It’s alarming to talk with someone on the phone and realize they suspect you are a liar. This past week I received, via FTD, a belated birthday package—a gourmet basket with some of my favorite things. Like tea, biscotti, and dried apricots. There was a warm message on the card accompanying it, wishing me lots of post-celebration, feet-on-the-ottoman relaxation this autumn… but there was no signature. No name. In effect, I got a thoughtful gift from someone I couldn’t thank for their thoughtfulness. Weird.
I called the customer service number in the packaging, and someone named Danielle answered. (On a Saturday afternoon… Kudos, FTD!) I explained the predicament, and Danielle said she understood but couldn’t tell me who sent the package.
“You mean you can’t tell me, as in you don’t know?” I asked.
“Oh, I know who sent it,” Danielle said. “But it’s just that I can’t reveal it to you.” When I asked why, she said, “Well, it’s our policy. A precaution, you know, in case they don’t want you to know who sent it.”
But why would someone who sent me a birthday gift want to remain anonymous? This was a gift basket, not a wing at the Met. Danielle paused for a minute before replying, matter-of-factly, “Because maybe you aren’t supposed to know.”
Danielle emphasized the “you” in a manner that implied that I might not be, in fact, who I said I was. Maybe I wasn’t, her tone suggested, the recipient of the gift, the one who would be sipping hot tea by a roaring fire, dipping almond biscotti. Instead I was some person who was inquiring about a gift given to someone else.
Perhaps I was just nosy, or perhaps I was someone more emotionally freighted… a jealous someone who happened upon an unexplained gift. Perhaps this gift basket wasn’t a gift basket at all, but the last straw in a series of other things I’d noted amiss: some late hours at work, unfamiliar numbers on a cell phone bill. I recalled an article I had read recently about how the owners of some hotels and restaurants work hard to accommodate their guests’ dalliances, including requiring staff to sign a letter of confidentiality, ensuring that they won’t divulge anything they see or hear. Does this apply to mail order? Did Danielle sign something, too?
“Wait,” I said to Danielle, on the phone, attempting to clear up any misunderstanding. “This is my gift. It’s really to me.”
“And anyway, if this was a romantic gift,” I reasoned, hoping to sound casually un-jilted (what might jilted sound like, anyway, over the phone?) “wouldn’t the contents of a gift basket be a little more—I don’t know—risqué, maybe, than, say, tea?” Tea was something you give a friend, or a relative, or someone English. It wasn’t usually a gift you usually gave to a romantic partner. When she didn’t say anything, I added, “I mean, seriously? Tea? Really?”
Danielle stayed silent, but I could hear her unrelenting breathing on the other end of the phone, and knew she wasn’t going to budge. I was less irked that she wasn’t going to tell me who sent the gift than I was by the notion that she thought I was a figure to be pitied.
She eventually said that she’d sent an email to the giver of the gift and would call and leave a message, too. She ended our encounter by thanking me for calling, adding, “Have a nice day.” But I could tell that she thought I wouldn’t.
Later that day, my friend and colleague Beth Harte sent an email. It was she who had sent the gift, she said, and she didn’t include a signature because she assumed her name and address would be on the box, somewhere. “Sorry for the confusion!” Beth said.
It was nice to know that Beth was thinking of me, and wonderful to be remembered. But more than that, it filled me with a kind of relief: that the gift basket was, in fact, just a gift. It was nothing more—and certainly not anything close to resembling a burden.