Living, working, and playing in Mazatlan, Mexico

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Wrapping the Civilized Way

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I was invited to a baby shower earlier this week. Ugh. I don't have children by choice. My sister doesn't have children. I have never babysat. I just don't "do" kids. And baby showers are just a little too precious for my taste. I don't particularly relish the requisite games, and I feel like a fake smiling and oohing and ahhing over all the precious baby-ness of it all. But, out of friendship and respect for the woman who invited me, I agreed to go. Which also meant I had to buy a gift.

The fact that I have no experience with or affinity for babies directly translates into a real handicap when it comes to choosing an appropriate, thoughtful, and useful gift. I have no idea what new parents would find useful or desirable. I fell back on my oft-used and lazy method of gift selection: go to any large store, hit the baby aisle, and just start tossing things into the cart. Wipes, diapers, and blankets? Sounds good. Rattles, teething rings, and bottles? Why the heck not? I soon had a good selection of (hopefully) useful items and headed for the checkout. On our way out of the aisle, Chuck spotted a pink baby bathtub.

"Hey, how about this?" he asked. "Wouldn't this be good to hold all the stuff you are buying?"

I told him he was brilliant and tossed it in the cart. What I failed to consider was how I was going to wrap a baby bathtub.

Back in the US, I would have ruined my 10-minute gift-buying feat with a trip to the craft store to buy colored cellophane, Easter grass, curly ribbon and a big bow, adding another 30 dollars to the total while I was at it. Then I would have spent another two hours trying to get everything arranged just so, the cellophane to gather and crinkle at the perfect jaunty angle, tie the whole thing up without crushing everything, and figuring out how to affix the bow. But this is Mexico, and things are much more civilized here. Instead of engaging in a three-hour Martha Stewart nightmare, I could have someone else do it.

On the day of the shower, I left a bit early and stopped in one of the many Gift and Party shops in Centro. I walked in with all my items haphazardly shoved in the baby bath. I didn't even have to ask for what I wanted. The woman behind the counter took one look at me, hurried forward, relieved me of my burden, and went to work. She efficiently removed everything from the tub, checked everything for price tags, and put it all back arranged in a visually appealing manner. That took her about 90 seconds. Then she pulled out a pre-made cellophane bag in just the right size (I didn't even know such things existed) and slid the laden bathtub inside. After she sealed it up, she took a skein of satin ribbon and proceeded to make – from scratch – a beautiful bow of the perfect size with admirable artistic touches. A quick hit of the glue gun (without melting the cellophane) and a bit of fussing, and I was on my way. Total elapsed time: seven minutes. Total cost: 25 pesos.

I love Mexico.

Comments (9)
  • Nancy  - Hmmph.
    Yes, I say hmmmph since while you were out galivanting around going to parties you could have taken a minute to write one of your humorous, informative posts.

    Oh, yeah. You just did.

    Glad you're back.
  • jennifer

    I love you;)

    I can gallivant? SWEET!
  • gail  - You're back!
    Missed reading your posts! Good to see you back.
  • jennifer
    Thank you. We will see if I can keep it up ;)
  • David Bodwell  - gifts in México
    Yes, you discovered what it took me a while to discover about gift-wrapping in México. It's wonderful and oh so civilized. Now I will share something with you from Joanna's book, Magic Made in Mexico, that you may not have discovered yet, and it can come as a shock:

    "Mind you, it will be a bit of a shock when you see how most
    of your Mexican friends respond to receiving presents—from
    anyone, not just you. Actually I should say how they do not respond! In the USA and Canada, people always make a big deal of showing appreciation for their gifts. They usually open them right up, exclaim over them and thank the givers over and over again.
    In México, it is most people’s custom to accept the gift,
    mumble a quick gracias, then squirrel it away and say nothing more. Th e gifts will get opened after the party is over. You will not see this happen. Many times, your friend won’t even let you know if your gift was to his or her liking! To those from north-of-the-border, this seems very rude and it is difficult for us to see such behavior in any other light. Nonetheless it is important to try and understand your friends’ perspective, so bear with me.
    For most Mexicans it is paramount to appear sencillo
    humble. They feel that if they open your beautifully wrapped
    gift in front of everyone, they risk making you feel awkward, and they might also put the other guests in an uncomfortable position because their present was not as splendid. As for acknowledging the gift afterwards, they won’t do this either, because they don’t want to be presumido – to presume any more from the relationship you share because you gave them a gift.
    This happens even with wedding gifts. There is very rarely
    a thank you card or even verbal thanks. It does seem like bad
    manners, especially in a country where people are so effusive,
    but this is an important part of the culture. I must say that
    young people do not follow this constrictive custom as much
    as their parents do."

    And that's just a tiny, tiny piece of all the good advice about living in and ADAPTING to living in México in her book.

  • jennifer
    Thanks for the additional advice, David. I actually prefer this way of doing things. I always feel so weird when I have to sit there through a parade of gift opening. I certainly don't want to be effusively thanked in front of people. At the shower people kept walking by my gift and saying, "This one is so big!" It was just strange. I finally casually walked by and ripped off the card so people couldn't tell who brought it anymore.

    At my wedding reception of all places, some of my guests who brought particularly splendid gifts and were a bit offended that I wasn't opening everything in front of everyone started a whisper campaign to my mother and mother-in-law to try to get me open the gifts. I guess they thought I didn't know I was supposed to or I was rude. I had to explain to them, through my mother-in-law, that several of our guests at the reception couldn't afford to bring us any type of gift at all, and I was just delighted they were there to share our celebration with us. There was no way I was going to demonstrate their lack of financial resources in front of all my other guests.

    I think the Mexican method of dealing with receiving gifts is fabulous.
  • Viki  - Gifts
    I agree that this is better on everyone's feelings, as there is such a wide range of incomes among friends that it helps folks who can't afford much (or anything) not to feel bad. But I soooo love to see people open gifts, and I miss that!
  • David Bodwell  - Gifts

    It's not so much what you say about different incomes, as it is about being presumido. I didn't argue with Joanna about her definition of that when I was editing the book, but I definitely DON'T agree with it totally. People who are presumido are those who brag about their things, e.g., if one of us buys a new car, what is the first thing we do? Show it to our friends, naturally. In the Mexican culture that is a very serious no-no. It's considered presumido or bragging.

    I like to tell a little story about how I learned of this. Mary and I bought a new (for us) house for the family, and then on Mary's birthday threw a party at the house. All of her family from Los Mochis came to the party. All OK. However the house (for various reasons) needed some fairly major remodeling. So we went ahead and did it.

    One year later, remodeling is done, completely changing the visual look of the house front. I didn't think anything about that, and threw another birthday party for Mary. The night of the party, we get this telephone call from her sister. "Where is your house? We can't find it!" Turns out that in order NOT to be considered presumida, Mary hadn't even told her relatives that we had remodeled.

    That was my introduction to how important it is in this culture NOT to be considered presumido.
  • Viki  - It takes all kinds!
    Odd how different manners in different areas can be, isn't it?! In the south (our part, anyway) if you didn't stop dead in your tracks and open the gift right then, then "ooh and ahh" over it like it was the first gift you'd received in your lifetime, it was almost considered rude. (Wedding gifts were different, people had a clue that the bride was just a little busy right then!)

    If you didn't open it on the spot, it was like saying, "I know whatever YOU gave me can't be much, so I'm not even going to bother with it right now."

    Best to read up on local customs and manners when you go anyplace, I guess!
  • Pam Russell  - wrapping
    This business about the wrapping is good to know! I gave up looking for wrapping paper a long time ago, but if I can get someone else to do it for me (for that price!), all the better. Thanks and have missed you here!
  • Sandy  - Missing you
    How are you, Jennifer. Missing reading your posts and hope to see a new one soon. Have also missed seeing new recipes from you. SM
  • Cjil  - Hey Jen
    Saw you guys were getting some weather last week and wanted to see how you were. Living in Florida at the moment myself. It'd be good to hear from you!
  • tabbatha  - Wrapping the Civilized Way | Shopping | MeXscape
    does anybody know where the most readily useful place is to buy a breast pump that's good however not to costly? roughly how much are they and can you get them with bottles or not?
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