THE giving of hostess (and, to be politically correct, host), gifts is a ritual as old as the pyramids. Just check out those hieroglyphics. Where did the Egyptians go bearing all manner of artfully arranged produce and other largesse? Scholars insist they're off to pay homage to the deity of the day. I think they're off to a dinner party along the Nile. These obligatory tokens of advance thanks for repasts about to be consumed, have, over the centuries, been attractively presented and customarily borne to inhabitants of tents, log cabins, palaces and penthouses. They can be easily slotted into three categories: 1. Edible or perishable, 2. Usable, and 3. Recyclable (with numerous specific sub-divisions and confusing overlapping). For instance, under 'edible' you might find wine which is then labelled drinkable or non-drinkable , also chocolates which could be perishable or keepable. So the vintage cabernet might be poured then and there, the newly-made bonbons passed around after coffee. But what of the plonk and the mundane factory chocolates? Both are sadly placed into category three, falling gracelessly into 'recycling'. Don't deny it. You're as guilty of recycling as the next person. After all, what can you do? Those gifts that don't fit under category one or two simply have no place else to go. Businesswoman/party-goer Elizabeth Cossagrain-Thomas related a story about a box of handmade truffles with a shelf life of four hours that she took along to a dinner party in Repulse Bay. A year later the same box was given to her. She knew it was the very box because (1) she had received it as a specially-created gift for the grand opening of the Mandarin's new confectionary/bakery; and (2) when she decided to open it, the contents were outdated, green and fuzzy as expected. Rule number one: when recycling, make sure the gift's source is virtually impossible to trace; and, (2) it is still edible. Sagas of moon cakes making endless rounds are legion. Cement-consistency Christmas fruit cakes share a similar role. But these concoctions seem to have been baked for eternity, suitable for a NASA trip to a distant galaxy. Something as seemingly unidentifiable as wine can be especially dicey. Take the tale of an anonymous 'close friend' who experienced an extraordinary three-way, year-long round-robin that culminated a few weeks ago. It seems her brother-in-law owns a small boutique vineyard in Bordeaux. Last December, he gave her a case of his best. Now this wine has no distribution whatsoever. He bottles small amounts for his personal use: his name is on the label, so is his chateau. Last May, she was running late for a lunch and was forced to grab one of these coveted bottles and drive to Shek O. Her host and hostess looked pleased with the offering and set it aside, presumably to enjoy at their leisure. At least the precious bottle would be appreciated, she thought. But to her astonishment at a recent cocktail party in Sai Kung, the now aged Bordeaux was proudly poured into her glass. Glancing around the crowded room she spied her Shek O friends and raised her hand in a silent, smiling but knowing toast. After a few glasses of bubbly, people tend to open up. They're anxious to unload their guilt or perhaps they simply want to brag about their clever thrift and smart planning. One fellow who comes from a long line of Chinese taipans and certainly doesn't want for spending money, confessed that he has an entire closet in his home devoted to unwanted house gifts amassed over the years. He relies on people's short memory spans when recycling and picks a parcel from the back reaches of his stockpile, confident that nobody will be the wiser. Shopping czarina Helen Giss claims she wouldn't dream of recycling anything she didn't covet herself, and saves second-rate bounty for Christmas grab bags and other inconsequential fates. The bottom line is that recycling hostess gifts is one of those unmentionable but highly active pursuits even in the best of homes. 'It's like covering your grey or lopping a few years off your age,' said a well-known man-about-town. 'Let's face it. Everybody does it, but no one talks about it.' But the ultimate solution to the unwanted and eventually recycled gift was solved years ago with my grandmother (and so I hear, with many grandmothers). After realising 'grandma' would give back or simply refuse all toasters, scarves, sweet and liqueurs, claiming she didn't really need them, family members sagely decided to buy her only gift items that they themselves could use. The procedure was painless and everyone ended up satisfied. In this case, it's not only better to give than to receive, it's one and the same: the ideal arrangement.