Impersonal Gift Ideas Needed
April 26, 2011 12:10 PM   Subscribe

I need a completely generic, impersonal thank you gift for a boss with whom I spend a ton of time but about whom I know next to nothing.

I'm an intern in a social work position at an elementary school. My boss supervises all of my cases, so we spend a lot of time together and she expends a lot of effort on my account. My last day on the job is Friday, and I haven't been able to think of an appropriate gift to give her. Since our weekly supervision hour is supposed to model a therapist/client relationship, she refuses to engage in any self-disclosure and I know NOTHING about her.

I'm very appreciative of all of the effort she's put into my development as a clinical social worker and I'd like for her to know it. I'd rather not put my appreciation into words as that will give her a chance to analyze anything I say and then tell me why I'm feeling the way I am (which, as you can imagine, is a frustrating part of our relationship and the only part I'm anxious to leave behind). I think a nice gift that costs ~$40 would suffice, but it would need to be very generic and applicable to anyone. I have no idea if she drinks or if she's on a special diet like everyone else in NYC, so booze and food are off the proverbial table, but I'm wondering if any of you out there have received or given a gift like this and could give me some suggestions?
posted by pineappleheart to Shopping (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Give her a book that means something to you. Inscribe it with a thank you and an small explanation on what it means to you. That way it's personal, but in the only way it can be knowing nothing about the recipient.
posted by inturnaround at 12:12 PM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

As someone who may have to take a lot of notes, maybe you could give her a distinctive and nice-looking pen.
posted by ldthomps at 12:12 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nice stationery. Stationery's my go-to I-don't-know-you-that-well gift. It's distinctive enough that it'll stand out among gifts, nice enough that it probably will be used but only rarely (and every time they do they'll be reminded of you pleasantly), but also almost entirely value-neutral.
posted by penduluum at 12:13 PM on April 26, 2011

A nice potted plant for the office which is impossible to kill (eg philodendron).
Nice stationery.

Do write a note, telling her that you (recognize and) appreciate all the time and attention she's given you, and saying that it's been helpful. Keep it short and there will be nothing to analyze.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:13 PM on April 26, 2011

Whatever you give her (both a book and a pen sound like nice ideas), include a copy of the letter you sent to her boss singing her praises.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 12:14 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ah, upon reading your previous question it sounds like this person is someone you don't especially like.

You can certainly be honest in your very short letter, using the magic of ambiguous phrasing. Prime example for your case: "I've learned so much from working with you."
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:17 PM on April 26, 2011

Response by poster: That's true, Lobstermitten. I don't like this woman on a personal level, but she's someone that's spent tons of time on me on a professional level, and I'll certainly use very ambiguous phrasing so that I'm not being dishonest when I thank her (for instance, I will not say, "I'll miss you so much")! Her work is definitely strong even if her interpersonal skills are totally bizarre.

wuzandfuzz, would doing that be too ass-kissy if I know she has to write an evaluation of me for future employers? I don't want to go over the top just in case she thinks I'm doing so to get a favorable review and references.
posted by pineappleheart at 12:23 PM on April 26, 2011

Do you spend time in her office? Some kind of nice office accessory from levenger's could do the trick.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:29 PM on April 26, 2011

I like the stationary/pen idea - it feels sort of old fashioned, in a nice way.

I don't know if a gift card is too impersonal, even for this, but a gift card to a book store might be nice.
posted by Kololo at 12:30 PM on April 26, 2011

A pretty nice pen was going to be my suggestion. They're useful things to have, they are safe from any unfortunate implications (flowers could be seen as romantic, fancy French soap could be interpreted as "what, you think I stink?", but pens are just...pens), and no one thinks to get themselves a nice one, most of the time they just get an assload of Bics. So a nice pen would work.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:30 PM on April 26, 2011

Hmm, in that event it might depend on how you think she'll take it. If the dislike on a personal level is mutual, she might very well read it as ass-kissy. I know you don't know much about her her, but does she seem to be a cynical sort? If you can honestly write such a letter (speaking only about her work) and you think she wouldn't see it as ass-kissy, I would go for it. But if you'll have to lie and/or you think she'll think you're a suck up, perhaps best not.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 12:37 PM on April 26, 2011

This is the advantage of having a brother-in-law who's a potter; a beautiful, hand-thrown mug is an appropriate, "thoughtful"* gift for anyone! Perhaps you can find an equivalent?

* A generic gift is, of course, inherently not particularly thoughtful, but everyone uses mugs, and even though most people have too many (or at least enough), most people lack beautiful, hand-thrown items.
posted by JMOZ at 12:54 PM on April 26, 2011

How about a nice picture frame?
posted by Leontine at 1:00 PM on April 26, 2011

I don't know about the relationship between social-work-internship-supervisor and intern, but I would be a bit wary of including a copy of a letter to her supervisor. That's suitable when she's just doing a service for you, for example it would be suitable if a parent wrote such a note because she had done a good job for their kid. But it feels.. weirdly presumptuous where she has been partly your boss and partly your teacher. I don't know, ask around how other interns in a similar position have handled this, but my instinct says it might read weirdly. (Again, it could be that my instincts are wrong in the situation you're in, so get feedback from others in your situation)

About stationery:
You can probably sniff out a bit of her personal style from seeing what stuff she has in the office, how she dresses, etc. Eg is she more modern/stark, more Martha Stewart/cozy-tasteful, or more traditional/formal?

The absolute safest choice is Crane's plain cream folded notes, usable by anyone for any purpose. The color-bordered notes are also suitable for most occasions except the black-bordered ones which are, by some accounts, to be used in sympathy or mourning only.

A couple of other tasteful generic possibilities from Crane's: Bryanna note set, with pastel modern flower pattern. (this link shows the gift box)
Another possibility is the more traditional/elaborate Florentine boxed notecard set.

Another, bright colored modernish flower paintings;
Another set with photos of floral bouquets on a white background.

Crane's and Papyrus both seem to have gift sets that include a pen, too.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:04 PM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

How about an awesome insulated mug? It's on the top of my brain because I'm currently using this particular Thermos one. I would have LOVED if someone gave it to me as a gift. And everyone needs hydration; whether coffee, tea, water or "other" right? Make it snazzier by putting it in a pretty gift bag with some nice tea, or some foo-foo cocoa mix, or 1 or 2 of those single-pot packets of fancy coffee and it's good to go. Thoughtful and generic at the same time.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 1:19 PM on April 26, 2011

Gifts flow down the hierarchy, not up. It's not appropriate or necessary for you to give your boss a gift.

Since you say she's expended a lot of effort on your behalf, a handwritten note expressing your appreciation in formal language will be the best way of showing your gratitude.

Do it properly: instead of buying her a pen or paper, buy them for yourself. Get yourself any old cartridge pen, something by Parker's is a good bet. Get cartridges in black ink, not blue. If blue cartridges come with the pen, throw them away.

Now get some writing paper with a weight of 100gsm or more, in white or cream. It needs to be post-quarto size, not A4 which is for business correspondence, nor A5 (this is quasi-social correspondence as it's a personal note). Never ever use black-bordered paper, which is only for condolence letters, and is considered icky even then. Just plain paper.

Fold it into thirds and seal it in an envelope of the same colour, ideally one with a diamond-shaped flap. You do not need to put a return address on the back, since you don't want to encourage her to write to you at home. Address it by hand, in handwriting rather than in block capitals, starting with "Title Firstname Lastname", and remember that if she's not "Dr" or anything like that, she will be "Ms" in the workplace unless you know that she habitually signs off as "Mrs Incorrect-Form" in which case you address her using the form she has indicated she prefers. Since you're also delivering it by hand, write "BY HAND" in the corner where the stamp would otherwise go.

This kind of letter tends to be inordinately thrilling to a lot of people. A bonus is that the wrong kind of person - the kind you don't like - tends to take offence at the painful propriety of the presentation. Win.
posted by tel3path at 2:03 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

If she's your boss and you don't particularly like her (especially if you think the gift could be construed in any way as not entirely genuine), and you don't actually know her well enough to think of anything, are you sure it would be appropriate to give her a gift at all?
posted by Sara C. at 3:12 PM on April 26, 2011

Please don't get her anything that isn't consumable.

I like the idea of flowers or an assortment of snacks she can share around the office + a brief, sincere note. The note is the most important bit.
posted by momus_window at 3:33 PM on April 26, 2011

Response by poster: I dunno, I've never been in an office where people didn't give gifts to their bosses when they parted. I always assumed it was sort of a thanks-and-please-give-me-a-nice-reference ritual. I worked in publishing for several years before moving to social work, but it's possible that publishing is just a weird, disingenuous industry? It's more than possible, I guess.
posted by pineappleheart at 4:23 PM on April 26, 2011

40$ will get you a reasonable pen in a gift box (that can be discarded). It's useful, not personal, and doesn't take up space (once that box is discarded).

I vote pen.
posted by el io at 5:22 PM on April 26, 2011

On the subject of pens, but with a slight twist: some people have a specific model of disposable pen that they always buy. I'm a Pilot G2 man myself, others prefer the Uniball Signo or the Pilot Precise V7 for instance.

That sort of pen is a definite step above the cheapest bic pens, and tends to be bought by people (like myself) who like to have something which feels satisfying to write with but which can be lost without it being a big deal. If someone gave me a nice pen, I'd never use it for fear of losing the thing. It would be a liability to me and possibly a source of minor irritation, to be honest.

However, if someone bought me $40 worth of black G2s, now that would warm the cockles of my heart. And it's something personal which you could probably easily find out about your boss if you don't know it already, just by watching her. It would make her feel like you've been paying attention, too.
posted by Scientist at 6:38 PM on April 26, 2011

i've never worked in an office where people DID give gifts when they departed, and i've never heard of anyone doing it. Where do you live? is it possible its a regional thing, rather than an industry thing?
posted by Kololo at 12:21 PM on April 27, 2011

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