With Christmas coming up, I'm trying to prepare myself for the gifts I'll be receiving. I don't really know when and how to respond to gifts that are too expensive, too lousy or just plain poorly thought-out. Are there any simple etiquette rules to properly responding to gifts?
Unsure How to Say Thank You
Image: Asrar Makrani.
It's true that while Christmas can be a delightful experience for the giving and receiving of gifts, they can also put you in a bit of a predicament if you receive a gift from someone you don't expect, if a gift is way better than what you gave or if the gift is just totally wrong for you. We'll take a look at the best ways to handle these situations and when it's necessary to send a thank you card.
How To Respond To Gifts Right Away
Most people probably don't have a lot of trouble responding to gifts because all it really takes is a smile and a "thank you". Still, there are those among us who struggle a bit to either fake it when we get a bad gift, or to offer up an adequate amount of appreciation to a really good gift. Here's some help if you need it.
The ones you don't like: Like it or not, we all receive a gift once and a while that we don't like, doesn't fit our personality, or that we already own. Psychology Today has a simple solution: respond to the "spirit of the gift" instead of the gift itself. As an example, author Gretchen Rubin talks about receiving a giant gardenia and thinking about her own limitations of where it could go instead of simply responding to the reasoning (that she liked gardenias) the gift was given to begin with. Of course, if the spirit was misaligned, say, a gym membership if you're slightly overweight, you best bet might be to just smile and nod.
The ones you do like: Showing proper gratitude for a gift is often just as difficult as hiding the fact you don't like something. In this case, it's best to just fall in line with the old rules of etiquette. Look the giver in the eye and say "thank you". If you like, you can throw in another "thank you" later on, but if you're in one of those round-table gift exchanges families like to do, you don't want to stress the importance of one gift over another. If it's a good gift that comes after years of poorly thought-out gifts, you can always follow up with them later with a card or in-person to stress the greatness of the gift.
Image: Jeff Wright.
What To Do If You Receive A Gift Significantly More Expensive Than The One You Gave
There are two possible scenarios where you might get into a little hot water with gift receiving. You either didn't buy someone a gift at all, or you purchased a gift that is significantly cheaper than what they give you.
If you're given a gift but didn't purchase one: Unless you're dealing with someone close who you really should have purchased a gift for, you don't need to worry. In an interview with CNN, etiquette teacher Peter Post sums it up nicely, "There's nothing about having received a gift that says you have to give a gift in return." In other words, be thankful, but don't sweat not purchasing anything yourself.
If your gift sucks in comparison to what you receive: As it turns out, studies have shown you'll appreciate a gift regardless of its price, so in theory, you shouldn't be worried if you've given someone a coffee cup when they bought you a new stereo system. A big gift is given because the giver wants to give it, so you should be in the clear if you can't reciprocate on the cost. Besides, there's nothing you can really do if the exchange has already happened, but make sure you quickly send out a "thank you" card.
Image: Nat Tarbox.
The Proper Etiquette Of Thank You Cards
Thank you cards are a difficult thing to keep track of, but according to etiquette expert Cindy Post Senning, they're still necessary. While her advice revolves around children, the trait of sending thank you cards is supposed to carry through to adulthood. Thankfully, she notes that email is a perfectly acceptable means to communicate your thanks, so you don't need to pull out the pen and paper unless you want to.
If you're struggling with what to say in the card, WikiHow notes that if you received a gift card, it's a good idea to say what you spent it on. This way it tells them you enjoyed it and gives them an idea of what you spend your money on for future reference. You can apply the same logic to any gift you received. For instance, you might describe how your new bright purple sweater from your Aunt was "a hit at work".
Jezebel has a bunch of tips on when and how to give thank you cards, noting that you should keep it relevant and don't get sidetracked with other conversations. You should always send thank you cards if you received a gift in the mail, but if you received something in person, it's only really important to send out a note if it was a substantial gift. There's no hard deadline for sending these out, but the sooner you do it, the less likely you are to forget.
In general, the rule seems to be: be appreciative, show your appreciation in a thank you card and don't sweat it too much if your gift isn't as expensive as one you received.
PS. Do you have rules about sending thank you cards or any tricks to looking surprised and appreciative when you receive a gift? Share them in the comments.