Sunday, May 15, 2005

Yank Me Swap

A friend of mine is getting married in August. Chili is throwing her a wedding shower. For some reason this makes the Bride uncomfortable so she's found a way to make it feel better for her, she's making it a Yankee Swap.

First off let's be clear, it's her engagement, her wedding, her life so she has every right to do whatever she wants and my opinion is of no consequence. That being said, my opinion is that a Yankee Swap is the cruelest form of gift giving known to man. It manages to combine the worst stereotypes of New Englanders. It is at once frugal and isolationist, using both "virtues" to express repressed anger. Which I guess makes it wicked efficient too.

Now, those of you who live outside this particular Yuletide Circle of Hell are probably wondering what a Yankee Swap is. I'll do my best to make it clear.

There's a party. You're invited. At the bottom instead of a dress code it says, "Yankee Swap, $10 limit." I mean, really, dress code? It's going to be like 30 below, the dress code is anything that protects your privates from chapping. As for the swap, you purchase a $10 gift that would be appropriate for anyone in attendance. So, a nice pair of earrings is appropriate if it's a group of chicks from the secretarial pool but not so much if it's your couples golf league. If it's the guys from the biker bar then I guess you've got a 50-50 shot.

A word about the gifts. In keeping with our frugal nature, if the limit is as much as $20 it's a fucking black tie event. The collection of gifts usually runs the gamut from plastic penis mug to paperweight with kissing kittens. Except for one. Almost every Yankee Swap has one newbie or latent Martha Stewart who spends time and energy to find the PERFECT $10 gift, thoughtful, useful and fun, possibly even hand made. This person is generally under the foolish assumption that every attendee will do the same thing. The truth is that most of these people take their swap gift home, put it away (often in the same wrapping paper, painstakingly removed to avoid tearing) and bring it back to the same swap the next year. If you have an annual Yankee Swap with the same group you can pass around the same shitty gifts for a decade or more.

OK, on to the swapping part. You show up at the party, you put your swap gift under the tree, you have a couple of drinks and some cocktail weenies and wait. Eventually the Mistress of Darkness, I mean, the hostess calls everyone to gather around the tree for the Yank Me Swap. She's got numbers on little pieces of paper in a hat and everyone picks one out. In order to inflict maximum suffering you want to choose #1. At this point I wish I could use diagrams but you'll have to just work with me.

Person #1 picks a present and opens it. "Oh yay, the Penthouse Flashlight Keychain/condom holder. Fabulous!"

Person #2 picks a present and opens it. They can then keep the present they opened OR switch it for the present that Person #1 got. "No, you know, I already have a condom holder and it doesn't get a lot of use, I'll keep this slightly dented box of penis shaped pasta."

Person #3 then opens a gift and can choose to keep it or trade it with either of the people that come before her. "You know, I've already got a bright orange scarf with the Dukes of Hazard logo on it, and I have a hell of a time finding my condoms in my purse and it's always nice to have a little extra light when you're rolling those slippery bastards on so, tough luck Bernie, here's a scarf, fork over the condom holder."

And so on until you've opened the last gift. The crowning achievment of the Crankee Swap is that Person #1 then has his or her choice of all the gifts that have gone before. "Ha HA! Victory is MINE! I've been waiting for that handmade testicle cozy for years, I don't care that you've had a decade long case of blue balls Mort, my sac's gonna be toasty warm this winter. Here's a scarf, maybe you can jury rig something with the part that has Daisy Duke's shorts on it."

A die hard Swapper gets situated right by the tree and watches each gift with a gleam in his eye. He's got Swap Calculus going on in his head as each gift is opened. He calculates personality times number chosen divided by a specific prime number assigned to this year's newbie and lies in wait. It's the sort of thing that should have its own special on Animal Planet.

You can also layer the underlying malice of the event with whatever neuroses your particular group has lying around. So, for instance, Yankee Smackdown with my mom's family is like adoption day at the Whippet Rescue Society. Wide eyes, a lot of generally nervous shivering and the possibility that someone will pee on the carpet before the night is through. The family motto comes from my grandmother and is her advice for what to say when you are on the verge of a disagreement with someone, "You may be right but I don't think so."

I am a big fan of the passive-aggressive.

She is my hero.

This translates to Yankswap by making everyone too afraid of swapping because it's impolite to take something that someone else might enjoy. And Grammy likes everything to be polite. Yet, Grammy's sister is a stickler for rules and it won't be an actual swap unless swapping occurs. So eventually someone cracks under the pressure and makes a shuddering swap accompanied by profuse apologies and usually in order to obtain the crappiest gift so they can play the martyr card if need be, "I hate banana flavored chewing gum and I thought you did too. I was trying to make sure you didn't get stuck with them. Jeez! Next time you be the swapper." Yeah, not a lot of condom holders getting exchanged in that family, usually After 8 Mints and Canada Mints and Mint tea, pretty much anything in the mint species.

The Bride says that she goes in to every Yankee Slap expecting to get crap and planning to enjoy the fun of it. I had no idea she had that sadistic streak. Good to know while I'm shopping for a shower gift.

Anyone have a flashlight in the shape of Barry Manilow (batteries not included) that I can wrap up?


  1. Anonymous12:52 PM

    Seems to me the way to make this a little more fun is to institute a - "No opening the box until all the gifts have landed where they will" - rule. That way at least you can have the fun of deciding to actualy wrap a great thing in a great box, or to wrap and apropriately weight a lousy thing in a great box. Or a great thing in a lousy box! It also makes the whole experience more of a grab bag / treasure hunt! That's how my twisted family would handle it anyway. Good luck with it all.
    - Pony Express

  2. You are either entirely missing the point of the cruelty or kicking it up an Emeril-sized notch, I can't decide which. And yet, what should I expect from NJ, they know how to do mean right.
    Also, I've seen the way your people do Christmas and they know how to test one's endurance with the whole season. It's a thing of beauty. Violent beauty, like hockey, but beauty nonetheless.

  3. Oh, and update, The Bride has taken my qualms into consideration and decided to go a different route for her shower. It's still activity-centered but her chosen activity is less likely to see guests flouncing out in a huff...with a keychain/condom holder that they bought specifically for the Bride.

  4. well, i don't even know you, but I live in oregon and we call this a "white elephant" party. which, I also hate with all my heart. You're post made me laugh so hard I cried.

  5. well, i don't even know you, but I live in oregon and we call this a "white elephant" party. which, I also hate with all my heart. You're post made me laugh so hard I cried.

  6. janikianne, I knew that this couldn't be the sort of thing that was contained only in New England. White Elephant Party. Now maybe other people will know what the heck I'm talking about.

  7. Anonymous9:22 PM

    Holy mother of God, you just described my maternal grandparent's Christmas horror. Complete with the politeness, but my aunt wants it to be a TRUE "White Elephant" (that's what we call it) so she forces people to swap. It's the worst thing in the world to shop for (how are you supposed to find a cool $20 gift for both an 18 year-old female and a 50 year-old uncle?). I dread it every year.

    This is the kind of party that maybe, MAYBE might fly at an office party, but a SHOWER? Isn't part of the perk of getting married that one gets to register for the gifts one wants and then actually GET the gifts one wants?

    How did it turn out?

  8. This is a four year old post now, but it STILL makes me laugh (and I still send people to it every year....)

    I love you!

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