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The question

I have a long-time friend in a different city. For years, as a sign of our friendship, we send each other flowers on our birthdays. In the past few years her flowers have been less than great. It may be because she uses the first florist in the phone book (starting with A). A few years back, I suggested a florist around the corner from me and said – “They’re so close you wouldn’t need to pay for delivery.” She used them once then went back to the lesser florist. In her case, I asked which florist she preferred – she told me and I use them. I hate to see her spending money on an inferior florist but cannot say that easily when I write my thank you note. I just don’t quite know how to say – you are paying a lot for something that looks as if it came from the grocery store. I was going to suggest that we just give the money we would spend to the local food bank, but this is a little sign of a long friendship that I would like to keep. Ideas?

The answer

Well, I don’t know if it’s an “idea” but my suggestion is you simply say “thank you,” appreciate the time and effort put in and move on.

But I’m not exactly a flower guy. I’m not an anything guy. I’m just a guy. Once my wife, in order to test me, took the case off my pillow to see how long it would take me to notice. Three weeks later, she said: “You know, you haven’t had a case on your pillow the last three weeks.”

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Me: “Huh. Waddaya know.”

So, I decided to pose this floral-based question to her. Her opinion? “If the problem is the flowers are dying quickly you should say something because the friend is therefore wasting her money.”

But with all due respect, I disagree.

I have numerous friends, many of whom have known me now for decades. Do they even know when my birthday is, let alone send me flowers?

(Cockney accent): “Not bloody likely.” And I have a hard time remembering theirs, so (Australian accent, now): “Fair dinkum.”

So, I think you should be grateful for the fact your friend remembers your birthday at all. I take my cue on this score from my “the Greatest Generation” father (roughly: came of age around the Second World War, although in truth he actually served in Korea) and how stoical he always was about the fact that none of his loved ones and those closest to him could actually remember what date was his birthday.

His attitude (although, in his stoicism, he would never say it): “It’s not about me.”

And I’ve attempted (with mixed results, let’s be honest) to emulate his stoicism to say it’s not about me if people forget my birthday and/or my present/presents suck and move on and let the focus be on everyone else.

And I would encourage you to adopt the same attitude. Who cares if the flowers your friend got you are not the most wonderful? She went to the florist, took the time and trouble; I think the main thing you should feel is gratitude.

It’s not as if it’s a romantic gesture. If that were the case, my advice would be very different. When I first attempted to woo the woman who later became my wife of 26 years, beg your pardon for saying so, but after our first … overnight encounter I bought her flowers.

I was going to buy roses, but I was a struggling young writer and (yes, I remember every dollar spent in that era) roses were $36 a dozen.

So I balked, and got her carnations instead. Sent them to her work. She worked in TV news at the time (and still does) and her high-profile, high-maintenance, high-intelligence co-workers examined my bouquet and said words to the effect of: “You did this dude the unbelievable favour of allowing him to sleep with you and he cheaps out on the flowers? What are you doing with this dude? Drop him!”

Luckily I survived, but we’re talking about romance in that instance and it doesn’t seem to be your case so I would just accept the less-than-wonderful flowers and move on. Concentrate on other things: family, friends and everything else that suddenly seems so important in the holidays – and in fact is.

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