8 Gift-Giving Etiquette Questions

Each year, especially in December, I get calls from the media asking my opinion about gift-giving practices. Here are a few of the most often asked questions:

(To preface, please keep in mind that by the very nature of the word “gift,” it is not a mandatory practice. Gift-giving is a display of how much you care about a person, the occasion, and is something given from the heart… within your capabilities. Never go into debt just to “keep up appearances.” It’s not about how much you spend, but all about how much you care. A small gift is better than no gift, and using the economy or lack of funds is never a reason or excuse. Nice $1 gifts are available when you take the time to find them.)

1. My mother thinks it is bad manners to give away a gift someone gave me. What do you think?
This is how I used to think as well. I thought I was being inconsiderate and uncaring of the person who gave me the gift if I disposed of it in any way. For years I kept all sorts of items boxed in a closet, never to be used.  Now I think differently. Once I receive a gift, it belongs to me to do with as I please. I may throw it way, exchange it, and even give it away to someone else I think will enjoy and appreciate it. The only major caution is never to give the gift to someone even remotely related to the original gift giver.

2. I hate the gifts my relatives give me each year. Is it okay to ask for cash for Christmas and birthdays?
I don’t think it is appropriate to ask for cash, generally. Instead, you could make the request as it relates to something purposeful. Here’s an example: A relative of mine asked everyone in the family to please only give her cash gifts for all occasions, because she was saving up to buy a new car. A couple of years later, she finally got her car and then sent everyone a nice thank-you note with a photo of herself, standing in front of the car. It made me feel good to have contributed money to something that was real and meaningful.

3. I was recently invited to a wedding to which I am unable to attend. Do I still have to give a gift?
Whenever you are invited to attend a special event that has a custom of gift-giving (a birthday, shower, bar or bat mitzvah, etc.), depending on how close you are and feel to the person and how much you want to show that you care, it is always a nice gesture to send a gift, regardless of your attending the actual event. Put yourself in the reverse position: Wouldn’t you think more fondly of a person who sends you a gift, even when that person didn’t attend your event? We all love receiving gifts.

4. I am about to be married to a man who has been married twice before, as have I, and we both have been single for a number of years. We truly don’t want anything more for our household and tiny apartment, such as more kitchen gadgets and miscellaneous dishware we will never use. Is it OK to ask guests to simply give us cash to help pay for the wedding and our honeymoon?
The key whenever asking for a cash gift is to make it meaningful and purposeful. It is not appropriate to simply ask for open-ended cash. To me it gives the impression I will be subsidizing your general expenses. It is also inappropriate to ask people to pay to attend your wedding. However, to donate toward a specific honeymoon trip is a bit different. Have checks made payable to the travel company, as though it was yet another wedding gift registry you have chosen. Also, while on the trip, take a few special photos or have fun gathering a batch of small mementos of the trip to send each donor when you return, along with your thank-you notes for all wedding gifts.

5. I am planning to attend a wedding where the bride and groom have specifically stated they want gifts from one of their gift registries. Everything listed is way beyond what I want to spend. What should I do?
Purchase a gift card to the store at which they have registered, in an amount you feel comfortable giving. Enclose a positive message about your desire to help contribute toward a particular, higher-priced item you saw listed.

6. I’ve been invited to a friend’s house for dinner. Do I have to bring a gift?
It is always a nice gesture to bring a small hostess or house gift whenever invited to someone’s home for dinner. Among the most common items are a bottle of wine, box of fine chocolates, bouquet of flowers, a coffee table book, or something from your own hometown, area, or country.

NOTE: When giving wine, make sure the host can actually drink it. When giving flowers, make sure they are not of a variety or color the receiver will not appreciate, because of their religion or other cultural norms. Coffee table books should be on a subject you know the receiver will enjoy. When giving an item from your home area, find items locally made versus giving an item “Made in China” to someone in China. Although the Chinese understand how most items these days are made in China, an item truly produced from your specific area will be best received.

7. I recently held a dinner party where several people gave me gifts. Do I have to send a thank-you note for these gifts and if I do, can I do it by email?
Guests bring house/hostess gifts as an expression of appreciation for having been invited to your home for dinner. As such, it is not as required that you send a thank-you note, as it would be for a regular gift. However, it is never wrong to send someone a nice note of appreciation (in this case even by email) especially for an extra special gift received.

8. My friend believes it’s totally tacky to give people gift cards for any reason. I don’t think so, especially when I don’t really know the person to whom I have to give a gift. What do you think?
When I was growing up my parents believed it was tacky to give gift certificates, because in those days the only kind of gift certificates possible were from certain department stores, where the person had to go to the store to purchase the certificate anyway. Why not just purchase a gift, they reasoned? It was perceived as a lazy person’s way to give a gift.

However, in today’s time, it is quite different. Gift cards are now available for an ever-increasing variety of items and services, in stores and online. The main consideration is to choose a gift card that the person will enjoy using. To me, giving a generic Visa, MasterCard or American Express gift card is not as valued as one that is a bit more specific. If you do give a generic gift card, the amount should be larger than perhaps a more specific gift card. To me, a $10 Borders gift card appears better than a $10 Visa gift card.

Additionally, think about whether the store is a good match for the amount you choose to spend. As much as I would love a gift card to Tiffany’s, a $10 gift card may be of little or no use, since most items in that store are valued much higher. I would be required to put out my own funds just to use your $10 gift card.

For other gift-giving tips, see these past articles:

Gift-Giving and Receivinghttp://www.advancedetiquette.com/blog/life/gift-giving-and-receiving

Re-Gifting Etiquette: http://www.advancedetiquette.com/blog/life/re-gifting-etiquette

Year Round ABW Approach to Gift-Givinghttp://www.advancedetiquette.com/blog/life/abw-to-gift-giving

QUESTION OF THE MONTH: Submit questions and thoughts you may have on this important topic of gift-giving practices. I’d enjoy hearing from you and will be happy to reply.

Happy December, Happy Practicing, and Happy Holidays to You and All!


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