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Advice: The value of unexpected presents in these times

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 6/2/2020 Robin Abrahams

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My May column on pandemic gift giving resonated with readers! I’d mentioned food and boughten goods, because surely I’m not the only one rereading Laura Ingalls Wilder right now. Several folks also mentioned crafts. “I like to crochet but can’t possibly find space for all these afghans! [I’ve] been doing them with specific people in mind — better in their homes than mine!” one reader commented. Good call! Crafting can be therapeutic in uncertain times, unless it makes you even crazier. (Yeah, I’m talking about you, quilting.) I’ve found that the grid patterns in needlepoint soothe my brain right down . . . and yes, I don’t need quite as many eyeglass cases as I’ve been producing. Keep an eye on your mailboxes, presbyopic friends!

Gift giving can be a way to sublimate romance in socially distant times. N.R. in Texas wrote that “I’ve been courting a woman long-distance with shiny rocks, vacuum-sealed homemade pies, and hand-lettered poetry. I feel good supporting the USPS with my business, and I’m smitten with this newfound outlet for gifting/love language expression.” Or to cheer a sick friend: G.S. in Western Massachusetts “sent three ‘dinosaur bones’ (crown prime beef BBQ ribs) from Kansas City to a friend who has three broken vertebrae. It was the most fun I’ve had writing a gift message in a long time.”

One commenter asked: “I would love to give food gifts right now, but don’t know how to do so safely. How can I share a baked good with someone who is concerned about COVID contamination?”

Don’t. Your baked goods probably are entirely safe, assuming that even before the pandemic you were washing your hands and not, like, licking the beater and putting it back in the bowl. The virus doesn’t appear to be spreadable through food, and people seem to be behaving accordingly. But gifts should be about pleasure and connection and comfort, especially now! Not about proving the correctness of your personal grasp of epidemiology. If you have a particularly worried friend, skip the zucchini bread and connect in another way. There are more than enough people who would be happy to receive your baked goods.

L.R. in Cambridge sent me a note saying, “I have been inspired to small acts of kindness after receiving gifts of Girl Scout cookies, gougères, and lasagna on my doorstep from two other friends. At first I thought, Do my friends think I am too old to get out? But then I decided they were just being thoughtful.”

I did not know what gougères were and now these French pastry cheese puffs are all I can think about, so thanks for that. Mmm, gougères.

I’m glad, L.R., you chose a more charitable interpretation of your friends’ actions, an interpretation that is almost certainly correct. Psychologists call this kind of interpretation of human behavior “attribution.” It is alarmingly easy, when isolated, to develop a negative attribution style: She hasn’t texted back, she must be mad at me. He sounded so concerned when he asked how I’m doing, I must look awful. My boss said “please” in an e-mail, I’m going to be fired. You were smart to be aware of that tendency and avoid it. We all should.

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