Greg Bean

Stumped for a gift idea? Gift Guru to the rescue



Once again, it’s time to hear from that master of holiday gifting, Mr. Gift Guru. His holiday diablerie will help his challenged male readership avoid purchasing the wrong spousal gift this season, and all seasons to come.

Dear Mr. Gift Guru: I am a young man who has been married for almost two years, and I haven’t mastered the art of choosing the perfect gift for my wife. Last year, for example, I bought her a $900 vacuum cleaner, which I thought would make her ecstatic. Instead, she was mad at me all day on Christmas and wouldn’t speak to me until after the new year. She never would tell me why she was angry, either, so I still don’t know. Therefore, I have two questions. One, why did the vacuum make her mad? And two, how can I avoid the same mistake this year?

Bewildered in Brick

Dear Bewildered: You’ve come to the right person, since I’ve been married almost a quarter of a century and have had nearly 25 holiday seasons to get it wrong and learn from my mistakes. And your blunder, pal, was a humdinger. Although the vacuum you purchased was undoubtedly powerful enough to suck the varnish from hardwood floors, your choice said two unfortunate things about you to your beloved. First, that she married a man with the romantic inclination of a rutabaga. And second, that you believe the home you share is filthy and that it would be nice if she’d sweep it up. No wonder she was mad!

When purchasing the perfect gift, always avoid anything that suggests work or a general lack of cleanliness. That includes carpet shampooers, washer-dryer combinations, irons, mops and the like. It is also wise to avoid any item that requires work to install, garage-door openers, for example. Although you might think a garage-door opener is a perfectly romantic gift, because it will save her having to open the garage door in nasty weather, she’ll view it as an atrocity, and you’ll hear about it for the rest of your natural life.

Other gifts to avoid:

Clothing . Although you may have a general idea of the type of clothing she wears and your own ideas of what might look good on her, attempting to purchase new clothing for her is fraught with danger and disappointment. First, the sheer variety of women’s clothing is enough to give most men a case of the screaming fantods. If you’ve ever seen the look on the face of a man in the ladies’ clothing section of a large department store, trying to decide which of 5,000 little black dresses would be best, then you have seen the look of absolute terror and uncertainty. Then, there is the minefield of size. Buy something too large and she will think you believe her to be larger than she is – fat, in other words. Too small, and she will think it is a hint that she should lose weight. It’s a no-win proposition. Unless you are certain the size, color, fabric and style she prefers, you are doomed to failure when purchasing clothing. The only exception is when she has taken you by the hand, pointed to a specific item, and told you, “I want this sweater for a present. Size 10. Pomegranate color.” In that case, you might be safe, but only if you do not deviate from her instructions.

Lingerie. See above for size dilemma, but this category has additional hazards. Buy something too demure (a flannel nightgown) and she will think you believe her prudish, or that you have lost interest. Buy something too revealing, and not only will she never wear it because it is uncomfortable, she will think you believe her too much of a libertine. Women should always buy their own lingerie, even on Valentine’s Day.

Hosiery. Nothing says “I’m bored with you” like socks. Avoid this category, unless you really are trying to send a message. As a corollary, never buy shoes. That way lies madness.

A new treadmill. Only a man with a death wish purchases exercise equipment of any sort for his spouse as a gift. First, even if you are truly concerned about her cardiovascular health and want her to live to 100, she will interpret gifts of this nature as a manifestation of your desire that she lose weight. While you should avoid exercise equipment that both of you can use on general principle – those bow things and free weights, for example – you should particularly avoid anything advertised by Suzanne Somers that targets specific body parts like thighs, abs and cabooses. Exercise tapes or DVDs are also verboten. Especially if they involve the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.

Anything cute. The singing dog doorstop and Santa-in-the-outhouse snow globe might have been fine for Uncle Mike and Aunt Connie, whose house is filled with junk like that, but they won’t pass muster with your wife. This category-to-avoid includes any item advertised in a “theme” catalog and anything sold in a novelty store. It also includes most items from “outdoor” catalogs. No matter how much you like the “I’d rather be fishin’ ” doormats, or the camouflage sheets and bedspreads, pass them by and you’ll be a happier man.

Food. Wrong on so many levels. Nothing says “I have the imagination of a whelk” more clearly than a subscription to the fruit-of-the-month club. Or a ham. Or a box of mass-market chocolates, even if they are from France.

So what does that leave? Well, not much, to be honest. Gift cards and electronics are always a good bet, especially if you think she’ll occasionally loan you her new iPod. Perfume is safe if you’ve done some detective work to see what brands she prefers. Also chick movies, bath stuff, weekend getaways and jewelry, the more expensive the better.

And if none of those ring your bell, you could always make her something with your own loving hands. Hint: Avoid anything that involves macaroni, construction paper and glue.

Gregory Bean is executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at