"I have a message for you," the voice on the other end of the line said. "Your seven swans aswimming have arrived from Cuba. You need to track your parcel down. Have a great day."
So, one piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. The perplexing parcel from Cuba does indeed appear to be this year's incarnation of the mystery parcels we have been receiving for several years each December.
But I am not certain what The Voice was expecting me to do at this point. Ultimately, I believe, it's not up to me to go searching for this parcel.
But the whole encounter did get me thinking about the nature of gift-giving and gift-receiving and the unspoken contract that exists between the two. Because I do think there are expectations of both parties. While the giver is expected to give adequate thought to an appropriate gift, the receiver is expected to be gracious, even in the face of dashed expectations. In polite company, you smile and graciously accept the gift with a gratitude that comes with being the recipient of someone's thoughts and good wishes. You can always give that totally inappropriate gift to Goodwill, after all.
But what about if you are told that you must now do some detective work in order to receive a gift for which you did not ask? In addition to also paying to receive it? Yes, I agree that there is a considerable element of fun in the process, and if this wasn't the crazy season, I would certainly be tempted to do just as The Voice instructed, and track the parcel down. It's an intriguing little mystery. It's a lovely little tradition that someone started years, it is in fact greatly appreciated by our family, both for the gift itself and for the wonder of the mystery, but I am now at a loss as to how to proceed.
Does this not somehow break the gifter-giftee contract? If the onus shifts to the gift-receiver to procure the gift, can it still be considered a gift? This differs, of course, from the circumstance where one must also do some work to procure one's own gift, when receiving a gift card, say. But generally in the case of a gift card, one has some choice in the gift itself, so the contract remains intact.
If the seven swans aswimming are now delivered to my house, or if The Voice phones back and tells me where I need to go to pick those birds up, then I will gladly receive this gift (yes, even if I need to pay the COD). But I don't believe it's my responsibility to do the legwork to get what is, after all, meant to be a gift.
Sometimes there is legwork and detective work involved in gift-receiving, of course. Secret Santas and Easter Egg Hunts certainly fall into this category, but here the rules have been established beforehand and everybody has agreed to them. It's an integral part of the contract.
Getting back to the phone message this morning, I do have one more quibble. It's a little matter of semantics. Not to be a dink about it, but I get my hackles up a bit when someone tells me I need to do something. This no doubt stems from some deep-seated resentment of authority that I must harbour, but the phrase "you need to..." always makes me feel like I am in grade three, being chastised for wearing my outdoor shoes in the classroom. I don't respond well to teacher-speak, evidently.
But that's just me. What do you think about the nature of gift-giving and gift-receiving? When does a gift stop being a gift and become an obligation? Is there a contract implicit in the social niceties of gifts?