Receiving a gift is always an awkward exchange, particularly when the gift-giver, be it your mum or a colleague from the office, makes it clear they’ve spent time finding you the present. Given this information, there are obvious expectations. Once you open that neatly gift-wrapped box, anything short of “I will live and die by this item” might prove a letdown to them.
Over on Reddit, u/bravoteam127 voiced this same concern. “I feel like I suck at receiving gifts,” they said. “I feel like I don’t fulfil the other person with my reaction and I hate myself for it.” Worse, if the present is terrible, how then are you supposed to react?
If you tend to hold a poker face while opening up a gift—and want to hate yourself a little less for it, we have a few ideas. For one, actually saying “thank you” and expressing your appreciation should come first, according to Patricia Rossi, an author and keynote speaker who specialises in business etiquette. “I don’t care if it’s a re-gift, always act excited,” she said over the phone.
If you’re short on words or can’t sum up the energy to act excited, u/medullah recommends contextualising the gift to express your gratitude.
“What I’ve found that gives immediate satisfaction is to quickly think of how you’ll use the gift, whether that’s true or not,” they said.
“A few years ago my parents got me a wall outlet tool to analyse how much power was being used by a specific device. I told them ‘Oh nice! I was thinking of getting one of these and tracking my dehumidifier!’” (Our video producer, Joel, also points out an episode of the Office in which Pam offers Jan a less-than-great bottle of wine as a gift. “This will be great to cook with,” Jan responds.)
If you don’t like the gift
In the event you’ve received a tacky sweater or another unwanted gift, Rossi has a similar idea. “It’s always great to say ‘I love the colour,’” she said. “Find something positive to say.” You might, for instance, express appreciation for the brand name, if it’s an article of clothing. If it’s a book you won’t read, maybe you’ll compliment their choice of author (or at least, acknowledge that you know who they are).
In other instances, depending on your connection, honesty may also work, but use it sparingly. Our video producer, Heather, has dealt with this firsthand. “If my mum gave me something and I’ll never wear it, I know she’d rather get me something I like,” she told me. “I’ll say ‘thank you, but this is just not me, maybe we can go back to the store and exchange it.’”
And if the tables are turned—and you’re the one having trouble finding a gift for someone, Rossi recommends keeping it simple. “Money is never the wrong size or colour.”