Always say yes to the giftwrap

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Can some festive paper change our outlook on shopping? There’s a reason for never refusing a storekeeper’s offer to gift-wrap a purchase—even if it’s just a pair of socks or a bag of peanuts, and even if it’s not a gift for anyone. Wrapping a mundane purchase can turn it to a prize.

In Paris, I once bought a plastic headband, presented in a thick, black, velvet pouch lined with gold satin. I delight in the idea that the presentation could be more luxurious than its contents—and perhaps urge us to rethink its worth, regardless of value.

Gift-wrapping yields two distinct pleasures: In the store, it’s about watching the clerk’s wrapping technique. It can be hypnotic to watch hands efficiently working with tissues, tape, scissors and bows. In Tokyo, I remember watching a woman masterfully pleat a piece of paper like sun rays and tuck a blank notecard within the folds. And of course, the sight and sound of curling ribbons is magic—a quick, taut pull with a pair of scissors against some plastic ribbon yields tight Shirley Temple curls and a slower motion produces a looser loop.

The second pleasure comes when you unwrap the “gift” at home. Gift wrapping, after all is a kind of foreplay. A flurry of strings, knots, and delicate layers, fishing for a bottle of olive oil through layers of tissue can feel like finding a treasure. Designers of chocolate packaging know this trick well: a luxurious box, beautiful layers of padding and tissue, climaxing with the sight of jewel-like bonbons nestled in a snug candy cup. In the end, it almost doesn’t matter how the chocolate tastes in your mouth. The sensational shell—this heady preamble—is the romance and the oftentimes, the point.

Yes, opting for gift wrapping will often require a wait, and sometimes even a small fee—it’s the opposite of shopping efficiency. But maybe in this age of next-day delivery, self-check-out fast lanes, and the addictive instant gratification of shopping as entertainment, it takes a beautiful wrapper to make us to appreciate the things we buy.

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