Thursday, 17 January 2013

Das Gift

No surprises here then! Presents wrapped in cellophane. 

The art of present giving is quite different in Germany to the UK. Here is what I learnt, the hard way:

Part one, for those with 5 mins to spare who like the hard facts!

1. Germans do not always immediately open your present!
OK, so you’ve handed over the perfect gift and expect your friend to open it, ‘cos they obviously just can’t wait to see what you’ve got them.  Well the thing is they can, it seems. Often, I have the experience that my present is put aside, leaving me in high anxiety as to when the moment will come when it will finally be opened. Then the only tactic to employ involves stalking, cornering and repeating endlessly, “Here’s your present, here’s your present” until they open it and you can relax and enjoy the party.

2.Birthday cards, Christmas cards? What are they? In the UK, I would say the card is just about as important as the present to signify how much you care about friends, but in Germany people rarely send or give cards.

3. It’s wrapped but I can still see the present, duh. For some shops the definition of gift-wrap involves putting clear plastic foil around it and tying it with a ribbon. I mean, where’s the element of surprise? You can see the present through the wrapping. On the other hand, at least you don’t have to wait for your friend to unwrap it.

Part two, for those who feel like having another cuppa and are willing to give their facts the benefit of the doubt. 

I have done a little investigating and I think these little cultural misunderstandings can be easily explained thus:

Germany is bordered by nine countries and has no natural buffer like the English Channel. Therefore trust has always been of particular importance for the exchange of goods. Here, the German language generously supplies further evidence. The German word "Gift" means Poison. It is of little wonder then, that upon receiving a potentially poisonous dose that the most prudent response would be to set such a parcel aside to assess the situation in the due course of time. I know I would. 

The reason for Germans not sending birthday cards is pretty obvious to me. It takes far less effort to write Happy Birthday than Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag.  Little wonder, then, that cards never caught on.

It is recorded that on the 18th December 1776, in Northern Rheinsberg, Heinz-Peter von Herzhog gave his second cousin removed Hendrik-Franz a birthday present. After waiting for three days and three hours for his cousin to open his present, he finally lost it, ripped the paper asunder with his sword, inadvertently spearing his beloved cousin through the heart in the process. His father Duke Philip von Herzhog decreed that from thence forth that “ye so much as one man cloak his present in obscure papers as to be damned by all the power of wrath need be.” After that word spread through the land that a new transparent material was needed for wrapping up birthday presents to avoid further accidents. Finally, word reached Switzerland and Jacques E Brandenburger invented Cellophane in 1908.

Part three, for those onto their second choccy biscuit who are willing to digress into unknown territory at their peril. 

A cautionary tale of present giving at Christmas. 

Wrapping up presents in cellophane doesn't however always prevent accidents or near poisonings. On the 24th December 2012, W.P. opened a present from her British friend, C.M., safely wrapped in cellophane.  It contained a beautiful looking Praline. She couldn't resist it and immediately bit into it until she was literally foaming at the mouth and had to spit it out in great disgust as it was the most horrible praline she had ever tasted. W.P. remained in a state of shock, digesting the fact that her friend may have tried to poison her, until her boyfriend pointed out what was printed under the the cellophane, for use in the bath only.

Throwing caution to the wind, and the left over crumbs to fizz in the bath, W.P had to admit the enjoyment was lost, as it is one thing having a bath in perfumed oil without having to taste it at the same time. 

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