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What’s wrong with brown paper and string?

It?s not that I hate Christmas entirely. I really like buying presents, even if the current ratio of gifts to me vs gifts to family and friends is 2:1. I just hate having to wrap the things I buy. What makes some people so good at wrapping? Where did they get that special knack for folding the ends of a package that makes them perfectly aligned, no matter the shape or size of object. How did they find invisible tape that’s truly invisible, unlike the stuff on a roll that falsely claims to ‘disappear on virtually all giftwrap’. Are they glueing? And how do they know just the right length of ribbon to cut to go around the package with enough left to tie the bow and then they curl those ends so beautifully. I particularly envy their final flourish – the gift bags with just the right amount of co-ordinating pristine tissue paper poking out the top and a matching gift tag.

Damn you people and your wrapping magic. Every year I try to create a fabulous Junior League style gift and every year I fail. When handing over presents I pray that the recipient will rip open the package in a frenzy, ignoring the wadges of extra tape necessary to keep the edges from popping up, the narrow pointy fold of one end versus the wide flat fold of the other, the mishapen reindeer image where the two ends of paper didn’t quite meet. Then there?s the gift bag, a perfectly good bag ruined by the tissue paper that’s stuck on top, crumpled and torn from endless attempts to plump it up into little peaks.

In my family, none of us really cared about the packaging, especially as mum would often keep last years crumpled paper to be recycled next christmas. When opening presents, we?d glance at the tag, or in mum’s case read the tag out loud ?to mum, from Margaret? and off we?d go, chucking the wrapping behind us and not stopping until everything was open. Then we?d go back, spread out our haul for everyone else to see, pull the tags off the paper and chuck the rest of the wrapping into a bin liner. This seems a very healthy approach and one I wish people here would adopt. But no, here unwrapping takes longer than christmas dinner and all the xmas tv specials combined

Firstly, a present is passed to you by the gift gatekeeper, who is there to prevent you from grabbing whatever you fancy from under the tree. You place it on your lap, examine it, tell everyone who it?s from and s-l-o-w-l-y start picking at the tape, being extra careful not to rip the ends. The paper is then opened, the gift removed and held aloft for all to see. It may then be passed around for closer inspection and comment. After the appropriately thoughtful thank-you’s, a gift is selected for the next person and the process is repeated. It could be 10 minutes or more before your next gift comes around. I don?t mean to sound uncharitable, it?s all a question of upbringing I guess, but I take particular exception to being watched when I open gifts. I feel uncomfortable and under pressure to act in just the right way, with that perfect combination of surprise and delight. With some gifts this just isn’t so easy and I need more time.

What I’ve found particularly helpful in recent years is the charity gift-wrapping services a lot of stores offer. It does limit the gift range but it?s a small price to pay – literally, as a few bucks buys you those perfectly folded ends and curly ribbon and the admiration of less skilled wrappers. When I lived in London, it was only the high end department stores that offered anything similar. This included Libertys on Regent Street where I worked one christmas while at college. Initially I was just a sales person in the gifts department which meant I hung around guiding people to the overpriced Liberty print wallets, notebooks, paisley pajamas and scarves. At some point they became overwhelmed at the gift wrap station and unaware of my incompetencies, drafted me in. Horrendous, for all concerned. No basic training, just three rolls of paper, a selection of those pre-formed stapled bows and gold and purple ribbon on huge reels that you were somehow supposed to intertwine. I learned that when you gift-wrap for someone, they don?t idly look around, at that time there were no cell phones to chat on as they waited. No, they watched, intently, making sure it was a better job than they?d be capable of. What they got, for the most part, was a job worthy of a kindergartener. The more they watched in horror, the more flustered I became, until a supervisor kindly suggested that I take an early lunch break, at 11am. Still, I was pleased to know that there had only been three complaints in my 50 minute stint, though I sensed that a couple more were pissed off by the way they grabbed at their wrapped gifts and left.

Under the tree this year are numerous packages with the familiar silver and white pattern of Amazon gift wrap and the heavy black print on the matching gift tags, brief sentiments of 30 characters or less per line. Good old Amazon, no need to even see the package, let alone wrap it. But I still pity those poor elves, stressed out, working day and night to get those ends just so. I know just how they feel.