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Default Valentine’s Day present? Yes please

Two cartoon lovers

OK, so my title’s a bit tongue in cheek. As a Which? employee, I’m a pretty big fan of consumer choice! But sometimes I think we could use a nudge in the right direction, to save us the agony of making difficult decisions.

I’m not exactly anti-Valentine’s Day. My attitude seems to correlate directly to the likelihood that some handsome gentleman will send me a bouquet of flowers, a card or because I’m really not that fussy, a text message.

But having spoken to friends about the V-day, the key question doesn’t seem to be ‘should I do something?’, but ‘what should I do?’ Do you take that special someone out for a romantic meal? Give them an expensive gift? Buy them flowers? Reject rampant commercialism and simply cut a heart shape into their morning toast?

And most of all – it seems you can’t discuss these things with our partner beforehand. It’s not like a birthday, where you can check someone’s Amazon wishlist and grab something you know they’ll find useful. It would suck all of the romance out of the situation, not to mention making you look unimaginative!

Making Valentine’s Day shopping easy

In Japan, they’ve solved this problem rather neatly. On Valentine’s Day itself, the girls all buy chocolate for all of their male friends. This ‘giri’ (literally meaning ‘obligation’) chocolate is distributed among the men, who return the favour exactly one month later. On 14 March, also known as ‘White Day’, the men distribute ‘obligation’ chocolate to all their female friends.

On either Valentine’s or White Day, you can buy extra special ‘honne’ (meaning ‘real’) chocolate for the one you truly love – but you never need to worry about what that special gift might be. It’s always going to be chocolate.

This seems like a pretty good system to me. It might need a bit of tweaking if the love of your life is on a diet, or lactose intolerant, but it removes the pressure of having to surprise your loved one with something personal, surprising, romantic, expensive or all of the above.

Taking the risk out of Valentine’s Day

And as a potential receiver of Valentine’s gifts (no hints intended), I would prefer to avoid the awkward social dance of someone who secretly wants presents, but doesn’t want to ask for them. If your partner has to buy chocolate for everyone anyway, he can make you feel special by giving you slightly different chocolate.

But what do I know? Listening to myself, this all sounds terribly unromantic – a paint-by-numbers version of romance that’s just not… romantic. I’m the sort of person who’d happily agree to a uniform policy at work if it meant I didn’t have to choose a different outfit each morning, so perhaps I can’t be trusted with more in-depth choices like Valentine’s gifts.

I appreciate that romantic surprises can be a real joy, but I’m just not sure the occasional joy is worth the panic and risk that I’ll buy the wrong thing. What do you think? Would social customs or rules around romance have you breathing a sigh of relief, or missing the surprises?

Sophie Gilbert says:
15 February 2013

(Try again; something happened there, no idea what, so apologies if duplicate comment.)

The best and only Valentine’s gift I’ve ever had was a red carnation given to me by a handsome yound man in full Highland dress hired one Valentine’s Day by Sainsbury’s on Rose Street (small shop) to stand at the exit and give a flower to all the ladies. It hasn’t made me shop there more often than anywhere else, but nice touch!

If romantic surprises (“surprises” in italics) are a real joy, start by not giving them on Valentine’s Day?

I don’t want to sound like a Valentine’s Day scrooge, but in my mind, a couple shouldn’t need an excuse (like Valentine’s Day) to be romantic with one another. Rather than squeezing into an over crowded restaurant with hundreds of other people to eat from a special (reduced) Valentine’s Menu and receiving a marked-up bunch of flowers from Tesco, I’d much sooner promote a more romantic atmosphere in our relationship on a day-to-day basis.

For example, the other day, my partner bought me home a doughnut because apparently I’d been ‘going on about wanting a doughnut’ for days. I found that (and many other of his small but significant acts) terribly romantic – so I don’t think we need Valentine’s Day to celebrate being together.

And finally, on the Japanese custom – I have to agree Nikki that this does sound terribly unromantic! Even the word ‘obligation’ kills the mood a little for me – but I suppose you’re right, it does take the awkwardness out of it all.

Roland says:
19 February 2013

I agree. I believe Valentines, like many festivals, e.g. Christmas, are over-driven by commercialism. They are darkened by veils of corporate greed. It is not about gifts, or what activities one choose to do on what specific date, people should just enjoy the time spent together, whether it’s friends or the significant half.

While “giri” in Japanese literally translate to obligation, social duty, it isn’t carry a strong meaning as that. Giving giri chocolate is a sort of appreciation to male friends who are not your love interest but you either like them as a friend, or as a token of ‘sympathy’ for shy or unpopular souls. You don’t have to give it to everyone, it is a choice hence not an obligation.

I believe Koreans do the same. Hong Kong and China however, follows the US convention.

As a guy, I wish I live in Japan, it is pretty hard for us to know how popular we are, or if a girl really like me or not.