I've been using the same set of crappy kitchen knives since I got out of college. Or at least I assume they're crappy -- they were relatively inexpensive, and I don't have anything to compare them to, so they're all I know. I've seen various articles about high-end knives over the years, but I've always done my best to ignore them, figuring I can't afford them and that I'm better off making do with what I've got instead of fantasizing about equipment I'll never be able to have.
But now a generous relative has offered to buy me a fancy-shmancy set of knives for my birthday. I choose, she pays. She hasn't quite said, "Price is no object," but she's clearly implied that I can aim pretty high.
So: What sorts of features should I seek (and avoid)? Brands? Japanese, German, other? Does metal-handled vs. wood-handled make any difference, or is that simply an aesthetic distinction? What about those little notches in the blade that some brands have? As you can probably tell from the very rudimentary nature of these questions, I'm way out of my league here, so some guidance would be greatly appreciated.
Many thanks in advance,