Making a list? Checking it twice? Tips for out-of-practice gift givers
Is re-gifting acceptable? What should you do if you hate a gift? And when is it not okay to give cash?
It has been two years since the holidays felt “normal,” and you’re determined to make them special.
You spend hours combing through your go-to department store, dodging Santa Clauses and unruly crowds to find the right gift. You open and close a dozen browser windows before adding that perfect item to your basket, sending a prayer to the internet gods that it arrives on time.
Then, the moment comes to hand over the carefully selected present, tastefully wrapped. But instead of squeals of joy, you’re met with an anticlimactic “Thank you.”
HOW SHOULD YOU RESPOND?
The average American consumer will spend US$694 (S$947) on gifts for others this year, according to Neil Saunders, managing director of retail at GlobalData. That’s up about 7 per cent compared with last year, when gift spending dipped 5.1 per cent because of the pandemic, which disrupted usual family gatherings during the holidays and caused severe Postal Service delays. Both the number of gifts that consumers plan to give and the number of people they’re shopping for this year are also higher than last year, he said.
With so many gifts changing hands this season, what could go wrong? Plenty, according to Maralee McKee, founder of the Etiquette School of America in Orlando, Florida, and Colin Cowie, a lifestyle expert who has worked with Oprah Winfrey and others during his 35-year career.
“I think that when gift giving goes wrong, the person hasn’t put enough thought into the gift,” McKee said.
No matter your role in exchanging gifts, there are many do's and don’ts. Here’s what you should know this season.
WHO GETS A GIFT?
There’s a hierarchy when it comes to giving, and it starts with those you’ve exchanged gifts with in the past for long enough that it’s a tradition.
“In most families, if your parents are still living, the parents will receive a gift,” McKee said. “The grandparents will receive a gift. After that, it’s going to vary in every family.”
ARE SPENDING LIMITS WORTH IT?
Setting a price limit is most useful in office and corporate settings when large groups of people exchange gifts, like Secret Santa, Cowie said.
Awkward feelings could develop if someone intentionally exceeds the limit, said McKee, who added that in such cases an explanation should be given.
“Think of the person you’re giving the gift to,” she said. “Because too often gifts are bought at the delight of the person giving the gift.”
AM I OBLIGATED TO GIVE A GIFT IN RETURN?
Absolutely not. Giving a gift or sending a holiday card in return is not required, McKee said, but she noted that this time of year people sometimes keep small items they can easily give away when unexpected situations arise.
“Keep in mind, if you do give them a gift, you’ve opened the door for the same thing to happen next year,” she said.
IS IT RUDE TO GIVE CASH?
Cash can either alienate or delight the receiver, but it’s really a matter of personal taste or age (perfect for picky teenagers). It is, however, impolite to ask for cash.
“Otherwise, that’s a slippery slope because you’re now soliciting a gift,” Cowie said.
Giving cash can work in certain circumstances, but keep in mind the person and your relationship to them.
“It’s fine as long as it’s not given as an excuse for not having to shop for a gift,” McKee said. “It’s probably not the best gift, in fact it’s incredibly lazy, if someone in a romantic relationship were to give it” as it could signal putting a price on a relationship.
HOW DO YOU SAY YOU HATE A GIFT?
You don’t. It’s customary to accept a gift with gratitude, even if the giver “misses the mark,” McKee said. And it’s perfectly fine to regift the item or donate it to someone who may like it more.
When passing along an unwanted gift to someone else, “Explain the gift, why you received it and why you thought of that person,” she said. McKee also noted that a regifted item should not take the place of an actual gift but instead be treated as a bonus present.
After you give a gift, never ask about it, especially if you never see or hear about it again.
“If the receiver has something to say about it, they’ll say it,” McKee said. “Don’t ask, ‘How are you enjoying that? Where is the vase I bought you?’ You’ll put them in the awkward position of feeling like they need to fib.”
WHAT IF YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO GIVE GIFTS THIS YEAR?
A person never has to explain why he or she can’t give a gift, Cowie said. But if you receive one, he said, do give a proper thanks.
“I find so often that people don’t respond to gifts,” he said. Phone calls, text messages or even handwritten notes to acknowledge gifts will do.
On the other hand, it’s fine to openly discuss why you’re not exchanging gifts, in order to help others understand your decision, McKee said.
“The first rule of etiquette is never assume,” she said. “Don’t assume because they live in a particular home or have a particular job that their finances are neat and tidy, because you don’t know the whole picture of their life.”
By Derrick Bryson Taylor © 2021 The New York Times
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.