A few weeks ago I tweeted about the joys of working in an office during the holiday season. There is a many-feet high Christmas tree in the lobby (dwarfing that token menorah you see everywhere this time of year). There are gift baskets in the kitchen area almost every day (scavenged down to the nuts no one likes by the time I reach them mid-afternoon). There was a department holiday party where my co-workers all got tipsy on wine and we finally said interesting things to each other. I have a small poinsettia in my office and wool socks on my feet and sometimes snow swirls outside my window.
Now I am going to gripe about the downside of working in an office during the holiday season. I am going to sound like a cheap bastard, but hear me out. A few weeks ago, my floor started up a collection for the two women that pick up and drop off our mail. A few days after that, someone solicited donations from the entire firm for our receptionists. Last week I learned that we are also giving to some other mail people — I think they deliver mail outside the office?
And then last week, a co-worker in my department who shares a secretary with me asked if I’d pitch in to give her a gift. “Sure!” I said. I know and like my secretary, and depend on her daily. Giving her a gift would feel more like, well, giving a gift, and less like I’m getting hit up for a donation. My co-worker went on to say, “We’re all thinking of pitching in X dollars.” It doesn’t really matter how much X is. What matters is that X is the same amount that Robert and I set as the budget for gifts for each other last year, and double the limit we set in previous years. X is way more than double what I’m spending on any single member of my family. Yes, in theory I can afford to give X, but it’s pretty clear that my co-workers and I don’t approach Christmas in the same way, when the gift they want to give to our secretary is way beyond what I’ve ever spent on Christmas gifts for all my friends and family combined in a single year. So, I guess I do want to be a jerk about it.
I said yes, but I felt weird about it. Like, I was only saying yes because I didn’t want people to think I was cheap, which is a really unsavory way to feel about giving a gift. Also, we can afford X, but it’s a stressy amount of money. So today, I told the girl collecting the money that I was giving half of X (still a lot!). I explained some extenuating circumstances we have and she’s a nice girl, so I figured she’d keep it quiet, even if she didn’t really understand. 45 minutes later she called me back to let me know that everybody decided to get their own independent gift cards for our secretary. It’s not really clear to me why this happened. I guess nobody could handle looking like they gave less than X, since my gift of half X would reduce their average, and there’s just no polite way to let our secretary know, hey, I contributed more to the gift card than the first-year on the west side of the building.
Now that I’ve been freed from the burden of contributing to a gift card, I am free to give her what I’m giving to everybody else I know: a box of Robert’s fancy schmancy homemade salted caramels. I know, I know, she’d rather have the money. And maybe next year I’ll be comfortable with it. Until then, I think part of being a grown-up is learning to make decisions that are motivated by something other than, but what will people think?