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Gift Etiquette
(Rules for what to give)




     Gift  Etiquette
(Rules for what to give)






Deciding what's an appropriate gift

Gift etiquette can be a minefield for some. Do you sometimes have trouble knowing what's an apropriate gift or how much you should spend?

“Giving gifts to others is a fundamental activity, as old as humanity itself. Yet in the modern, complex world, the particulars of gift giving can be extraordinarily challenging”.  

                   Andrew Weil

“Giving gifts to others is a fundamental activity, as old as humanity itself. Yet in the modern, complex world, the particulars of gift giving can be extraordinarily challenging”.

                   Andrew Weil

In an ideal world there would be no need for information about gift etiquette. In a perfect world gifts would be given and received in the true spirit of giving.

A giver would seek out a gift they truly wanted to give and which they believed the recipient would appreciate.

Likewise the recipient would love the gift and feel the love of the giver.

But it doesn’t work like that any more!

There are numerous occasions for many of us when we have to get a gift for someone either because they expect it, or we feel obligated for some reason. It’s often hard to know what to give when your heart isn’t really in it.

How much should you spend on them?

Gift etiquette dictates that generally gift exchanges should be of equal value - what you give them costs about the same as what they give you.

Giving a person a very extravagant gift and one the like of which they could never afford to give in exchange creates tension and often resentment.

The one area where this doesn’t always apply is within a family where children usually spend less - if anything at all - on parents because they don’t have much money.

Also it’s acceptable usually for a person with a good income to spend more on elderly relatives who might be on a pension and unable to afford life’s luxuries for themselves. 

Next to consider is how much you  should spend on this person. This is a crucial question. The ability to pitch the right gift at the right price for the right person is a social skill which many lack. Deciding how much you should spend is every bit as important as knowing what to get.

No need to get an overdraft to buy someone something expensive that they might easily buy for themselves, or which they have no use for.

Reciprocal giving - exchanging gifts of equal value

Two arms holding up gifts of similar sizeIt's gift etiquette to exchange gifts of roughly equal value
Two arms holding up gifts of similar sizeIt's gift etiquette to exchange gifts of roughly equal value

Have you ever been embarrassed because you have received a gift that is far more expensive than you expected and from someone from whom you wouldn't normally expect such a gift?

You don't know what to do about it as it feels a bit weird, as if they might expect something more than a simple gift in return. 

Some people take advantage of gift exchange to try and score points over others. They deliberately give unnecessarily expensive gifts in a misguided attempt to prove their superiority. This isn't in the spirit of giving and generally creates negative feelings towards the extravagant givers.

Buying for other people’s children outside the family is an example of where care is needed.

Often it's a gift to take to a birthday party. In which case you buy something that corresponds in value to the gifts given by other children or that your child received at their parties. Any attempt to get something bigger and better is just seen as showing off.

The unspoken rule of gift giving, except to those closest to you, is to give a gift that’s comparable in value to what you receive.

Spending Christmas with new people

If you are invited to spend Christmas at the home of a new partner’s family. It is polite to take a small gift for each person who is likely to be there when gifts are opened.

This doesn’t have to be anything elaborate - a token gift. Some beautifully packaged homemade biscuits or sweets are often a good idea.

Gift etiquette of gift lists

There are really only two gift giving occasions when it is considered acceptable to produce a wish list:

  1. Weddings
  2. Within the immediate family - Christmas (and sometimes birthdays) if that’s what your family does.

To produce a list of gifts you'd like to be given on any other occasion would be considered rude and impertinent unless someone had specifically asked you to do so.

Should you give handmade or craft gifts?

Hands at sewing machineHandcrafted gifts are great for the right person
Hands at sewing machineHandcrafted gifts are great for the right person

When it's appropriate, a well-made, handmade gift is special, but care needs to be put into choosing it.

For example few parents would fail to appreciate a hand knitted garment for their baby. On the other hand, a one-of-a-kind handbag would not be welcomed by someone who usually buys designer leather bags.

Gifts of food - sweets, biscuits, jams, chutneys, etc are always acceptable.

4 Rules of Gift Etiquette

  1. Aim to give a gift that's worth more or less the same as they give you.
  2. Give a gift, however small, to each person present when gifts are exchanged and opened.
  3. If given an overly extravagant gift don't get sucked into trying to compete.
  4. Always send an email, letter, card or make a phone call to the giver thanking them for their gift whatever it was.

Etiquette - a final word

The highest authority on etiquette of all kinds is Debretts. This company, well-known in high society, is followed by those in the know for guidance on how to conduct oneself in all manner of social interaction.

Even if you don't mix in aristocratic circles, some of the advice often makes for interesting reading and will come in handy should you ever meet Her Majesty.


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