The 10 Worst Holiday Gifts

Go ahead, bring good tidings, figgy pudding, a gift certificate to Wal-Mart, even a stale fruitcake—just not these awful presents.

By Stephanie Davis

rue story: As a gift one year, my dad gave my mom a set of four tires, which he unveiled in a card with a picture of Goodyears glued inside (points for presentation, at the very least, Dad). He thought it was the perfect present. Unfortunately, she did not. Years later, my dad’s still defensive about it—“She needed new tires!” he moans any time someone brings it up.

Now, if a married man who knows his wife inside and out can make that sort of mistake, imagine the damage that can be wrought by would-be Santas shopping for someone
Women love jewelry, but be wary of the signals it sends.
they’ve only been dating a while. Mistakes can be made, as these innocent victims of good intentions can attest. Yes, the thought does count, but a lame present can make your significant other feel like you just don’t understand or respect them—which may be worse than getting your sugarplum nothing at all. Here are the top gifts to avoid giving this holiday season… or ever.

Worst Gifts for Women:

Anything she needs instead of wants. Just because she needs new running shoes, hand lotion, or a frying pan isn’t your invitation to replace it. Quick lesson: Women are good at taking care of details, and when their desire for a whatever-it-is gets dire, they’ll replace it, pronto. It’s sweet to show you were listening, but that said, women never swoon over practical gifts. “I always complained that I never have enough quarters for the laundromat,” says Kristine Janik of New York City. “Then my boyfriend gave me $40 in quarters, which was really odd. Sweet sentiment, yes, but might be a better gift for a random weekday, not a major couples’ holiday.”

Awful flowers. We applaud men for realizing that women really do go gaga over flowers, but it’s crucial to realize the difference between good flowers and bad. “One Christmas, a guy I was dating pulled flowers for me out of the back seat of his car,” says Julie Vreeland of Atlanta. “It was a table arrangement—round, with holly and glittery branches sticking out of it and a wooden church scene stuck on top.” Cute if she’s decorating her grandmother’s foyer, not so cute if that’s your grand present. And she’s not the only one who’s suffered through a bouquet gone bad. “I got fake roses one year with a card that read: ‘My love for you is everlasting, just like these flowers!’” says Lindsay Wenner of Minneapolis. “I was dumbfounded.” Here’s a tip: When in doubt, ask a female florist to suggest something appropriate. She will not steer you wrong.

Sports paraphernalia. Sure, your girl may love watching the finals with you or root for her alma mater, but that’s no excuse to forget your A-game when it comes to gift-giving. “I once got an Auburn jersey from my now-husband,” says Amy Buck of Atlanta. Aside from the fact that no one should wear a jersey past high school graduation, unless she’s an uber-fan and you’re shelling out for season box seats, you’ll find nothing appropriate for her at the pro shop.

The sparkly stuff. Women definitely love jewelry, but it’s such a big item that it really needs to match her unique style. And due to its, well, connotations,
I felt like he didn’t even know me.
it shouldn’t be given too soon in the relationship. So make both of you happy by staying away from this option unless you’ve been dating for at least a year and she’s pointed out a specific item she likes (you’d be surprised how many women won’t wear, say, gold). “A guy I had been seeing for only a few months gave me a diamond cross necklace,” says Amanda Pressner of Tampa, Florida. “We hadn’t been dating that long, so it made me think he we getting too serious. Plus, I’m not that religious, so I felt like he didn’t even know me.”

A card that you’ve signed in front of her. Guys, when you’re giving a woman a card to go with any gift, don’t sign it right in front of her and then hand it to her. Find time when you’re not together — even if it’s the in car a few seconds before you meet her — to write something sweet.

Worst Gifts for Men:

Clothes for a better version of him. Getting a guy a piece of clothing is sweet, but when it’s not his style at all, it’s actually a not-so-subtle hint that you don’t like what he’s wearing. “I’m a vintage-shopping type,” says Mark Gantt of Los Angeles. “Getting something from The Gap one holiday came across as an insult.” Or, foisting something more formal on a man can send more than a “you need fashion help and bad” message. It can make him feel as if you’re wishing he earned more or led a more debonair lifestyle… not exactly what’s going to put the ho-ho-ho in his holiday.

The saccharine stuff. While women always enjoy the lovey-dovey, men are often scared off by syrupy tokens, not to mention totally awkward about how to say “thanks” gracefully. Keep that in mind as you’re shopping. No doubt you will encounter ferociously cute teddy bears, a mix CD of love songs that’ll make your heart stir, and flannel pj’s with a really cute heart pattern… but think of how your man will feel unwrapping a gift like that. “A girlfriend once gave me a book of love poems, not even Leaves of Grass or any of the classics,” says Kevin Sintumuang of New Brunswick, New Jersey. “What guy wants to read that?” Answer: almost none.

Kitchen and bath bric-a-brac. Even if your guy’s life is conspicuously missing a toaster oven, a hamper or a spice rack, unless you find one with 38 electronic widgets to distract him from the domesticity of your gift, skip this idea. It’s more like something his sensible mother would send him, and many guys can feel territorial about changes you’re indirectly making to their homes. And forget trying to fancy up a bachelor-pad type—he won’t appreciate your high-class accent, no matter how much you spend. “I got a Hummel Lamplight Caroler figurine for Christmas once from a woman," says Jim Craemer of West Hartford, Connecticut. "That was rough. I was — and am — too ashamed to put it out on the mantle."

Self-help anything. Men don’t want you to change them; they want you to love them. But sometimes women can’t resist helping a guy reach one of his long-term goals. “I got a copy of What Color is Your Parachute? as a gift from a date one year,” says Matt Horton of Silva, North Carolina. “I felt like she was trying to change my job or tell me I could be a better person. It just made me feel bad.” The same goes for any self-improvement-type gifts that he hasn’t explicitly, repeatedly mentioned wanting, whether it’s a gym membership, a gift certificate for a facial, a nose-hair trimmer (even though the guys on Queer Eye swear buy ’em) or a Rogaine sample. Letting your honey believe that you think he’s perfect is actually the greatest gift you can give!

Elaborate handmade gifts. While a gift you make can mean much more than anything store-bought, guys often get uncomfortable and feel obligated if you give them something you’ve truly toiled over. Says Bob Brennan of Pittsfield, Massachusetts: “A woman I’d been dating a couple of months gave me a sweater she’d hand-knit for me… it must’ve taken weeks. I felt really awkward that she’d put so much effort into my present and kinda pulled back a bit after that.” You also want to go easy on the handcrafted gifts that celebrate your union. A tray decoupaged with photos of the two of you is a bit much for anyone but a husband to handle.

Bonus tip: Unlike women, men actually enjoy getting small appliances. Or even large ones. Anything that involves a plasma screen is very, very good, too—albeit very, very expensive.

Stephanie Davis, a New York City-based freelance writer, is on staff at GQ.
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