The Best of Andy Rooney

If it came from a gift shop, please don't give it to me.

There's a whole category of things that I don't want for Christmas and most of them come from gift shops.

Don't get me a tie rack, for instance. There's something wrong about a place that specializes in things to be given away. It can't be as down-to-earth as the everyday store that you would go into to buy something you need for yourself.

Most of the items in gift shops are things no one has any use for. I'm uncertain about why they've been categorized as "gifts."

Why would anyone decide to give a friend something that the store owner, by designating it "gift," has declared to be something the person wouldn't want for himself? The only kind of gift to give is something you would like to own yourself. You aren't dying to have a set of hand-embroidered potholders, a bag of fragrances for your underwear drawer, or a copper-plated watering can.

There are some nice gift shops, just as there are nice cups of tea. I like the shopkeepers and I feel sorry for them, but they're in the wrong business. We don't need any more gift shops. The worst gift shops in the world are those terrible places at airports. If you fly into St. Louis, the gift shops at the airport feature caps and T-shirts saying, "St. Louis Cardinals" on them and coffee cups bearing the likeness of Charles Lindbergh's plane, the Spirit of St. Louis. The names on the caps and T-shirts are about the only distinguishing features in airport shops across the country. The shops usually make a failing effort to have some local products.

At an airport in Burlington, Vt., you'll be able to buy maple syrup.

The airport in Orlando will send a crate of oranges home for you, and one in Chicago will have ashtrays, highball glasses and key chains featuring the Chicago Bears football team. In San Francisco, there are redwood tree plaques saying, "Home Sweet Home."

Everywhere, you can find seashells, pictures of movie stars in cheap frames, fancy candles and expensive little calendar books. It's hard to put your finger on what's wrong with gift shops. They often try too hard to be clever but, worse than that, nothing in these shops is of much use in the real world.

The only purpose served by a breadboard with flowers painted on it is as a gift. It's a gift and nothing more because chances are it never will be used for cutting bread. What does anyone do with a gift-shop gift?

No one wants an apron with a crossword puzzle on it or a glass paperweight that gives the impression it's snowing when you turn it upside down. Our houses are filled with this useless kind of stuff, and we don't dare throw anything away because we don't know when the person who gave it to us is going to show up again. If you have to bring home a gift from your trip, make sure you buy it in town before you hit the gift shop at the airport.

I actually had a friend years ago whose marriage ended in divorce over something he brought his wife from Kennedy Airport in New York. My friend was about to board the plane when he realized he hadn't bought anything for his wife.

Feeling guilty, he rushed back into the terminal and went to a gift shop.

He brought her a bronzed thermometer in the shape of the Empire State Building. She apparently already was in sort of a bad mood when he arrived home late, and when he gave her the gift-shop gift, she took one look at it, threw it at him and left home forever. I didn't say so to my friend at the time, but I thought she had a good point.

This is a classic Andy Rooney seasonal column originally published Dec. 13, 1986

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