Once you give someone a gift, just consider it their problem

  • By Michelle Singletary
  • Wednesday, December 29, 2004 9:00pm
  • Business

So you open the wonderfully wrapped gift and find a painting so hideous you have to muffle a shriek.

What do you do?

Of course, you give the gift giver the warmest thanks possible. To do otherwise is rude.

But then a few months later, the giver visits your home and wants to know where you hung the painting. You make up some excuse and think the matter is over.

They visit again and again, asking where is their painting.

What do you do?

You probably panic and lie that you just haven’t had time to find the right place for it – knowing full well that its rightful place is in the back of a closet facing the wall.

It could also be a badly made homemade sweater, fondue set (even though you have never indicated a fondness for hot cheese) or a diet-relationship self-help book you would rather burn than read.

Whatever it was that you received and didn’t like, chances are the giver may make it difficult for you to accept the gift, or rather the thought, with grace.

It’s true what French writer La Rochefoucauld said: “What is called generosity is usually only the vanity of giving; we enjoy the vanity more than the thing given.”

Why is it that some people who give can’t let go?

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his essay “Gifts,” says, “He is a good man who can receive a gift well.”

The flip side of that is, “He is a good man who can give a gift well and let you be.”

You know this type of giver (perhaps it’s you).

They nag you about the whereabouts of their gift, constantly asking, “So, where’s the briefcase I bought you?” or, “Why don’t I ever see you wear that scarf I gave you?” or “How’s that crock pot working out?” (even though they have never seen you cook a stew in your life).

Or there’s the giver who magnanimously gives you a gift card or cash that they intend for you to use a certain way. But fail to oblige, and they feel slighted or they secretly vow never to get you another present because you decided to spend the money on something else.

How many of you right now are storing gifts that see the light of day only when the giver comes around? Or to keep the peace you wear (or make your poor child wear) that dreadful sweater to the family holiday gathering, lest you risk the wrath of the relative who gave it to you.

I used to be a nagging giver, and usually it was my husband being tormented by my endless questions about why he wouldn’t use or wear certain gifts. (Hint: A lot of men don’t care for cute silk boxers.)

The National Retail Federation estimates that between 4 percent and 6 percent of gifts are returned. Two days after Christmas this year, hundreds of people dumped their unwanted gifts into a dumpster at a Sam Goody store at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. Sam Goody calls this its Bad-Gift Boycott.

I wonder how many of the dumpers will endure interrogations later.

If you’re a giver who can’t let go, keep these guidelines in mind:

* It’s perfectly fine to ask whether the person is enjoying your gift. However, if you inquire and get an evasive comment such as, “You are so thoughtful,” take the hint. A vague response is an attempt to spare your feelings.

* Don’t grill people about why they didn’t like what you gave.

* The sign of a truly generous person is one who doesn’t have a problem saying, “If you don’t like the gift, please feel free to return it,” or, “I won’t be offended if you don’t like what I got you.”

* By all etiquette standards, the only thing you are owed once you give a gift is a well-delivered thank you.

* Don’t boycott giving or hold a grudge if your gift is never used. That’s just being petty.

* Don’t take a rejection of your gift personally. It’s like the line people use when they want to delicately break up with someone – “It’s not you, it’s me.” The same is true with an awful, although well-intentioned, gift. It’s not you. It’s the gift that was wrong.

So with another holiday come and gone, please don’t pester the people you gave gifts to. If you don’t see the painting, vase, sweater, red silk boxer shorts or fondue set, let it be.

Washington Post Writers Group

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