We live in an increasingly consumerist society, so it's only natural that having unfettered access to all this stuff has led to societal changes. One of these changes relates to gift giving. Consider wedding presents; traditionally, gifts were household items given to help newlyweds set up their new home. Today, couples commonly live together before getting married and money is often given as a wedding gift.
Another change is our attitude towards receiving gifts. If you're anything like me, stories of bridezillas and ungrateful mums-to-be thrill you as much as they horrify you. There's a certain level of disconnect because it's hard to believe that people like this actually exist. But while, I'm sure, you would never shame a friend for giving you a 'cheap' gift, you may be committing a gift receiving faux pas without realising it.
Following are some etiquette tips to remember for gift giving occasions.
Some things to remember
You are never, not ever, entitled to a gift. Not for your birthday, not because you're having a baby, not even for your wedding (when you expect gifts or cash in exchange for attendance at your wedding, you're not having a wedding anymore – you're throwing a fundraiser). Your friends and family are not obligated to fund your lifestyle choices. Don't ask others to help you fund your fancy wedding or complain when guests buy off the registry .
The only correct response to receiving a gift is a thank you (or thank you note). Practice in front of the mirror if you're not good at faking it. Once you've received a gift it's yours to do with as you wish so if it's awful, just say thank you and re-gift it, donate it or throw it away. The only exception to this rule is intentionally rude gifts, like a weight loss book. In this situation, you have my permission to tell them exactly what you think!
Thank you notes are only required if you're unable to say thank you in person. This can include presents that are mailed to you or wedding presents that aren't opened in front of the giver. If you've said a verbal thanks, you're in the clear. Of course, no one is going to think badly of you if you send a thank you note even when you don't have to.
Image by Thescimitar via Wikipedia
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, or so they say. Following are some etiquette blunders you may be making with the best of intentions.
Don't direct gift giving. If someone asks then, of course, feel free to provide a wish list, but don't offer the advice unsolicited. You might think that you're being helpful and practical, preventing your friends or family from wasting their money on something you don't like or won't use, but this actually goes against the generous spirit of gift giving. If someone has spent their hard earned money and precious time picking out a gift for you, just say thank you. Brides and grooms – this includes telling your guests that you only want money.
Don't nitpick gifts. Don't say things like, "Oh thank you but I don't wear perfume." This just serves to make the giver feel bad for giving you something you don't like. There's nothing they can do with that information by the time they give you the gift, so keep it to yourself. If you actually do expect them to do something about it, well, that brings me to my next point.
Don't 'return' gifts. This is something I've seen happened between family and close friends. Person A gives Person B a present. Person B doesn't particularly like the present and they feel bad that Person A has wasted their money so they return the gift and tell the giver to keep their money, or even worse, tell the giver what they'd like as a replacement present. Not only are you telling the giver that their gift isn't good enough, you're also creating an extra burden on the giver. And if they don't have the receipt, they have no recourse at all.
'No gifts' is a gift faux pas. This one is the most well intentioned, but it's still technically rude. The original logic is that by circumventing gifts you're reinforcing the idea that they're expected. You're also directing gift giving. I was once stuck with an engraved photo frame that I'd bought for my friend's son before she told me that she didn't want anyone giving him presents. It's a noble thought, but if your friends and family want to give you a present, just smile and say thank you.
For more deliciously irritating stories of greedy gift grubbers check out my favourite guilty pleasure, Etiquette Hell, or share your own in the comments.