Give a gift, get a gift.

I know the dark secret that lurks in every Croatian household. Oh yes, I know all about it. In most houses there will be a closet or a cupboard, sometimes just a drawer, and in the deep dark recesses of that secret space is ... a pile of...
RECYCLED PRESENTS! Yes! Re-gifting is a Croatian way of life.

In America we have people that store food, water and even guns in case of an emergency situation (like the apocalypse, an Obama victory, or the return of Jesus). In Croatia people stockpile presents in case of a REAL emergency: THEY NEED TO SUDDENLY GIVE SOMEONE A GIFT!!!

Gift giving is a big deal in Croatia. Come back from a trip: bring gifts. Go to dinner at someone’s house: bring gifts! See someone you haven’t seen in a while: bring a gift. Just look at someone: give her a gift! See the doctor, minister, principle, mechanic, bus driver: gift, gift, gift, gift, gift. You never know when you are going to need to give a gift to someone. So, it’s always important to have an extra box of chocolates, an extra packet of coffee, another necklace, some wine, or rakija stowed safely away.

What’s a little funny (OK, actually A LOT of funny) is that for all the emphasis on gift giving, most gifts are never ever even used! Nope. Nope. Once a gift is given it finds itself condemned to the mysterious gift vortex (which is like limbo for gifts). It will never be opened, eaten, or drank. Instead it will swirl around in the void, passing from one giver to another, then to another and so on. Most gifts end up in the secret gift closet and are then given again as gifts.

Each time I would travel to Croatia we would spend HOURS buying gifts for EVERYONE! We had to pick out just the perfect present for Person A, B, C, and D (all the way up to P). Little did I know, but few of these people would keep their gifts. This made some very confused moments among our friends when I saw that the gift we gave to person A, in this case a picture, somehow ended up on the wall of person C’s house. Or the necklace we bought for person B, ended up on the neck of person D’s daughter-in-law! Wha? Huh? Gift giving in Croatia is like some altruistic circle of life. (I think the same packet of coffee has made the circuit through our circle of friends at least two times).

In America we usually give gifts on birthdays and Christmas. If you return from a trip you can bring gifts back for your relatives’ kids. Buying gifts for your sister, nieces, nephews, cousins, uncles, aunts, in-laws, godparents, neighbors, friends, and the occasional, casual acquaintance is, believe it or not, uncommon. When I was living between these two worlds, my wife would insist I take presents back to EVERYONE each time I returned to the states. It was awful. Want a make a situation awkward in America, give an unexpected gift. We don’t know how to accept it. We think, what the? should we eat it now? drink it? WHAT DO WE DO? And Smiiiiiiiiile.

Want to make it extremely awkward, give a gift from abroad to a person you only talk to when their trash-can lids blow over into your yard. If I showed up at my neighbor’s house in America with a gift from Croatia, I imagine this older gentleman would just scratch himself, look suspiciously at the parcel in my hand, squint at the unintelligible foreign words written across the top of it and yell:

“Huh? You went where? What the hell is a Croatia?”


No. In America gift giving is not our custom. Sure, if you go to dinner at someone’s house you can bring a bottle of wine or something. Of course usually you just bring part of the meal, a side dish of pasta salad or some deviled eggs (more on THAT in another post). So you can imagine all of this was and is still new to me, but I’ve accepted its karmic principles: give a gift, get a gift. And sometimes: give a gift and get the same gift back. Eventually.




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