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Ruining The Christmas Surprise

Here’s another fruitcake for your holiday smorgasbord of never-ending tactlessness.

My cousin and her spouse (let’s call her Victoria) work at the same company as my mother in a major Northeastern American city. I could regale the world with incidents of Victoria’s boorishness, sense of entitlement, and gimme-pig attitude for years, but this one particular incident stuck out, because this is a new low even for her.

My mother and Victoria (who work in the same building) are outside for a cigarette break. Conversation goes like this:

V: So, what do you want for Christmas?
Mom: I don’t want anything for Christmas. I’m only buying gifts for my daughter [the OP] this year and nobody else. It’s been a rough year. (After hearing this, I felt a little bad myself.)
V: Oh, okay. The people upstairs (who Victoria works with, as opposed to the people who my mother works with) wanted to get a gift for you and didn’t know what to get you, so…

Really!? This is a whole new way to ruin the surprise. I fully understand the difficulty of having to hold back a surprise; I surprise my friends with gifts for special occasions, and I can barely keep it together in the waiting time up to the gift giving day, but I know the payoff of their reaction will be well worth the wait and the patience. If I’m having difficulty, I enlist some mutual friends to help in coming up with a gift. Although I sometimes jokingly warn my friends that they are to be a recipient of a gift from me to where they are, in good humor, terrified, I don’t try and force anything on them that they don’t want, nor do I outright ruin any surprise.

When my mother told me this story, she punctuated it with, “Victoria is a jerk!” 1218-13

{ 51 comments… add one }
  • NostalgicGal December 24, 2013, 3:09 am

    At least it sounds like the OP’s mom has Victoria’s MO down pat.

    I agree, tack-ee and earning Victoria citizenship from the planet Boron.

  • Yasuragi December 24, 2013, 5:22 am

    It sounds like they asked Victoria to snoop for them and when your mom said she didn’t want anything Victoria clarified that it would be for an inter-office gift so your mom could give a few easy ideas, not because she wanted to blab about a secret present.

    But your mother knows her better than I do. Maybe it was all in her tone.

  • the-not-so-divine-Mn-Miss-M December 24, 2013, 5:29 am

    I think there seems be to be some sort of pre-existing animosity towards this Victoria. She is charged with finding out the x-mas wish of the mother, an opportunity which is closed, and decisively at that with the.ensuing explanation. Nonetheless, there are people needing an answer on what to get her. I.cannot fathom, how the short explanation entirely ruins Christmad and makes Victoria a boor. Surely, a present is still delightful, even if one was aware that it was coming?
    I feel that it is the OP coming off looking slightly worse in this story, and I certainly see no seat reserved for Victoria in e-hell

  • Lo December 24, 2013, 7:09 am

    I don’t actually understand what she was trying to do and why it’s so bad. Was Victoria fishing for suggestions?

    Also, is the surprised ruined if your mother refuses to give suggestions? I mean, if Victoria is a jerk then she’s a jerk, but couldn’t your mother have simply said, “That’s very kind,” and refused to give any indication of what she liked and it would be the same as telling someone they were going to get a gift without telling what it was?

    I might be reading this whole thing and If so I apologize. Though is it possible her department is really unsure what to get her and someone put her up to it and she honestly thought it was no big deal to ask what your mother liked? Especially since she’s family?

  • Nicole December 24, 2013, 7:22 am

    Sorry, I don’t see how Victoria was being a boor. Being related to your mom, she was probably chosen by the ‘people upstairs’ to find out what your mom would like. I don’t think there was a surprise to ruin since there was no gift chosen yet. In fact it seems like by adding the information about the people upstairs she was being even less of a boor by giving your mom a new perspective and the opportunity to maybe tell a few things that she would like – movie tickets, gift certificate, etc. A gift from a boss is a different category than gifts from family as there is not the same expectation of exchanging gifts. It’s not like Victoria is profiting from this conversation by trying to earn a ‘gift in trade’ with your mom. A really rude or tactless person would have gone back to the bosses and reported that your mom didn’t want anything, don’t bother getting her a gift. I can imagine your mom’s reaction would probably be the same if she found out after the holidays that she should have gotten a gift but didn’t because Victoria didn’t tell her why she was asking.
    “Victoria is such a jerk! She should have told me she was asking on behalf of her bosses! I would have loved a gift certificate to XYZ. I thought she just trying to get gifts out of me.”

  • KarenK December 24, 2013, 8:14 am

    Yes, Victoria is a jerk. I’d have said the same thing. I would not have wanted to be obligated to get a gift for the person who asked. I don’t blame your mother for thinking that it was a personal inquiry and not business-related (the upstairs group probably asked Victoria to sound the OP’s mom out as to what she might like).

    This is a lot like being asked “What are you doing on Saturday?”, when you think the person wants to do something fun, but they really want you to help them move. It’s almost a bait and switch, but in reverse.

  • Shannan December 24, 2013, 9:37 am

    Sorry but I get the feeling that in this family, anything Victoria does makes her a jerk. All she did was say the office was planning to get her mother in law something. Not seeing the problem here OP.

  • clairedelune December 24, 2013, 9:39 am

    Wasn’t she just looking for gift ideas? I agree that that’s a very clumsy way to do it, and she may well be a jerk in other ways, but this doesn’t sound that horrible,

  • Twilight December 24, 2013, 9:41 am

    I also don’t understand what Victoria did that was so bad. Certainly nothing that qulaifies her as a jerk. If anything, the mother is the one that comes across as being overly curt. I get that there may be some background here that is not coming through in the letter but really, if this is what qualifies as a “new low” for Victoria I think the OP is pretty harsh in her judgements.

  • Alie December 24, 2013, 9:42 am

    I’m confused.

    Victoria asked your mom what she wanted for Christmas.
    Your mom said she didn’t want anything.
    Victoria said that the people upstairs (who Victoria works with) were planning on getting her something and didn’t know what to get.

    I do not understand how this is rude. The people upstairs wanted to get something for your mom, but couldn’t figure out what. So Victoria was trying to figure out.

    In my opinion, getting your mom something she actually wanted is far better than the surprise aspect. I mean, would it really have been better if your mom had been “surprised” with something she already had or couldn’t use?

  • Glitter December 24, 2013, 9:49 am

    I’m lost, how is knowing someone wants to get you a gift rude? It sounded like Victoria was clarifying that she wasn’t looking for a gift swap with OP’s mom but rather her co-workers wanted to get Mom something for Christmas for reasons, knowing Victoria would likely talk with Mom on smoke break, they ask her to ask Mom for some present ideas. So she asks Mom who puts the kibosh on gift swapping, saying that she’s only buying for her daughter this year (which is totally fine and I think she handled that well), so then Victoria (who still has no information on what she wants) lets Mom know that her co-workers want to get Mom a gift for Christmas.

    I’m not even sure how this ruins the surprise. I mean, I know my partner, my mom, and my grandparents are getting me gifts for Christmas. I’m still going to be surprised at the presents.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith December 24, 2013, 10:09 am

    If the OP’s mother knows Victoria well then she should be astute enough to avoid any such inquiry. You know the expression- “fool me once, shame on you… fool me twice,-“.

  • Whodunit December 24, 2013, 10:27 am

    I just don’t get it — how was this all that bad?

  • Kat December 24, 2013, 10:31 am

    Given that the OP’s mother seems to place importance on reciprocating gifts given (that’s why she said she didn’t want anything, right?) wasn’t Victoria being kind of nice to give her a heads up that someone was going to get her something? I’d have appreciated the notice. Maybe I’m reading this wrong.

  • shhh its me December 24, 2013, 10:37 am

    I’m a little confused as to what the offense was. Since the complaint was about spoiling surprises. For a personal relationship I understand a little ,I’d still feel a bit uncomfortable if the fact a friend got me a Christmas gift was a surprise because I misjudged the closeness of the relationship. I’m confused how a group of co-workers or bosses(“the people upstairs” being plural) give a surprise Christmas gift to just one person? IF co-workers are exchanging gifts don’t they all know it? Was it Victoria job to find out what everyone wanted (for the bosses) or just your mom? That could fall under the category of job duty. I’d be slightly surprised if this was the only year gifts were given and none of the employees had a clue gifts were the norm in the past.

  • Lerah99 December 24, 2013, 10:39 am

    I agree with the people who have posted. I don’t understand how Victoria is the jerk in this situation.

    As far as I can tell, here is what happened:
    – The people Victoria works with asked her “Hey, find out what your Husband’s Aunt might like for Christmas. We’d like to get her something.”
    – Victoria casually askes while she and her Aunt-in-Law are on smoke break.
    – Aunt-in-Law thinks Victoria is going to buy her a presents and doesn’t want one because she won’t be buying Victoria one.
    – So Aunt-in-Law explains it has been a rough year and she’ll only be able to purchase a present for her daughter. And since that is the case, Aunt-in-Law doesn’t want anything for Christmas because she won’t be able to reciprocate.
    – Victoria clarifies that she isn’t asking for herself but on behalf of her coworkers who would like to do something nice for Aunt-in-Law.

    The happy surprise for Aunt-in-Law should be that Victoria’s coworkers think so highly of her that they would like to give her a gift even though she works on a different team. The fact she now knows about the gift shouldn’t change anything.

    Rather than “Victoria’s a jerk!” the response should have been “That is so sweet. I am touched. If they are looking for ideas please let them know that anything would be appreciated. I do enjoy restaurant abc, coffee shop xyz, store cde, and easily obtained items (like scented candles, nice smelling soap, chocolates…).”

  • Deb December 24, 2013, 10:48 am

    “I could regale the world with incidents of Victoria’s boorishness, sense of entitlement, and gimme-pig attitude for years…” Perhaps, but you didn’t. We’ll have to take your word for it, won’t we?

    “…but this one particular incident stuck out, because this is a new low even for her.” Your mother came loaded for bear and gave a rather terse answer to an innocent question. What, exactly, did Victoria do wrong? You and your mother obviously don’t like her, which makes me take your original description of her with a big grain of salt.

  • Allie December 24, 2013, 11:22 am

    I don’t see what she did that was so bad in this instance. I mean, your mother is an adult. As an adult, I find I’m well beyond the desire for Christmas surprises and even celebrating birthdays anymore. Those things of childhood have naturally fallen away as I’ve gotten older. I’m sorry your mom’s had a difficult year. I hope things improve.

  • RobM December 24, 2013, 11:28 am

    Victoria might be clumsy and tactless. There might be a lot of backstory missing that puts her actions into context, too.

    But based on what we’ve got here, she’s not exactly public etiquette enemy #1. She’s not even the grinch. In fact I’d suggest of the players here “mother” is just as bad because she clearly enjoys perpetuating the “story” of Victoria’s crime, when it seems that the classy thing to do might be either to let it be or take it up with Victoria.

  • Shoebox December 24, 2013, 11:46 am

    OP, the only thing that’s really coming through clearly here is your dislike for Victoria… and if this is the absolute worst example of her heinous behaviour EVAR that you you can possibly come up with, I’d suggest your perspective on her was a little off to begin with.

    Was she clumsy, even a bit tactless to so quickly reveal the surprise? Yeah, probably. However, was it really the absolute end of the world for your mom, that an unexpectedly kind, thoughtful gift she didn’t know was coming is now an unexpectedly kind, thoughtful gift she knows is coming? Oh, c’mon now.

    I mean, there’s only one way this could’ve had an unhappy ending, and it seems like you and mom have gone out of your way to find it. Otherwise, mom tells Victoria what she wants, fakes surprise when her co-workers give it to her, and leaves the whole incident behind with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for nice people doing something nice, and possibly a rueful chuckle over Victoria being Victoria.

    Instead, you’re both so busy stewing needlessly over one person’s mild gaucheness that there’s no mention of the outcome of her co-workers’ kind deed at all. Um, happy holidays to you too?

  • Shoegal December 24, 2013, 11:47 am

    I also don’t see why Victoria is such a jerk. I agree that the people upstairs asked Victoria to give them an idea about what your mother would want. When your mother was not forthcoming Victoria told your mother why she was asking. I don’t see why that is such a horrible thing. I often ask the people on my list for suggestions on something they would really like. It may ruin the “surprise” but I prefer that the recipient has exactly what they would have wanted instead of guessing and probably missing the mark. If the people upstairs wanted this to be a surprise then I agree that Victoria could have done a better job still getting the info without revealing their plans.

  • Anonymous December 24, 2013, 11:47 am

    I think it was a fail on two fronts–Victoria, for coming straight out and asking the OP what she wanted for Christmas (which is a difficult question in that kind of situation, because of price range, reciprocity, fear of being singled out, etc.), and for the co-workers, for not choosing a “go-between” who’s better at this kind of thing. After being in the same place with the same people every day for even a few months, most people can figure out that, say, Jim-Bob likes dogs, and Josh likes baseball, and Jana plays Ultimate Frisbee, John-David plays the guitar, and Jill, Jessa, and Jinger all love theatre, and red is Joy-Anna and James’ favourite colour, but they don’t like burgundy. Anyway, the conversation the co-workers had shouldn’t have consisted of “Victoria, go find out what the OP wants for Christmas,” but rather, “What do people here know about the OP’s interests, likes, and dislikes?” Then, people would volunteer information that they’d gathered, and put it together, so, for example, “I saw a picture of her with her dog on her office wall,” or “I know she always wears that purple scarf when it’s cold out,” or “Last week during lunch, she said she was stoked for the Ani Difranco concert she’s going to with her sister next month.” From there, they could draw their own conclusions. Maybe they’ll get it wrong–maybe the giftee (hypothetically) doesn’t really like purple, but couldn’t find her other scarf, and has been wearing the purple one just to keep warm. Maybe the dog picture is just there to cover up a mark on the wall. Maybe it’s not Ani Difranco she’s stoked for, but the time with her sister. However, the important thing would be that they tried, and sometimes disastrous gifts can be hilarious; for example, if the well-meaning co-workers were to end up gifting the OP with, say, a purple dog sweater with a picture of Ani Difranco on it. Then, this Christmas would be forever immortalized as “The Year of The Purple Ani Difranco Dog Sweater.”

  • CaffeineKatie December 24, 2013, 11:50 am

    Yep, I HATE when people send me to find out what someone else wants for a gift. Victoria may be a jerk, but not in this case. Sorry, but I think you are wrong, OP.

  • just4kicks December 24, 2013, 12:05 pm

    I don’t really get why this is so offending. I would rather someone if they really feel the desire to get me a gift, to ask what I want, instead of guessing, so I receive something I need or would enjoy.
    As one poster put it, maybe it was in her tone.

  • Cat December 24, 2013, 12:08 pm

    I feel put on the spot when someone asks me what I want for Christmas. When I was younger, I’d say, “Tom Selleck”, but, now that we are both getting into the “aged” category, I have given him up.
    If you know me well enough to want to buy something for me, you should not need to ask. If you do not know me that well, why would you want to buy me a gift?
    Victoria handled her fishing expedition poorly. I would have asked, what is your favorite store/perfume/chocolate/charity/wine after I had mentioned my favorite. “I just love store X! Their chocolates are the best!” Most people will respond by telling you their favorite.

  • Ergala December 24, 2013, 12:29 pm

    Um I don’t see how Victoria is a boor. What I find rude is telling your in law that the only person you’re giving a gift to is your daughter this Christmas. I see absolutely nothing wrong with Victoria’s response at all. She didn’t tell the OP’s mother what they were getting her, she merely mentioned that they wanted suggestions what to get her. It seems like Victoria is the family black sheep and you all wait for her to do something so you can pounce on her.

  • Nannerdoman December 24, 2013, 1:56 pm

    So, Victoria asks Mom what she wants for Christmas. Heinous. THEN she tells her that it’s on behalf of co-workers, who want to get Mom a gift she will like. Well, butter my buns and call me a biscuit. Victoria just spoiled the huge surprise that people want to get Mom a gift at a gift-giving season. I don’t know how this woman sleeps at night!

    I also don’t know where the etiquette violation is.

  • lakey December 24, 2013, 2:56 pm

    Victoria’s rudeness is in telling the mother that she is getting a gift from some of the people at work. It is no longer a surprise. Also the mother may feel a need to reciprocate. I also feel that it takes effort to think of something a person would like. Insisting that they tell you what they want, depending on how it is done, can take away the joy of opening a surprise gift.

  • Marozia December 24, 2013, 4:34 pm

    Poor old Victoria just can’t do anything right in your family, can she, OP!!
    She’s not a boor, nor is she etiquette challenged. Stop treating her as the family joke.

  • Yvaine December 24, 2013, 5:02 pm

    I’m confused too. Does the ellipsis cut out an ending to the sentence like “so we bought you a funny hat and a Starbucks gift card”?

  • Sarah Peart December 24, 2013, 7:12 pm

    Could it be that Victoria used the reply to tell the people upstairs that the OPs mother did not want a present? I have no real reason for assuming this but otherwise I am not really sure why this was such a negative thing otherwise, as others have said office gifts are often bought with the recepient having a say in what was bought!

  • Angel December 24, 2013, 9:55 pm

    This story just illustrates the point–some people just continually look for things to be offended about. In this case I am talking about the OP–and her mother.

  • Randalf December 25, 2013, 12:03 am

    OK, pray tell me what Victoria is supposed to say in this situation so as not to 1) ruin the surprise that is so important to the OP, and 2) appear as a “boor”. If she told the OP’s mom there would be a gift from her boss or coworkers, then she’d get the wish from OP’s mom but at the same time “ruined the surpise”; had she kept silent, she’d get no information. If that gift later turns out to be not to OP’s mom’s liking — and she finds out that Victoria has been asked to inquire about her preference — I’m sure she would describe Victoria in terms much ruder than “jerk”.

  • Randalf December 25, 2013, 12:50 am

    There seems to be some interesting dynamics going on between Victoria and the rest of the family. The OP already perceives V as an entitled “gimme pig” and it is not much of a stretch of imagination to assume that OP’s mother thinks the same. So when V asked, “what would you like to have for Chrismas”, OP’s mom jumps to the conclusion that V meant, “hey it’s your turn to ask ME what I want!” — OP’s mom’s response, “no, I’m not giving presents to anyone but my daughter”, is exactly in line with this thinking. So V’s subsequently reply sort of blindsided OP’s mom, thwarting her expectation, and her anger might not be due to the surprise being ruined, but the embarrassment that she might have judged V wrongly.

  • crebj December 25, 2013, 8:58 am

    What a lovely show of gratitude on your mother’s part. And weren’t you kind to share it with us all. And now I’m putting on my fireproof coat

  • Kali December 25, 2013, 3:19 pm

    Add me to the crowd of people baffled as to what Victoria’s supposed to have done wrong.

  • sweetonsno December 25, 2013, 4:52 pm

    It’s entitled and greedy to ask someone what they want for Christmas?

    It was totally clumsy if this gift was supposed to be a surprise, but if the “girls upstairs” specifically asked Victoria to find out what your mom wanted, I doubt that was the case.

  • AS December 25, 2013, 6:32 pm

    I don’t see why this is so atrocious! Unless there is a pre existing animosity.
    Your mother is not a 5 year old to feel awful about the suspense being lost. My MIL asked me directly what u want, and I was around when she ordered the gift because she wanted to know my choice of color and style. I don’t think that is tacky or greedy!
    It is also possible that Victoria was fishing to buy something for your mother.

  • Athena December 26, 2013, 12:32 am

    You know, I read this very late last night, and I was wondering if I was half-asleep, because I couldn’t figure out the huge sin.

    I’m so glad to see I wasn’t the only one.

  • Goldie December 26, 2013, 9:29 am

    Glad to see I wasn’t the only one confused as to what Victoria had done wrong!

  • Deb December 26, 2013, 10:41 am

    Cat, I agree that it’s an awkward question for an adult. My go-to answer these days is “Peace and quiet.”

  • SV December 26, 2013, 11:01 am

    Actually, I don’t see Victoria as being a jerk – I see her as trying to find out what your mother might like for an inter-office gift. She didn’t blow the news that the OP’s father is taking her mother away for a trip of a lifetime, after all – she simply was trying to get gift ideas for a third party, and a third party who is an office co-worker. I can’t imagine that an office present has such deep and sentimental meaning that this is really a big deal – if the co-workers don’t know the Mom well enough to already have an idea of what to get her, then I doubt it will be a really personal and significant gift. This sounds a lot like the OP & her Mom already have a resentful history with Victoria, so there probably isn’t much she can do right for them.

  • WillyNilly December 26, 2013, 12:50 pm

    I can point out two jerks in the OP’s submission but neither is Victoria. Victoria is simply making polite a cheerful normal holiday conversation, the OP’s mom however is pouring out the nasty and negativity… Maybe that’s why Victoria is seen as a jerk? How dare she be cheerful and polite and normal when clearly all mom wants is doom, gloom and nastiness?

    Even if not exchanging gifts with one another having a light chat about Christmas hopes is pretty normal and cheerful conversation among most co-workers. And as for the surprise, what did Victoria do? She didn’t reveal what the gift would be (obviously since she was trying to suss out what might be wanted) AND she gave the OP’s mom a heads up to expect a gift from the office folks – which sometimes can be awkward if one receives a gift and wants to reciprocate but hadn’t known to plan on a giving a gift.

  • AIP December 26, 2013, 3:59 pm

    This whole entry is confusing. Mother jumps to conclusions but it’s Victoria who’s the jerk? Is there latent homophobia in there somewhere because Victoria is married into the family – she’s the one “encouraging” the cousin to be gay perhaps?

  • Susan T-O December 26, 2013, 5:01 pm

    I have a question for the OP. Let’s suppose we go back in time, and we are now at the point where your mother has told Victoria that she doesn’t want anything for Christmas. V’s now in a bit of a quandary. She’s been tasked with making sure that the group gift is something your mother will like, and she’s nothing. What, in your opinion, should she have done at this point? She could have pressed your mother for an answer, and come off as being a pushy person who doesn’t listen to someone else’s wishes. She could have gone back to the group and said, “Nope, she doesn’t want a thing” which could have resulted in your mother either a) getting nothing or b) getting something she didn’t really like or want. So again I ask–what would you have had Victoria do or say instead of giving the reason for the query?

    Frankly, of the two people involved in the conversation I think your mother was the ruder participant. When one is asked, “What would you like for Christmas?” the correct answer should not include *any* version of “Don’t bother buying for me, because I’m sure as heck not giving anything to you.”

  • Susan T-O December 26, 2013, 5:02 pm

    Arrgh, I proofread that several times & of COURSE I find the error after clicking submit. The third sentence should read “and she’s *got* nothing.”

  • KarenK December 27, 2013, 11:03 am

    I see I’m going to have to curb my urge to post too quickly! I do think this was a poorly handled fishing expedition. But I maintain that because Victoria is family, “What do you want for Christmas?” is not a casual inquiry, and the OP’s mom did not take it as such. It came off like, “So, what do you want me to get you for Christmas?”, with the implication that now the OP’s mom should ask what Victoria wants to reciprocate which OP mom did not want to do. So she answered honestly and maybe a bit abruptly.

    I don’t see it as such a big deal that Victoria blew the secret of her co-workers wanting to get OP mom a gift.

  • Angel December 27, 2013, 11:06 am

    Susan T-O brings up a very good point here. When you look at it like this actually Victoria comes off as the more polite one in this scenario. A little awkward yes, but certainly not impolite. While the OP’s mom, I believe comes off as downright nasty with her response. And a little defensive!

    Victoria should tell the ladies at work to purchase a candle and be done with it! This way she can use it or give it away as she sees fit.

  • Angeldrac December 28, 2013, 6:08 am

    Ok, there’s a but if OP bashing going on, here. I would looooooove to hear from the OP again, so that they can clarify a few of the things people are bringing up, here.
    Please, OP? Can you come back to us?

  • Katie December 30, 2013, 5:12 pm

    I’m confused that so many people are confused.

    It seems pretty obvious to me that the fact that the other coworkers were getting the OP’s mom a gift AT ALL was the surprise, not what the gift was. The OP’s mom wasn’t saying that Victoria was being a jerk for asking the question, she was being a jerk for killing a surprise that clearly other people in the office were planning.

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