When I studied Anthropology at university, I read a book called The Gift by Marcel Mauss. It is said to be one of the earliest and most important studies of reciprocity and gift exchange. Basically, Mauss discusses that giving an object places an obligation on the receiver to reciprocate the exchange. As one can imagine, this could cause an endless cycle. You give me, I give you...and so it goes.
I genuinely enjoy giving people gifts. Truth be told, the only thing I want and expect in return is the person's appreciation.When I give a gift, I take great pride in saying that I give gifts of high quality and value. Not only have I spent money, but my parents have spent money on buying gifts for my school principal, vice principal, co-teachers and other colleagues. Since most things these days are Made in China, we've bought authentic South African gifts - some of which are handmade and quite pricey, might I add.
Since I've been in Korea, some places I've visited include the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Egypt and a few others. I have brought back gifts from every single one of these places - and not merely just a keyring.
Damn, I wish I received gifts like the ones I've given!
Today, two emotions filled me. At first I was angry and then just heartsore.
I went to work today, and because classes only start next week, no other teachers were at school. Also, there was no work to be done. To pass time, one of the ladies in the admin office said I could watch TV in the janitors room, which is connected to the what you could call the store room of the school. That's also where the night guard sleeps.
I was half watching TV when I got a phone call. I was just strolling around the room while talking until my eyes fell on something on the window sill.
At first, I thought it looked very familiar and then even thought - "and here we were thinking it's unique to South Africa". When I looked again, I realized that it was from South Africa and it was a gift I'd given someone. There were two items staring back at me.
Although it was caked in dust, all that I could see was the invisible price tag.
For all the times I've been home to South Africa, an entire shopping trip has been dedicated to purely gift shopping. I go armed with my list of people to buy for and then... I have to sacrifice leaving some of my things behind that I want to take back to Korea to make space for gifts I'm taking.
So then what happens? I go back to work and present my gifts to everyone, making a special trip to the principal and vice principal's office. They look at it, thank me, and then what?
They put it in the janitors office to collect dust on the window sill?
This must stop. It has stopped.
It opens up another can of worms for me. My mother came to visit in the summer of 2008 and we traveled back to South Africa for my summer vacation. We went shopping practically everyday here in Korea ensuring that no one - no one would be left out in SA when it came to gifts. We bought all kinds of things for people: family & friends.
Part of what I love about giving is the act of giving. Seeing the person's expression when giving them a gift can be priceless. For example, I love giving my brother gifts and he will vouch that they have been awesome gifts! He's like a little boy on Christmas morning. But - when people just take it as if it's expected and then...just kind of...disregard it. Well, then - I start to have issues.
Don't get me wrong. I don't want them to gush or thank me profusely. I don't even want a thank you note. Just show appreciation that you were thought of. Is this too much to ask? I don't think so.
Why do I feel obligated to buy gifts for people when I travel? I spend a lot of money on trips, and then still have to bring back a bag full of presents for people? What significance do the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur have for someone who's never ever been to Malaysia before? Nothing. Or souvenirs bought from the over-priced gift shop at Madame Tussauds in London? Nothing.
When someone does the smallest favour for me, I want to thank them ten-fold. I always reciprocate. If, for example my Korean brother, No-su buys something for me online, I'll buy him a Korean snack or something from the bakery the following day. Of course, I'm paying him back 100% of whatever he's ordered online for me, yet I want to show my gratitude.
When someone does something for me, or gives me something, I tell them: "I appreciate it." Just today I sent a text to my friend Hye-ok: "Thank you for always being kind to me. I appreciate it."
Seeing my gift that I'd taken time to select, pay a lot of money for... just sitting there on the window sill amongst what I can only call junk... really hurt me. Worst of all, over the three years of being here I've given countless gifts to people so I can't even remember who that was for - but a hunch tells me it was for my principal.
As you're reading this, I expect you may be thinking: "But it's your own fault for buying gifts. No one asked you to." Of course not. It's just in my nature. This is how I've been raised. However, now I turn cold.
The most I will give someone is a verbal expression of gratitude.