Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Sussy/Sussie by any other name

I learned a new word at Bible study today.
Spelled either "Sussy" or "Sussie" the word means a small unexpected gift.
A sussy isn't the bouquet of flowers you might bring to a sick friend or a bottle of wine that you might bring a hostess.
It is something else entirely.

I have experienced sussy here in Houston and let me tell you, for the most part...I don't like 'em

It has worked like this: I meet someone at some event, and for some reason, the person is later invited to my home. Perhaps she is interested in seeing my hat collection, or she is just going to drop by to visit for a moment. No big deal. A casual "no need to change outfits" kind of event.

When I open the door, there stand my new aquaintance, with a cleverly wrapped gift, or a colorful gift bag in tow.
I wonder what is going on.
"Oh, I brought you a little something" my aquaintance will say, thrusting the gift into my hands.

I'm never sure whether I should open it on the spot, or wait until we are all settled before undoing the wrapping.
I've tried it both ways, and still am not sure what is correct.

The "sussy" may be a small figurerine. A couple of small soaps. A candle. A hankie. A tiny book. A book mark.

Now my friend Kate brought me a hankie once, but that was a hankie from Switzerland, and we both think hankies are just darn cute and useful to boot.
So I liked that sussy.

The others?

A rose pink candle really doesn't work with my kitchen colors or my taste in scents. A figurine doesn't figure into my decorating or dusting needs either. Soaps the size of walnuts that are just annoying as all get out rolling into the sink and useless for lathering up beside.

I have learned to gush my thanks and make a mental note to be sure to display this friendly token if I ever invite this person over again.
AND...realize I am now obligated to shop for some do-dad to present as a present the next time I need to be present at her house.

Time to shop, buy,'s going to be a minimum of $5 and 15 minutes of my life for a "this will do" trinket. And "this will do" will have to do because I have usually never been to the person's house before, and therefore have no idea what they might enjoy.

Meanwhile I also am now burdened with figuring out where to put this little item, either on display or in storage. Yipes.
I am told a "sussy" is a Southern thing, but I don't know that is a fact for sure.
Basically I feel like my time is being squandered.
(New frog scrubs. Posting just cuz they are major cute. I totally love Laura's professional wear. Scrubs are so comfy, yet I would feel like a fraud if I wore them as a non-medical professional. I'm thinking about why that is too...)

Anyway, back to sussy.
Today in our Bible Study group we talked about selfishness and how if we think about others instead of ourselves we are closer to being like Jesus.
That we need to give to others of our time and resources.
I totally agree.
I also know that what I might consider to be "giving of my time and resources" might well be considered a burden to you.
Personally I feel like sometimes "gifts" are secretly power plays.
Example: If I come to your house, and after a few minutes of chat, how would you feel if I ask where the furniture polish is, because I just want to "help" you with your cleaning.
Would you sort of wonder if I was judging your cleaning skills?

Of if you had a brand new small binder for your class notes, and I gave you a larger sized one as a "gift" to use instead?
Would you be happy, and switch out your binder that matches mine, or would you be annoyed because you had shopped long and hard to find a binder that fit perfectly into your purse: you didn't want to switch, yet didn't want to offend me either?

The class discussion got pretty lively.
Interesting, all the ladies owned up to the fact that they NEVER want someone to empty their dishwashers for them (I would never be able to find my stuff again! was the general thought) and that towel folding help is a touchy subject.
Everyone seems to have a way that towels needed to be folded for their happiness.

I joked an older woman who was being defensive about NOT being defensive when offered deeds and gifts and services.
I asked her if she would be offened if I was sipping a cup of tea with her and then asked where her vacuum was, as I wanted to vacuum her house.
She said "Oh that would be great! Help yourself! Come on over!"

Easy going is she!
Me? If I was healthy and someone I barely knew pulled that stunt, I would be really disturbed.
If a good friend did that, I would ask her if my house really looked that dirty.
I don't think in either case I would view it as neutral or as a selfless gift.

Our group did agree that the book "The Five Languages of Love" nicely addresses this issue.
Understanding if the person best feels loved by sharing time, doing services, giving affirmation, presents or touch really matters if your "selflessness" is going to work.

My love language is the gift of time. As in spend time with me, don't bring me clutter.
I also feel love when I am affirmed.

A stranger who wants to touch me, or "do" something for me makes me nervous.
I wonder what do they really want?
I wonder what they expect in return.

I really don't get a gift out of the blue from a stranger for no reason at all.
Sussy frankly spooks me.

I think it is interesting that the Bible study group thought being "unselfish" meant mostly giving things (feed the hungry and clothe the naked, or if you want it to be a more interesting experience, go forth and feed the naked and clothe the hungry...) and doing service (offer to give rides, clean up after an event) yet sharing time and affirming is in very short supply.

Southern churches tend to hug a lot so if your love language is touch, head on down here, you will fit right in.

Anyway, those are my random thought about sussy.
As I mentioned before, my love language is the gift of time, and being affirmed.
Since you've read this far, I want to thank you so much for your sussy to me: You have given me your time by reading this, and I consider that to be a precious and delightful gift. I find that to be very affirming as well.

A boat-tailed grackle photographed against a cold gray sky yesterday.
No particular connection to this post...I just thought I would share.
Consider it a sussy if you want to.
I won't mind.


Anonymous said...

I declare, we must have that "cosmic jive" you mentioned! I say that because of two things in this post: Laura's scrubs and the whole idea of gift-giving (sussy).

Because of Doc's shoulder injury, he's been leaving for (& returning from) work in his scrubs this week. Normally, he changes at the clinic, but I have to help him get the shirt on/off. Anyway, we had discussed him wearing the scrubs in public. For some reason, seeing scrubs in a non-medical environment really rubs me the wrong way (is that because of an infection-control concern?). It's just funny that we discussed wearing scrubs and you've posted Laura wearing those adorable frog scrubs!

As far as the sussy thing, it does bother me when someone brings a gift by for no real reason (maybe I'm just not a gracious recipient?), and especially when the item is something I'd never use (does the giver even know anything at all about me?). The whole idea of giving a gift because a gift was received could go on forever! (And, does this giver have an ulterior motive?)

Now, if a visitor was to jump up and grab my vacuum cleaner or the dust cloth and polish, I'd probably initially feel offended, unless maybe they had mentioned this to me before coming over...then perhaps I'd be thrilled for the help.

As for the hugs: a hug from a friend is fine, but if you're a stranger - hands off. Maybe that's a bit because of the distrust I've learned from living in today's world.

As for you, I do so appreciate the time you take to write so eloquently and with such candor - you seem to be a long-time friend to me! Share all you want!

Lovella ♥ said...

Jill, this is definately a thought provoking post. I would love to know what your southern readers really think about sussies. Would they feel relieved if that went out of vogue?
I guess I'm a giver by nature and it really never occured to me that giving could be difficult to receive.
I expect that receiving is much more comfortable when the motive is understood. I'm learning that too.

I read to the end .. .thank you for that sussy. . .and the picture of the scrubs. I've also thought they look mighty comfy and also thought I wish had the authority to run down town with them (as though I was on my way to or from work at the hospital)

Anonymous said...


Believe it or not, you have given me sussy by writing this blog. Sometimes I feel like I am sneaking in the back door or stealing a bit of your thoughts because I came to your blog when you gave the address at the Williamsburg Candy House display, and then I got hooked. Now I come to your site every single day hoping to read a bit more of your wonderful insight. You can talk about anything with such ease. I feel like you are giving of yourself to me and all I do is sit back, read and receive. Keep up the sussy. I love it!

L&D said...

I don't know why, but nearly every one of your posts makes me giggle. I full out laughed at the randomness of the Laura shot. So funny. Just reminds me of how much I love your sense of humor.

I hear ya on the whole sussy thing. Don't offer to clean my bathroom or I'll swap ya. Well, unless I'm paying you to do it....then it's a whole other matter.

Great post. Again.

Kate said...

Have always thought sussy was short for surprise. I don't mind receiving them but do not feel obliged to use or display them either. After all, my home is mine. Anyway, have spent a LOT of time in recent years unburdening myself of stuff - including tiny soaps, candles etc. Space is expensive here. K Q:-)

P.S. Laura's scrubs are cute but I do miss those crisp nurse uniforms with the hats. I'll bet Laura is happier in her scrubs tho'.

Jane Carlstrom said...

Funny, that is interesting funny, how many of your posts get me thinking.

Gifting or Sussy giving may be perceived differently by so many. So how do we as individuals with our own bias and beliefs work within the multitude of beliefs. It seems to me, that rarely can we change others; it is hard too to change ourselves, yet that is often easier than changing others. ;)

So to get out from under the burden you feel when given a Sussy what can you do? Some options: Develop a different outlook, refuse the sussy, donate it to charity, keep 'em in a box and toss it whenever it gets full, re-gift them, go on Oprah or Dr Phil to discuss the issue (he he, I'd tune in for that show.)

(*Soaps and candles are great donations to homeless shelters. IMHO)

Scrubs... oh OH that unfortunately is a rant issue for me. While many are cute, sorry, but, I wonder how some of the "fun" and colorful prints actually appear in the eyes of an already nauseated patient. Of course context and type of work and patients makes a difference. JMHO.

As always enjoyed the article: words and photos. And hope you don't mind me sharing my thoughts and views that came out.

Sara at Come Away With Me said...

I say, re-sussy them! Maybe if you don't display them in your home, you'll stop receiving them...yes, I know I'm being cynical. I'm sorry. I never heard this term before.

I did a little research and found this about "sussy" at the

Sussy Q, Part II.

Dear Word Detective: This weekend my mom sent me on a quest to discover the origin of the word "sussy," but I have had no luck. We both agree that it means a treat or a present, often given as a surprise to the recipient. This is a word that both my mom and I grew up hearing. I never questioned it before because I had come to understand its meaning as a child, but my mom was recently confronted about its meaning by a friend. Do you have any idea where this word comes from? Or is my mom's suspicion that my grandmother concocted the word really true? -- Mercedes Barletta, via the internet.

Well, I wouldn't be so quick to blame this mystery on Grandma and her fevered imagination. I frequently receive queries about odd words that readers have heard from their elderly relatives, words that appear in no dictionary and, granted, sound as if they might have been invented in the midst of a Geritol bender. But, oddly enough, these weird words often turn out to be perfectly respectable folk terms, once common but now consigned by cultural homogenization to the dusty corners of our language. Of course, in a few cases the old coot does indeed turn out to be jerking everyone's chain and the appropriate authorities must be summoned.

In the case of "sussy," I realized after a few moments that we were, once again, dealing with the mysterious "surcee," which goes by a variety of spellings and means "a small gift or favor, often given as a surprise."

I first investigated "surcee" about five years ago and, after coming up dry, I posed the question to the American Dialect Society mailing list. I promptly received the following reply from Joan Hall, Editor of DARE (the Dictionary of American Regional English):

The Dictionary of American Regional English files have anecdotal evidence for the term "sirsee" (variously spelled "circe," "circi," "surcy") from NC, SC, GA, and PA, as well as two reports from Buffalo, NY and Oklahoma, where the speakers were said to come from "someplace else." All evidence is oral, so the spellings are speakers' attempts to represent the pronunciation. The etymology is uncertain, but one plausible source is the Scots verb "sussie," meaning "to take trouble, to care, to bother oneself." This probably came to Scotland from the French "souci," meaning "care, trouble."

Anonymous said...

In the Letinsky household, we call Sussie's by their Yiddish name: kitsch or Tchotchke!

We try to have a Tchotchke free home, but it's hard, especially when people like to give it as presents!

Julie said...

Jill.. this was great! and I enjoyed your commenters too.
I've never heard of the word sussy..but I think if more people brought the custom out into the open by talking about it , it could maybe be put back on the shelf... I love to give but so often the sussy isn't needed or expected and then guilts the recipient with obligatory return giving .. as you so elequently noted .