The gift of knowing how much to give at Christmas


Christmas is a dangerous time for the concierges and door-persons of our big city apartment blocks – they risk being buried alive under an avalanche of goodies.

The problem for us, the poor residents, is how much do we give them?  Too much sets a dangerous benchmark that our neighbours will resent; too little establishes an even more perilous precedent.

Are you too mean to give a decent gift, or too poor?  Will you be met at the front desk with thin-lipped efficiency … or the head-tilt and half-smile of sympathy?

If there’s a team, do you give them all the same gift? What about the team leader? What if they are all incredibly helpful, apart from the permanently bored Millennial who watches you wrestle bags of shopping and whose only assistance is to say “you should have got a trolley”?

To be fair, most of the concierges I know are grateful for the gesture, regardless of the gift.

A few, however, have stopped just short of pasting up a charity thermometer to indicate by how much residents have failed to meet their expectations.

One former caretaker I knew would talk incessantly about the Christmas bonus he was going to get.  To earn this bounty, he reduced costs by cutting services like cleaning.

He was eventually chased out of the building, leaving dancing dust bunnies in his slipstream.

But back to the point, how much do you give, either in cash or kind?  One concierge in an upmarket block says the standard gift is wine or chocolates or both, usually to a value from $20 to over $50.

But the old Socialist principle of “to each according to their need, from each according to their ability to give” seems to work in reverse for some residents.

“One year, a penthouse owner gave me a $2.50 packet of ginger biscuits … then waited expectantly for my expressions of surprise and delight,” another concierge told me. “Well, he got ‘surprise’.”

Another recalls being given one single can of beer by the owner of four apartments in the block.  However, a female renter of a one-bedder in the same building gave each of the four-strong concierge team a David Jones hamper “because you look after me.”

Meanwhile, there is another side to the Christmas coin, according to one veteran of the concierge trade: “The ones who complain most about not getting adequate Christmas presents tend to be the same people who are permanently grumpy and check their job description every time a resident asks for help.”

So a modest but significant gift would be the go, especially as I have some people coming round on New Years Eve and will need someone to let them in when I am too drunk to find the button on my intercom.

But where can I get a $20 bottle of drinkable Montepulciano and a box of edible chocolates around here? Of course, the concierge will know.

This column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.

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