During the infancy of globalization, in the nineteen eighty’s, there were few “fortunate” people who went abroad, either to study or on their job. When I say “abroad”, I mean America. Whenever they visited India on vacation, they were expected to bring truckloads of gifts, otherwise all hell would break loose. In the ninety’s, every alternate person and their cousin went abroad, either to study or on their job. The globalization was just about growing, and well, gifts were welcome and brought a smile on faces, because you still couldn’t get pringles and “American” soaps at affordable prices in India. I had my first Pringles chips when my cousin who was back home on his first grad school vacation, had got me the cylindrical holder of this chips, and I loved it – when I myself went to America years later, one of the first things I bought was Pringles. Now of course, Pringles is sold in our corner shack shop, equalizing all the nations of the world in the obesity index.
This is 2018. Borders are merely for visas. Otherwise we are all one large happy global village. I returned from abroad to India nearly 15 years ago, so I may be out of touch. Are gifts still expected when NRIs visit India? I ask because of the following reason.
The past two months I have largely ignored the kitchen, other than to cook and it was filthy to the point where it was a weapon of mass destruction. One deadline having just been over and the next and final one a couple of weeks away, I figured I’d take a day off to handle the kitchen.
Now, my kitchen has a no-man’s cupboard rack behind the door, where I shove things that I don’t know what to do with. These are stuff that have been gifted to us by people visiting from abroad. I decided to start from there.
These are the things I found there, in their original packing:
- Two 2017 calendars, one with each month having some flowers and stuff, and the other, having cute animals. Both of these are the type that are pinned to the wooden walls of the American house, using tack pins. We, in India, live in brick and mortar houses. Just to clarify. We cannot pin anything to the walls, if we wanted to, which we don’t. And this gift was received in September 2017.
- Four bottles of Scotch. We are a tee-totaling household, except for the occasional wine (and that too, only from authentic sources and at its place of origin, e.g. Chianti in Tuscany), a fact that is generally known to our visitors. I may occasionally get starry eyed about Baileys, especially when spiked into coffee, but Scotch is way beyond our capabilities of ingestion.
- A large bottle of Absolut Vodka. See point (2).
- Make-up kits of dubious quality. It is well-known to my near and far circle that I do not wear make up. My daughter does not as yet, but I believe it is to be expected that if she chooses to wear make up, I would rather buy her good brands than dicey supermarket brands of goo that goes on her skin.
- 3M Lint roll brush, which is used to brush off lint from suits and woolen clothes. We live in a tropical belt, and are in jobs that don’t require us to wear suits. We don’t own suits. But now we own a lint roll brush.
- A set of Gillette disposable razors. A single Gillette disposable razor in the shack around the corner, costs Rs. 10 (15 US cents). We can afford to buy razors in India, thank you. Yes, some of our men are unshaven but that is a choice, and not due to lack of razors.
- A pack of waxing strips. For the uninitiated, a waxing strip is a sticky strip that women stick to their skin and pull off very painfully to remove body hair. Am I the only one who finds a pack of waxing strips an offensive gift?
- A bottle of something called a “Body Spritzer”. I am thinking this is something that you spray on yourself, but if I sprayed this on myself, I would smell like a chemical lab – the liquid smells very strongly of alcohol. Aren’t perfumes and “spritzers” personal products that one must choose herself, if required?
- A pack of almonds that smell of Dove soap, because it was packed along with a supermaket aisle full of Dove soap. I didn’t know what to do with almonds that reeked of soap and had shoved them into that cupboard. Now it smells of dove soap with a dash of benzaldehyde.
- A ten-pack of Dove soap, that was gifted along with the almonds and gave the almonds the offensive smell. I suspect the soap was on sale at CVS or K-Mart or something (do CVS and K-Mart still exist? It’s been 15 years, I am out of touch).
- Dental floss in a fancy holder. I know America is obsessed with flossing. The rest of the world isn’t. We brush our teeth in the morning as soon as we wake up, and at night before we go to bed. We don’t floss. Most people in the world do not. The person who gifted this to us, as far as I remember, never flossed as long as she was in India.
- Two coffee cups that say “I heart NY”. I don’t, really. I have lived in NY, I liked it, but have never hearted it.
- A pack of ball pens that leaked inside its cover during its transit from USA. A ten pen pack of Reynolds costs Rs. 60 (92 cents), in India. We can afford it, thank you. I don’t know why I didn’t throw it out right then. Some stupid lapse of judgment.
Most of these gifts were given by very close relatives, who live in America.
I asked the question in the first paragraph just to know why it continues to be considered necessary for people to bring gifts to people in India? I understand that gift giving is a polite gesture, but I am not sure that gifting things that are obviously useless counts as politeness.
I hope the NRIs are not pressurized into bringing gifts because most of us don’t expect gifts. We don’t even want gifts. Just spending time with loved ones is gift enough. If, however, it is customary, perhaps it is nicer to receive fruits and consumables rather than stuff that we either don’t need, or are available here.
Oh well…no point writing about it here, the NRIs who read this blog are lovely people who invite me over to their parents’ houses when they visit, and feed me yummy morkozambu and paruppusili (Laksh – in case you forgot the menu) and don’t gift me wax strips. How does one communicate to the other type of NRIs that I don’t like Dove flavored almonds?