Guys and Gifts

The other day Kish and I heard a report on NPR about the controversy with respect to President Obama’s gift exchange with the British Prime Minister. Apparently the Prime Minister got the President a beautiful, handcrafted pen holder made from the timbers of some famous ship and a seven-volume biography of Winston Churchill, probably in hand-tooled leather binding. The President only got the Prime Minister a boxed set of 25 movie DVDs. Some Brits are up in arms about the discrepancy in the quality, and thoughtfulness, of the respective gifts. Frankly, they have a point.

I think it is clear what happened — Obama is a guy, he picked the gift, and he botched it. Every guy who has ever tried to pick out a special gift had experienced the unique reek of failure that comes from picking out a wholly inadequate gift. Typically, you either have totally misjudged the quality/seriousness standard against which the gift would be measured or you picked something that seemed like a good selection at the time but, in the cold light of day at the time of gift-opening, obviously seems to be grossly inappropriate. I remember one Valentine’s Day a girl I had been seeing for a while got me a very nice shirt, and I got her some liquor-flavored lollipops. To be honest, I had forgotten about Valentine’s Day, and it was a panicked last-minute purchase, probably made at the corner liquor store near her house. The gift was a dismal failure on both the quality and appropriateness grounds — her gift obviously was far more expensive and thoughtful, and my gift, which I had rationalized as being kind of fun and different, clearly gave her the impression I thought she was a lush with a sweet tooth.

So, I can understand why the President committed this faux pas. He probably thought the Prime Minister was going to get him something like an Arsenal T-shirt, or a Bobbie hat, or maybe a Big Ben paperweight. When the president picked out the DVDs, he probably thought that The Wizard of Oz and The Godfather were great movies that any guy would want in their DVD collection. I’m sure that President Obama’s heart sank when he opened the gift and saw the antique pen set and fancy biography. In the meantime, Prime Minister Brown probably had that fixed smile and glazed expression that people get when they are expecting something nice and are disappointed but don’t want to show it. Don’t worry about it, President Obama! Every guy knows how you feel. The next time, just make sure that a dollar limit is agreed to in advance, and try to get Michelle to make the ultimate gift selection decision.