Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gift Disappointment

Hello Polite Readers!

Well, it's Christmas Eve Eve, so depending on which holiday you celebrate, you have either already exchanged gifts, will soon, or are so sick about hearing about other peoples' gift exchanging holidays that you will skip this entire post and hope that I write about something non-holiday-related on Wednesday. Today's post is about dealing with gift disappointment, from both the giver and receiver's part, which of course can also apply to birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine's Day, and all those other occasions where etiquette says gifts should be given.

Most of us have dealt with gift failure before, probably from both ends. Let's talk about when you give a dud gift first.

Oftentimes, it's not your fault when a gift that you give goes over poorly. You may have misjudged the recipient's taste, you might have accidentally bought them something they already have, or they might just be impossible to please (at least on your budget). We'll discuss later how they should best express their disappointment (or not), but for now let's assume that they don't have the good taste to read my blog and they respond rudely. How do you deal with that?

Resist the urge to snark at them, even though they probably deserve it for being rude. Especially if you're at some sort of group holiday gathering or birthday party, you want them to be the one who looks bad whereas you look cool, albeit possibly a bit embarrassed. Smile awkwardly and say "I'm sorry, I thought you would love it." If you have a gift receipt, offer it to them, but otherwise, don't fall over yourself trying to offer to make it right if the gift can't be exchanged or returned.

If you have a person in your life who is always difficult about gifts, my honest recommendation is not to make the effort anymore. If they're going to snark no matter what you give them, just give them a gift card to some store that they can probably find something they like at. Stop stressing about picking or making the perfect gift for that curmudgeon and focus your attention on the people who actually appreciate the thought and effort that you put into them.

So what do you do if you get a gift that you don't like? Simple. You say "Thank you!" If you're feeling really generous and you know that the person actually thought that they picked out something good, you should maybe try to find something to praise about the item (although the problem with this is that they may then take that as encouragement to buy similarly bad gifts in the future).

I know that it's hard to deal with getting a spectacularly bad gift, especially when you've put a lot of thought into what you gave them in return, but it's wrong to treat gifts like a tit-for-tat exchange and unfortunately part of being an adult is having to put up with disappointment, instead of throwing a tantrum (although even as a kid, I didn't throw a tantrum on the year that my cousins all got awesome Legos and my brother and I got CLOTHES. Clothes! How were we supposed to play with those?). Here are some other tips for dealing with gift disappointment.

-If possible, try to find a way to actually make the gift likeable. Can it be modified somehow to be more attractive or useful?

-If it's nice but just not your style, can you regift it in such a way that the original giver will never find out? I'm not a huge fan of regifting, but sometimes it's appropriate, if you know the new receiver will actually like it.

-If it's unbelievably horrible, well, congratulations! You've got something for the next White Elephant exchange you participate in.

-Can you possibly sell it on eBay or Craig's List or through some other venue, without the giver catching on?

-Is it small enough that you can keep it around and then bring it out whenever they come over? I only recommend this tactic for gifts from grandparents who would be crushed if you didn't display the precious knick-knack that they picked out based on the idea that you are still into the same things you liked at eight years old.

-Can you trade it for something else? When I was a teenager, someone gave me a Wal-Mart gift card. There was nothing I wanted at Wal-Mart, but my parents always shopped there so they bought it off of me for cash value, allowing me to spend the money wherever I wanted on whatever I wanted (probably comic books).

-Another pro-tip for gift cards. Use them for stuff you NEED and suddenly the money that you would have spent on that is available for fun! I love getting Trader Joe's gift cards because I can buy my usual groceries (maybe with a couple extra treats) and then suddenly my weekly grocery money is available to spend on a nice dinner out instead.

-In all of these cases, remember that a gift is yours to do whatever you want with after you receive it. While you certainly shouldn't use a handmade quilt as a drop cloth when you paint your house, you also shouldn't feel guilty if you take that tacky snow globe to Goodwill.

Tired of all these holiday-themed posts? Then send me a letter about a different topic! Email me at

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