If you’ve ever been shopping anywhere in The Netherlands you have probably been asked the question, “Is het een cadeautje?” It’s a common question, especially during the months leading up to Sinterklaas and Christmas. In fact, I hear it so often that I sometimes expect the checkout girl to ask me it as I do my weekly food shopping.
“Is deze melk een cadeautje?”
“Ya, als cadeautje alsjeblieft.”
If I were to translate “Is het een cadeautje,” word for word it basically means, “Is it a gift?”. However, I have learned that it is a mistake to take this question at face value or to even assume that it is the question that is really being asked. It is not a question asked out of idle curiosity about your gift shopping habits. It has a double meaning, a silent question that is never asked but always understood (by the Dutch at least). “Is het een cadeautje?” really means, “Would you like this wrapped?”
Once you are aware of this double meaning it probably sounds pretty easy to deal with the situation. However, the difference between the question that is asked and the question that is meant creates some problems.
Is het een cadeautje voor uzelf?
Imagine that you are buying something for yourself and when you approach the counter to pay for it you are asked the question, “is het een cadeautje?” You now have two options:
1) You can say no and admit that the My Little Pony action figure that you just bought is actually for yourself and it does not need wrapping or…
2) You let them wrap it anyway and have your own private gift unwrapping moment at home later.
Is het een cadeautje voor iemand anders?
It does not get any easier when you are buying a gift for someone else either, especially if you want to wrap it in your own fancy wrapping paper (that compliments the Christmas tree decorations so well). This time when they ask, “is het een cadeautje?” you now have three options:
1) You could keep it simple, lie a little and say no just so that they will leave it unwrapped, thus making it easier for you to wrap it later. However, this will now lead to them believing that the ‘Little Princess Tea Party Play Set’ you just bought is for yourself.
2) Alternatively, you could be honest, tell them it is a gift but that you would like them to leave it unwrapped so that can wrap it yourself later. However, this response first leads to a moment of confusion as they automatically reach for the wrapping paper upon hearing the word, “yes,” and then hurt feelings by what they believe is an insult to their gift wrapping skills.
3) Finally, it might just be easier to let them wrap it so that you can unwrap and re-wrap it later. However, while doing this you might discover that their gift wrapping skills were in fact better than yours all along and never be able to look them in the eye again.
It is a dilemma that never gets any easier.
Is het een cadeautje van ons winkle?
Sometimes when picking the last option you might be lucky and discover that the wrapping paper the shop is using is actually quite nice. Maybe you don’t have to worry about re-wrapping it after all. Unfortunately they then place a great big sticker on the freshly wrapped gift, clearly advertising the shop’s name and showing everyone that you obviously did not bother to wrap the gift yourself.
If you are anything like me you might try to carefully peel the sticker off as soon as you exit the shop. This is probably why they make sure they press it on so hard. It’s impossible to get it off without ripping the paper.
If you’re quick enough you might just be able to stop them stamping it on but be prepared for some annoyed looks. Refusing the sticker is akin to refusing to acknowledge the selfless free gift wrapping service the shop provides (and that you just took advantage of). A better solution might be to put a bigger sticker of your own over their sticker.
Is het een cadeautje?
Either way, answering the question, “is het een cadeautje?” is not as easy as it might first seem. It’s possible that there is no correct answer. The best option is whatever you are most comfortable with doing… or shopping online. That way you avoid the question all together.