Gift-Giving in the Empire

Pile of giftsAs should be quite clear by now, the culture of the Empire (the main country with which the Shine Cycle is concerned) is very different from our own in many ways. Today I’d like to explore another aspect of it suggested by the season we have now entered.

The Empire is quite prosperous, and the culture encourages generosity, so gift-giving is quite common. But in perhaps the reverse of our culture’s habits, this happens sometimes on birthdays or holidays (including Christmas), but mostly at other times, unprompted. (Perhaps most common of all is giving “at need”—prompted by a need—but I’m thinking more about “presents” than “alms” at the moment.) Some areas have developed the practice of what we might call “hobbitish” giving (since Tolkien may have been the first to conceive of it), that is, of guests of honor at Occasions giving away gifts rather than receiving them, but this is by no means widespread.

Now, despite—or perhaps because of—this prosperity, recipients tend to almost ignore the monetary value of gifts, and givers consider prices only in whether they can afford them. In giving, both giver and recipient consider the gift’s true value to be its suitability and (more so than in our culture) its use for the recipient. Books, music (that is, sheet music; see my earlier essay on music in the Empire) for the musically inclined, food (favorite meals, delicacies, rare treats, and so on), and high-quality tools are typical gifts. By contrast, knick-knacks, “collectibles”, and things made to be given rather than to be used are frowned upon—a gift is supposed to improve the recipient’s life, and Yet Another Trinket is clutter that he or she will have to find a place for. (Jewelry and the like are in a sort of grey area, somewhat dubious in general but well-appreciated by and so a good gift for a plurality of the population.)

What do you think of these customs?

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