged. Do not subscribe to a defunct magazine for anyone, even if that person works in the magazine industry.
Something free. No matter how great it is, that refrigerator calendar sent to you by the nice people at the bank is not to be regifted, nor is the shampoo and conditioner you got at the hotel you stayed at that time, nor is a box of office supplies you stole from work, nor is the library book that you really really liked, even if there is a whole week until it needs to be returned. In that case, give grapefruit, but not grapefruit that snagged from the dumpster behind Whole Foods.
Fruit. Fine, fine, while grapefruit isn't the worst gift in the entire world of awful gifts, any fruit is sort of a bad gift. I don't want an apple, a banana, a lime, a lemon, or a bag of cherries. The only acceptable fruit gift at holiday time is a box of delicious clementines, and they must be sent to the home of the person who is to receive them so he or she doesn't have to carry them home on the subway, and risk overturning them and the mortification that shall ensue as she runs around trying to collect clementines from the subway floor.
Gift cards. Simply too impersonal and last-decade, unless they, again, are explicitly requested. If they are explicitly requested, buy a gift instead, or sever relations with your friend, who has nary a creative bone in his or her body. Unless it's a gift card to Claire's Boutique or a CD store, because then it's retro and possibly ironic. Right?
Christmas tree ornaments. Great. Something to put on a tree that's already up so you can look at it for a day or a week and then put it in a box until next year. At least you can eat grapefruit.
Clothing in a too-large size. Unless that too-large size is somehow complimentary (i.e., you are friends with one of those people who participate in world's strongest man competitions) avoid, avoid, avoid. This will cause you a world of pain. If in doubt, buy smaller and include a gift receipt.
A burner phone. Watch a Law and Order episode, any of them, really, for why.
A "nice note." A note is not nice, can never be nice, when it's given in lieu of a gift. Fine, write the note, send the Christmas card, the tale of your year and pictures of your kids or dog or family, the requisite scribblings on how wondrous it's been yet again, this 2012 (or how terrible, depending on how you like these notes to read). Just know that it's not a gift per se unless it comes with chocolate, wine, or a Claire's Boutique gift card. And never, ever, give anyone a homemade IOU.
Anything you made that's gone stale. This counts, pretty much, as garbage. See also a 40-year-old fruitcake, or any fruitcake, and also, a defunct magazine you might have once worked on. At the very least, take the care to subscribe to something that exists and has not gone "off."
Anything ugly. How awful it is to receive a gift that you simply cannot comprehend the purchaser buying! Is the purchaser perhaps battling eyesight troubles? Fish lure necklaces, sweaters with giant pink puffy-paint ponies on them, garage-sale lava lamps, Chia pets, floral wallpaper, hideous Christmas sweaters. It's all a matter of taste, of course, but if you buy ugly you make it ever so awkward for the poor gift recipient, who must freeze and mumble with a forced smile his or her horror-preciation. If your taste is or has ever been in doubt, choose wisely. Don't send anything that looks like garbage, tastes like garbage, or might be construed in anyone's mind as garbage. Go with that the person wants and has asked for instead of what you think he or she might like.
The registered-for holiday gift. Lists of what you want sent out upon request is one thing, but if you have a bona-fide gift registry that you've decided to create for yourself after so many years of unsuitable, tacky, ugly, unwanted grapefruits received, you have taken things to far, and your loved ones are excused from buying you anything. When did the holidays become so acquisitive, anyway? By the way, if you do receive any of the above, you should probably just say thank you. 'Tis the season.
Inset via Shutterstock/EM Arts, Flickr/Jayne Vidheecharoen.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.