Rafael Puyol. Vicepresident. IE Foundation

5 November 2009

Professors have always received gifts, born of interest or gratitude, and they always will. That’s why, to avoid giving any kind of offense, I recommend that all presents should be some kind of cultural gesture, like a book, for example.

Some years ago now, when I first started teaching, I had a student from the Canary Islands who repeatedly failed my subject. One September, with the penultimate exam coming up, he brought me a box of cigars and told me that "he had taken the bother" to give me this gift. I told him that it wasn´t necessary and he picked up the box, closed the door and said "oh, well…" and left.

I was somewhat frustrated by my reaction to that obvious attempt at bribery. What I still don´t know today is whether my refusal was the result of my professional morals or the fact that the cigars were of a make that was not particularly attractive. However, I passed the student in case he was thinking of coming back next year with the same shameful idea and, more specifically, with the same box of cigars.

I didn´t get over the incident until another student, grateful for my advice, gave me a leg of exquisite cured ham. I can still remember the leg of ham and the times when academic favours received extravagant gastronomic compensations. It seems we now live and teach in more democratic times, because the leg of Guijuelo ham has been replaced by much more prosaic donations, such as a tin of anchovies given by the president of a regional government or a box of black cherries given by another.

Where will it all end? Before we know it, we will be receiving jars of pickled gherkins or tins of boiled ham with the argument that it is healthier than Serrano ham.

I am not one of those people who think that a gift given out of gratitude or interest will soon disappear. It is like life itself. However, I would suggest to those who give the gifts that instead of suits, handbags, watches, illegal street market CDs, bars of chocolate and packs of skimmed milk, they should give books. There is always the risk that the person receiving them might not read them, but at least they would make a contribution to the dissemination of culture.


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