Gift-giving etiquette: Give, receive and peeve?


What’s that under the tree? It’s your annual gift-giving faux pas, of course.

We asked etiquette experts how to extricate yourself elegantly from the embarrassment the season can bring.

Office Politics

If you want to get gifts for officemates, either keep your giving contained — to your boss and your assistant, for example — or give the same thing (like sweets) to all, says Wendy Jones of the Protocol School of Washington. “Georgetown Cupcake delivers,” she notes.

If there are colleagues you’d like to single out, do it privately, says Nancy Mitchell, owner of the Etiquette Advocate, a consulting firm.

Before you play office Santa, ask if you’re doing it for the right reasons. “Giving to improve your relationship with your boss is a really bad idea,” Mitchell says.

The Surprise Gift

You’re grabbing a peppermint latte with a friend — no big whoop. So you’re caught off guard when your coffee mate pulls out a wrapped gift for you, and you’re empty-handed.

“Everybody’s been there,” Jones says. Her advice: “Say, ‘Oh my gosh, I so appreciate this, and I left your gift at home, and I definitely will give it to you on Saturday.’ And then you follow up with your commitment.”

But Mitchell says you shouldn’t feel obligated to reciprocate; it depends on the situation. “The person who gave you a gift may not even have the kind of relationship with you that warrants a gift,” she says.

No matter what, sending the giver a thank-you note is a must.

Uneven Stevens

If you open your gift bag to discover a Swarovski crystal bust of Michelle Obama, you may feel bad about the CVS lip balm you gave in return.

“Try not to compare the two,” Mitchell says. “We’re so concerned about how much things cost,

and we need to get away from that.”

If you’re the one who gets the short end of the stick, don’t sweat it. “Never expect anything,” Mitchell says. “You don’t give gifts because you think you’re going to get a gift in return.”

Jones adds: “It really goes back to the age-old principle, ‘It’s better to give than receive.’ ”

Beth Marlowe is a senior editor at Express. She has written for The Washington Post, the Associated Press, Bloomberg Television and other publications.

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Beth Marlowe · December 1, 2013