Presents Etiquette – 4 Scenarios to help you through the season

In this day of immediate gratification and same-day on-line shopping, what is the purpose of gifting a present? Have we lost sight of why we share gifts with loved ones?

By gifting presents, we show the other person our appreciation of them through the thoughtfulness and generosity that goes into the chosen gift. A thoughtful gift is worth much more to the recipient than an expensive yet generic gift. Generosity does not have to mean being financially generous (although that may of course be part of it, too), instead we should aim to be generous of our spirit and our heart.

However despite all of these good intentions, it may be the subject of making someone uncomfortable and left feeling awkward. It is entirely possible that thoughtfulness and generosity can be asynchronous, in that one person is more thoughtful and generous than another.

To help us through these types of unequal gift giving situations, we asked etiquette expert Bonnie Tsai of Beyond Etiquette about her take on a few scenarios where it is very easy to ruin the occasion because of an inadequate or “bad” gift, no gift, or a recipient’s inappropriate reaction.

Scenario 1: You don’t like the present you received

Bonnie advises that “you should always thank the person who gave you the present because they put in time and effort to buy you a gift and wrap it for you. The important concept of gift-giving is the thought that goes into it.”

Whether you like the present or not, the reaction should be similar, one of genuine appreciation. In the situation where you don’t like the gift, you need to show your decency – you can’t blame anyone for their taste or an idea of an ideal gift. Instead focus on the intention this person had and react to that intention, rather than the not-so-great present. Even if this means putting on your best poker face.

Scenario 2: You want to regift your present

Perhaps you don’t mind the present that was given to you, and you can understand and appreciate the thought and intention that went into it. However for whatever reason, you know this is not a gift you will get use out of and instead of asking for the receipt and returning it, instead you want to pass it on as a gift elsewhere.

Bonnie’s take on regifting is that it is always a tricky situation: “I don’t recommend it since if the original person who gifted you found out they would be upset. If you do decide to regift something because you have duplicates and know someone would greatly appreciate it; you should check to make sure it isn’t personalized in any way and remain in its original packaging.”

Scenario 3: You gave someone an expensive gift but the other person got you something very cheap

In this situation Bonnie says, “You should never try to price-match or feel disgruntled if your generosity was not reciprocated. The holidays is all about generosity and kindness. There may be a thoughtful reason the person chose this specific gift for you, it may evoke a fondly shared memory of a trip you took or an experience you shared. Ultimately, a gift is filled with emotions, it’s a token of love and appreciation for the receiver. Therefore, we should always be grateful when we receive a gift from someone during the holidays.”

There may be financial restrictions the other person has which we don’t know about, or simply their budget this season does not allow them to match yours. The most important thing is to not make the other person feel bad about it. Be generous also in the way you receive the gift and they will appreciate that you put them at ease.

Scenario 4: You bought someone a gift, but they didn’t get you anything

Bonnie advises us that, “It’s up to the other person to determine whether or not they will reciprocate with a gift, a handwritten thank you note or a simple thank you. As the gift-giver, you should not expect a gift in return or lose your temper if you didn’t receive one; there could be a multitude of reasons why they didn’t prepare one for you. Know that you bought them a gift because you wanted to let them know how much they mean to you and leave it at that.

“If it was the other way around and you didn’t get a present for someone who bought you something, there are a few ways you can approach this. Keep in mind, this all depends on the relationship you have with them.  If your relationship is very casual or informal, sometimes a verbal thank you when you received the gift is enough. You can also add in a compliment of what you like about the gift after you’ve opened it. The important thing here is to not draw attention to the fact that you don’t have a gift for them and focus on expressing gratitude to the person who got you a gift. Another way to express your gratitude is to send a handwritten thank you note and let them know how much you adored their gift. You can also choose to send them a gift if you feel desired or impelled to.”

Last but not least, if you feel bad about not having gotten them anything, make sure you don’t miss the next occasion to get them a gift such as a birthday or other memorable occasion.

The happy gift-after

It is ideal to open the present in front of the gift-giver. In this way you can have a moment where the gift-giver can see your reaction and you can share the moment of joy. Seeing your reaction to the present is a form of reward for the time and energy the gift-giver spent selecting the gift for you. It is the experience that the gift-giver can also enjoy with you and seeing that you like the gift is going to make anyone happy. Also, it is nice to thank them afterwards at a later date, perhaps with a “thank you” note – be it a card, text or even verbally.

Practical appreciation

If you received something to wear as a gift, make sure you wear that item at least once when you meet the gift-giver after the occasion. It is the ultimate sign of appreciation of the choice of the present, as well as a complement or a nod towards the receiver. This is also true for any other type of gift that you can try and utilise in front of the gift-giver. Remember, everyone wants to be noticed and wearing that gift you got does that.


  1. White Label SEO

    Awesome post! Keep up the great work! 🙂

  2. Sławomir Sz

    nice post 😀

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