Posts Tagged ‘gift etiquette’

Gift giving and ‘moving on’

April 26, 2010

When is it time to call a day, gift-giving-wise? 

Friendships can grow stale over the years, as we grow in different directions.  Yet it can be hard to know when – or how – to bring the gift-giving years to a close.  Will we be perceived as rude?  Heartless?  What if the other person sends a gift when we don’t?

Consider: are you still in touch with the person fairly frequently – say, more than three times a year?  Do you write or phone each other, or keep in touch via Facebook or other social networks, to share news?  If living locally, do you ever meet for coffee or a meal?  If the answer to these is ‘no’, then I think it’s reasonable to ‘downscale’ to a more modest gift or maybe just a greeting card.  If the gift-giving has become arduous rather than easy and joyful, that’s another clue that maybe it’s time to change.

If you’re still reasonably close to the person, and feel you can raise the matter of gifts for this Christmas, chances are they will be just as relieved as you if you agree to downscale or even cease the gift giving. 

With family friendships, what started out as a few cute gifts for a new baby  may become harder to sustain as the children grow in both age and number.  It can be a burden trying to purchase a gift for each child, particularly if you’re no longer as close to the family and are less familiar with their needs, wants and current possessions. 

My suggestion is to gradually move away from individual gifts, to one ‘family’ gift that everybody can enjoy, like a variety box of deluxe cookies, chocolates or a fabulous cake.  Perhaps a gift hamper, a family movie pass, or a board game that they can play together.  And in time, the family gift may itself become more modest in nature, and even move down to just a greeting card.

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Sticking to the script: gratitude in 1930s Scotland

February 25, 2010

It was the accepted norm, long ago in my mother’s Scottish hometown, that a housewife could call upon any available child to run an errand on her behalf – such as buying some meat from the butcher’s shop.  Back in those days nobody had refrigerators, so perishable goods had to be purchased on the day of use – hence there was a big demand for kids to run these sorts of errands.

It was normal for children to play in the streets, so all one had to do was open your front door and holler in the direction of the nearest kid:  “Here, you – Jeannie McNabb!  Come you here!”  Then give the child her/his instructions, and money to make the purchase.

When the child returned from the errand, the woman who commissioned it would, by way of thanks, give the child a small coin.  Protocol dictated that the child must strenuously decline this token gift, and only accept it after making repeated earnest refusals. 

The ‘street telegraph’ being what it was, by the time the child went home, his or her mother would know all about the errand they’d run.  She would quiz as to whether any gratuity had been offered, and if so, how vigorously her offspring had attempted to decline it. 

My grandmother’s inquisitions about how strongly her daughter had tried to decline the proffered coin were apparently quite aggressive.  Woe betide any offspring of hers who simply said, “Thank you!” and pocketed the little copper coin! 

What a pantomime this all was!  Yet it was unthinkable for a coin not to be offered in token payment for the child’s services – that was only fair.  Local codes of politeness meant that the child must repeatedly try to refuse the coin (lest they appear needy or greedy) and the adult must urge the child to accept, ultimately succeeding.  Each ‘player’ in the charade had to act according to their required role, in order to fulfil the cultural obligations of reciprocity and courtesy.

Trading post for unwanted gifts

December 23, 2009

Here’s a new spin on how to move along unwanted gifts: a swap shop has opened as a sort of ‘clearing house’, where you can drop off a present and pick another one at the same time.  A very novel approach!
http://www.stuff.co.nz/oddstuff/3189991/Shop-to-swap-unloved-gifts

Moving on

June 26, 2009

When is it time to call a day, gift-giving-wise? 

Friendships can grow stale over the years, as we grow in different directions.  Yet it can be hard to know when – or how – to bring the gift-giving years to a close.  Will we be perceived as rude?  Heartless?  What if the other person sends a gift when we don’t?

Consider: are you still in touch with the person fairly frequently – say, more than three times a year?  Do you write or phone each other, to share news?  If living locally, do you ever meet for coffee or a meal?  If the answer to these is ‘no’, then I think it’s reasonable to ‘downscale’ to a more modest gift or maybe just a card.  If the gift-giving has become arduous rather than easy and joyful, that’s another clue that maybe it’s time to change.

If you’re still reasonably close to the person, and feel you can raise the matter of gifts for this Christmas, chances are they will be just as relieved as you if you agree to downscale or even cease the gift giving. 

With family friendships, what started out as a few cute gifts for a baby or toddlers, may become harder to sustain as the children grow in both age and number.  It can be a burden trying to purchase a gift for each child, particularly if you’re no longer as close to the family and are less familiar with their needs and wants. 

My suggestion is to gradually move away from individual gifts, to one ‘family’ gift that everybody can enjoy, like a variety box of deluxe biscuits, chocolates or a fabulous cake.  Perhaps a gift hamper, a family movie pass, or a board game that they can play together.  And in time, the family gift may itself become more modest in nature, and even move down to just a greeting card.

On exchanging gifts

June 20, 2009

I commented recently that exchanging gifts is generally acceptable these days, depending on your relationship with the giver.  In other words, grandma might be horrified at the notion of you exchanging her gift, but your best friend might not bat an eyelid.  Or vice versa.

Including a sales docket or exchange voucher with your gift is an implicit signal that you’re okay with your gift being exchanged by the recipient.  So – better consider that it might actually happen!   I found out the hard way that sometimes it’s simply assumed that you won’t exchange. 

A couple of years ago, some friends bought me a wine rack for my birthday.  It was a thoughtful gift – they knew I was signing up for a wine tasting class – but they hadn’t reckoned on one thing: I had limited counterspace in my kitchen and couldn’t really spare room for a wine rack on it. 

They excitedly watched me open the parcel and pointed out that there was an exchange voucher, so I could swap the present for something else at the same shop, if I wanted.  When I mentioned I might just do that (because of the countertop space issue), I saw their eyes widen with surprise. 

I think we were all taken aback: me, because I thought they’d already inferred that exchanging the rack would be fine by them.  Them, because it hadn’t crossed their mind that I actually would exchange it.  They thought they’d found the perfect gift (and they so nearly had) and including the voucher was clearly just a token gesture. 

It taught me to tread more carefully around the matter of exchanging gifts, lest hurt feelings result.  And, when giving presents, to realise that no matter how well I think I’ve chosen, the recipient might actually want to use that exchange voucher.

A word on gratitude

June 8, 2009

With Mother’s Day coming up (in the US),  and also having recently mentioned that garden shops are a good place to look for gifts, I was remembering when my dad bought my mother a gift from one.

He decided to get her something for Mother’s Day (as a thank-you for her being mother to his children, I guess), and I remember being there when he stopped by a garden shop and bought a potted cyclamen for her. 

I can’t put my finger on the name of the colour, exactly, but the flower was a rather lively shade of deep pink.  Mauve, perhaps.  It’s a strong, vibrant color that still seems very popular with cyclamen breeders.

Unfortunately, it was not popular with my mother.  She yelled at him for getting such a horrible color – it clashed with her decor – and made him take it back to the store straight away.  Whether to exchange or just get a refund, I’m not sure. 

I don’t recall what my father’s reaction was.  He was the strong, silent type (and I was only eight years old, or so – a long time ago now) – but I remember feeling bad for him, that he had bought her a present and got screamed at for his trouble.  I bet he wished he never bothered.  And I’d wager that the following year, he didn’t bother buying a gift at all.

So ladies, if you receive something unwanted this Mother’s Day…please be kind…

…and remember, pot plants that don’t much please you can always be tucked out of sight in a spare room.

P.S.  In spite of my dad’s experience, I still believe that garden stores are good places to look for gift ideas!

20090407-cyclamen

The last necklace

June 3, 2009

Last year I heard a young work colleague vow he would never buy his girlfriend any jewellery again, ever. The reason? Ed had bought her a yellow-gold necklace, and she not only exchanged it for a white-gold one, but got him to pay the extra money the white-gold version cost (which was quite a bit more). He was offended at her nerve – and I don’t blame him!

I could only wince at his girlfriend’s callowness; she is a sweet girl, but had blithely hurt Ed’s feelings – and showed a serious lack of class – in her desire to satisfy her personal preferences. One day perhaps she’ll come to understand that, although exchanging gifts is generally acceptable (depending on your relationship with the giver), demanding extra money from the giver in order to ‘upgrade’ your gift is never okay. In fact, it’s a solid-gold way to guarantee fewer gifts from that person in future.

Gifts at the workplace

May 30, 2009

A colleague once told me how her husband surprised her by arranging for a barbershop quartet to sing her Happy Birthday at work.  She hated it.  She’s a quietly-spoken Englishwoman; having a singing troupe serenade her in the middle of the office must have been a living nightmare for her. 

“I screamed at him later,” she said to me.  “How could you ever think I would like something like that?”  Fair point – they had been married many years by this stage.

You won’t be surprised to hear that they’re not married any more.  I doubt it was the barbershop quartet birthday that did it, but I’m sure it didn’t help!

And I remember working at an industrial site, years ago, when a young factory worker was called to reception to sign for a delivery: a bouquet of flowers from his girlfriend.  Wayne was mortified, and immediately gave the blooms away to the first office lady who would take them.  I bet his girlfriend would have been horrified if she’d known how abruptly he’d disposed of her well-meaning gift.

Come to think of it, I can recall several occasions of men friends grumbling that it wasn’t fair, they couldn’t be given flowers.  But probably all of them would have rather not had flowers delivered to their workplace.  Especially if they were 18 and worked in a macho place like a factory.

It all goes to show: gifts delivered to the workplace can either be a smashing success (as in Piers’ flower delivery) or a crashing failure.  The important thing is to really know what the recipient would like.  As a general rule, I’d say: if the recipient is an introvert, don’t have it delivered to their workplace.  Extroverts, though, are likely to lap up the attention.  If in doubt, save it for somewhere more private – your relationship may thank you for it!

Thanks…maybe.

May 20, 2009

“Sorry seems to be the hardest word”, sings Elton.  But I’ve started wondering if it isn’t really: ‘thank you’.  I know of two people who have recently sent lovely gifts and weeks later still haven’t heard a peep out of the recipients; not even an email or phone call.

Apologies if I sound a little grouchy.  I realise that gifts are for giving freely, not for demanding a certain type of response, or indeed any response, necessarily.

But in my day – I know, I’m sounding old here – it was drummed into me that people who took the time and effort to give gifts merited a proper thank you.  Thus from a young age I was obliged to write thank-you letters within a day of the gift being opened.  The letters were torturous to write (and, perhaps, read) – but it was The Done Thing.

Somewhere over the intervening years it seems to have become optional, even quaint, to send someone a thank you card or letter.  Yet, at risk of being seen as old-fashioned, I persist in doing so – although I do also use phone and email, depending on the recipient and the nature of the gift.  I even keep a supply of thank-you cards these days.  (I guess I am old!)   The write-within-a-day-of-opening rule rarely gets met; within three days is more like it now.  But my heart tells me that sending a few words of acknowledgement and gratitude is still the right thing to do.

Gifts from men…once upon a time

May 17, 2009

“I don’t want any money for it,” he said.  “It’s a gift.”

Scarlett’s mouth dropped open.  The line was so closely, so carefully drawn where gifts from men were concerned.

“Candy and flowers, dear,” Ellen had said time and again, “and perhaps a book of poetry or an album or a small bottle of Florida water are the only things a lady may accept from a gentleman.  Never, never any expensive gift, even from your fiancé.  And never any gift of jewellery or wearing apparel, not even gloves or handkerchiefs.  Should you accept such gifts, men would know you were no lady and would try to take liberties.”

Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell