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did you get me anything? October 30, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences.
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Everyone wants to go on vacation, and when they come back from a particularly good one, their desks become a nexus of activity: what did you see? Do you have photos? Did you get me anything?

The first two, fortunately, are fairly easy to get around what with the prevalence of Facebook and its heavy use among corporate employees; you’d be hard-pressed to find a computer in your office without Facebook somewhere in its browser history over the past three business days. When I was in San Diego for a wedding last spring, I posted a ton of stuff on my Facebook, and I uploaded occasional mobile pictures to both Facebook and Twitter. Then, when I came back (and recovered from the jetlag), I posted all the photos to my Flickr and Facebook accounts. Everyone who cared to see the pictures could go see the pictures.

And as for gifts? My wife got a shirt, and my daughter got a stuffed toy and some clothes, all of which she likes very much.

But that’s just a trip across the country. What about if a co-worker goes somewhere truly special, such as Donnie, who — for work, mind you — got to take a three-week trip to China. Sure, he sent back photos, and sure, he e-mailed his accounts of what was going on, but no one asked him to bring anything back (as far as I know). I certainly didn’t. So I was quite surprised when he stopped by my desk to say hello and gave me a 1-Yen (yuan?) note. It cost him about 15 cents (according to Google), was light and easy to carry, and is something I think I would never have gotten my hands on on my own. It was, in short, the perfect souvenir, and I displayed it on my desk.

I personally have never asked for anything expensive from a co-worker going overseas; I’m a bit of a mass-transit version of a roadgeek, so I ask people to bring back subway maps if they can. From Ari, who went to Siberia, I got one of Moscow; from my friend Loco (referenced here), I got a postcard from Germany that incorporated a mass-transit station because he couldn’t find a map (or, probably forgot, but whatever). Neither one cost more than $1 — the map from Moscow was free — and they weren’t things I was particularly attached to the idea of receiving.

On the other hand, in 2003 I went to a convention as a guest broadcaster. I was pretty much in charge of the music for the entire event, and I had a deejay station set up in the dealers’ room. It was pretty cool; I got to meet a lot of people. And, on the last day, I walked around to the various booths and picked up souvenirs — good stuff for me, my wife, and a couple of friends who made specific requests — and a ton of little keychains and tchotchkes for my coworkers. They were all very appreciative.

So what do you do when you’re going to go on vacation? Do you offer to bring back gifts? Do you say “does anyone want anything”? Do you bring back surprises like I did in 2003? Do you bring back nothing but photos and memories? And if you’re the recipient of a vacation gift, what do you do with it? Especially if it sucks, or if it’s clear there was no thought put into it?

The people you work with are like your family, except that odds are you enjoy their company more because an artificial set of social rules is being imposed on your interactions so by rule you actually have to be nice to each other. At least you can tell your brother that the t-shirt he got you is stupid.

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