The worst gift Margaret Rucker ever received was a ceramic model of Rodin's The Thinker, a wedding present she kept on a closet shelf for years before donating it to a thrift store.
Unusual though the present may have been for a new bride, it did turn out to be prophetic: Rucker has spent a good chunk of her academic career thinking about gift giving.
A professor in the UC Davis Division of Textiles and Clothing, Rucker focuses her research on consumer decision-making, international and domestic marketing, and the health and safety factors related to clothing. And over the last 20 years, she has produced many studies on gift-giving trends and gender and cultural gifting differences.
So who could be better qualified to answer pressing holiday questions such as what makes a gift good or bad, or how acceptable is it to re-gift?
Rucker presented her research at the Nov. 28 session of the Office of Research Distinguished Scholar Speaker Series. The monthly lecture series brings UC faculty and graduate students to the Office of the President headquarters to share research findings.
In a section of her presentation Rucker titles "Women are from Venus. Men are from the bank," she shared insights into the different ways the genders value gifts.
"Men think in terms of how much is spent," Rucker said. "Women have a more emotional and social reaction to a gift."
When Rucker queried couples about how much they thought their partner had spent on a gift, the men tended to underestimate what the woman spent on them while women tended to think the man had spent more than he had. Those perceptions might harken back to the need for both to feel like the man is the breadwinner and a good provider, Rucker said.
Another gender difference shows up on the subject of re-gifting. Rucker's studies have found that men are more likely to think re-gifting is acceptable than do women.
Based on other research studies, Rucker has come up with criteria bound to help with holiday shopping.
According to subjects she has interviewed, a good gift is one that:
• represents the receiver's interests;
• is durable and signals a commitment to a relationship;
• is expensive enough to show the giver sacrificed;
• surprises the receiver - although sometimes that can backfire if the recipient is caught off guard and doesn't have a gift to give in return.
On the flip side, a bad gift is:
• a token gift that shows little effort;
• a generic, one-size-fits-all gift;
• a joke gift;
• a practical gift;
• an addition to a collection because collectors enjoy hunting down their own collectibles;
• what the giver has always wanted;
• what the giver wants the recipient to be.
"So don't give anyone a membership to Weight Watchers or a ThighMaster," Rucker cautioned.
The newest trends in gift giving, she said, are re-gifting, shopping online and giving socially responsible gifts.
Her tips for making it a sustainable holiday include giving services or certificates for services, buying locally made products that don't use energy for shipping, packaging gifts in reusable wrappings like a scarf or tote bag, or donating to a cause instead.
The Distinguished Scholars Speaker Series will resume in January. All presentations are held at 1111 Franklin St., Oakland, in Room 5320 from noon to 1 p.m. Here is a preliminary list of upcoming speakers:
Jan. 16: Tallie Baram, professor of anatomy and neurobiology, UC Irvine, speaking on neuroplasticity
Feb. 19: Michael Burawoy, professor of sociology, UC Berkeley, speaking on New Orleans post-Katrina labor reconstruction
March 19: Claire Kremen, assistant professor of environmental sciences, policy and management, UC Berkeley, speaking on the loss of biodiversity
April 9: Eddy Rubin, director of the Joint Genome Institute at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, speaking on Neanderthal genome sequencing
For more information about the series, contact email@example.com