The Art of Giving a Gift

An oft-heard homily—"It's the thought that counts"—is put more lyrically by the Chinese—"To walk a thousand li and present a swan feather; the gift is light but the friendship is solid."

Whether a gift is intended to transform a life, or merely light up a moment, there's an art in deciding what to give and how to present it. For splashy giving, it's hard to trump Catherine the Great of Russia. Famously generous, she presented her lover Count Grigory Orlov with the Marble Palace in St. Petersburg, the nearby Gatchina country estate and several hundred serfs. But now that feudalism is out of fashion, how's a world leader meant to make an impression? A peek at the records kept by the White House, specifically by the Protocol Gift Unit, reveals how the G-20 set handles these delicate decisions.

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