Monday, September 22, 2008

Gift Story: The Dirt Track Race

Not long ago, we advocated the giving of selfless gifts. We suggested you consider spending time with the recipient doing something she likes and you hate, something you might never do otherwise.

Well, I decided to take my own advice: I went with my boyfriend to a dirt track race.

He was on cloud nine. Dirt track racing is one of his favorite things in the world, whereas my only experience with racing was watching the occasional 15 minutes of NASCAR before getting bored and retreating to the next room with a book. (I mean, seriously, all they do is turn left...) While I found dirt track racing slightly more interesting, alas, I'm unlikely ever to be much of a racing fan. But the experience did teach me something about how to approach to giving selfless event-going gifts.

Put Down Your Persona

This type of gift works best when the event in question is something that you would never otherwise do. The problem is, there's most likely a good reason you would never do said activity: It just isn't you. It's likely to take you out of comfortable, familiar territory. You may even feel a bit embarrassed to be wherever you are.

So it's important to begin with the right attitude: Put down your persona.

Your persona is the mask you wear in day to day life, the character you want everyone to see. But since whatever it is you're about to do likely doesn't fit with that, it's important to set the image aside before you even get started. If you don't, you're likely to have a miserable time, and if you have a miserable time, your gift recipient will as well.

Find Something to Enjoy

Even if it's not your thing, chances are you can find something to become interested in and possibly even enjoy.

For instance, during one of the races, the announcer read the names of each driver on the track. He pointed out one car that was painted blue with pink wheels. It was a female driver, and she was making her racing debut that evening. The announcer joked about the pink wheels, but I was immediately intrigued. Racing is still pretty male-dominated, and here was a woman about to race for the first time. I rooted for her the whole night. She didn't win anything, but she held her own, and I had found some aspect of the evening that held my interest.

Be an Anthropologist

Get curious about the event or activity you're attending. Notice the details and figure out the rules. What kinds of people enjoy this type of thing? What about it seems to appeal to them? For that matter, what is it that your gift recipient likes about it? Ask some good questions to keep yourself entertained and to show your recipient you are present and engaging with the experience. Bring a camera and take some pictures.

I found out that my boyfriend likes dirt track better than NASCAR because dirt is much slicker, and it takes more skill to race a car on dirt. He also likes that the drivers are local people who have a passion for cars and racing and typically put their own money into fixing up cars to race. That told me something about dirt track racing, but more importantly, it told me something about him.

Don't Fake Enthusiasm

The recipient most likely knows you're not discovering a new passion; you're there for him or her. Make every effort to have a good time, and by all means, don't sulk, but don't fake enthusiasm either.

Did I clap and cheer for the winning drivers? Absolutely. Did I let my boyfriend buy me a Dale Earnhardt Jr. tank top with the number "88" in rhinestones on the front? Uh.... NO.

Photo by Mike Swope

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