Grading Gadgety Gift Guides for Guys

Edith: Brilliant Wirecutter editor and gadget expert Brian Lam, I was wondering if you could offer any commentary on these “Gadget Gifts for Guys” recommended by Esquire. Also, what toothbrush do you use? And would you rather be given a chainsaw, cell phone, or bottle of mezcal this holiday season?

Brian: I’ve been thinking about how to approach my guide. I believe it’s good service and people love it, and I think my angle is to build it around the Japanese idea of gift-giving. Which is, from wiki, “honno o shirushi de gozai masu ga / ほんのお印(しるし)でございますが, meaning, ‘it only amounts to a symbol of my appreciation, but…’ [which] implies gratitude toward the recipient that the giver cannot fully express.”

I think that’s a good attitude for gift-giving, in contrast to the usual American mega-mall-type gift-giving barf-fest. The little things are always more memorable and special, and no one confuses them for anything but a symbol because of how humble they can be.

Gadgets in the Esquire guide are, unfortunately, both bad in terms of their symbolism and their overwroughtness. The chainsaw is a perfect example. Better is a handmade axe that says Compassion on the handle. Or Courage.

First off, whoever gets the axe will be able to keep it a lifetime and can hang it on a wall where it will look beautiful. Love was put into these things, and they were meant to be passed on an heirlooms. They’re better designed, and it’s also a lot sexier to be chopping wood with an axe than with a chainsaw. Shirts off!

I use a manual toothbrush, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to go electric soon, because this is the one to get (Professional Care 3000 Electric Rechargeable Power Toothbrush, $75).

I think many of these gadgets in this list are just the best but not the “right one.” Take the toothbrush, for example. That one they link to isn’t rated better than the Oral B one, I believe. It’s just the most expensive. And shooting right to the most expensive item for a gift is kind of an ugly sentiment. Wouldn’t it be better to have a card that says, “I did an hour’s worth of research, and this one is the one that everyone says keeps them happy with shiny teeth. I hope you like it”?

The lighter is OK. Because fire is always wonderful, and the lighter is a really amazing piece of technology in general. Instant fire, in your pocket. It symbolizes warmth, survival through hard times, smoking (which is fun and naughty), and light. And all of these attributes you can have with you at all times, as long as you continue to carry around your gift.

And I would prefer to be given alcohol, always, because alcohol is a vehicle through which magical social accidents happen, and which you can often not remember. And so such adventures take on a dream-like state. But the booze choice is also kind of weird. Clear booze implies a sort of coldness I don’t prefer when it comes to gifts. Brown liquors always seem friendlier. Maybe that’s just me, but imagine a gift of Maker’s Mark with its wax seal or something from a local distillery, versus a bottle of vodka. Exception: I would probably give someone a bottle of rumplemintz, which is clear, PLUS some really nice hot cocoa mix. Minty, alcoholic hot cocoa is mighty good after a day of skiing.

Cellphones make terrible gifts. Because they’re so frustrating at times but also cold/clinical. And you’re buying someone a phone that costs a few hundred dollars but the bill is going to be a few thousand dollars. It’s a meaningless gift. The only redeeming virtue is that someone can call you with it and it will get lots of use. But chances are most people already have phones. Anyhow, the contract aspect of the phone is too complicated. It’s not like you can say, “Surprise, I got you a phone and two-year commitment that you didn’t ask for, Merry Christmas!”

Chocolate-covered jalepeños are probably going to make someone you love fart a lot or have burning poops.

And the helmet camera Barry likes is expensive and not that high quality. Same with the wireless speaker. And both are kind of meaningless.

These gifts are kind of not that great. I’d feel bad if someone got me most of these.

In the end, I think a bad gift is worse than no gift. Just be a good friend and buy them a drink to celebrate whatever it was that you were celebrating. There’s nothing worse than shitty gifts that are given just for the sake of ceremony.

Edith: Thank you, Brian! I’m either going to give you nothing or buy you an axe that says “Brian.”