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Modern Manners + Etiquette: Holiday Gift Etiquette

Thursday, December 06, 2012


It's always nobler to give than to receive, but what about re-gifting? It's the hottest holiday topic, and Didi Lorillard weighs in on the matter.

Holiday gift giving etiquette is challenging. Where do you draw the line? Should you give a cash gift card or a physical gift? Can you re-gift? Most companies have a Gift and Entertainment policy of employee guidelines to protect the company from a conflict of interest, but don't forget the unwritten expectations of the people who work for you. Should I give my boss a gift? Inevitably for about-to-be ex-lovers, holidays are a time when breaking up can be hard to do.

Dear Didi,

We have several large, plastic containers full of gifts we've never used and sometimes I think I could open a gift shop. I would like to give them as Christmas presents, but I'm afraid it will make me look stingy. I know who gave us what, so we wouldn't be giving any gifts back. They're perfectly nice things, it's just that we've got too much stuff. It's a waste not to recycle them. What's the etiquette on re-gifting?  H.W., Providence

Dear H.W.,

As long as the gift has not been used, it's OK. Take, for instance, a CD. You're safe in re-gifting it, as long as you think the person will actually dig listening to Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue." If the seal or the cellophane has been broken, don't regift it. Good things to re-gift are scented candles and soaps, picture frames, mugs, gloves and slippers (if you know the person's size), scarves (if it doesn't smell of your own perfume), ties, tea towels, boxed thank-you notes or healthy plants. The trick to re-gifting is to wrap the gift nicely in new and cheerful wrapping paper and ribbon. Tie the bow with a sprig of fresh pine, fir, or holly along with a tasteful tag. Save the old ribbons and wrapping paper (after you've ironed them out) to use on new gifts.

Things not to re-gift are anything that will spoil, such as handmade chocolates, potpourri, bouquet garni, spices, truffle oil, a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau 2011, Sangria mixes and throw pillows, which can pick up scents. And anything that reeks of last year's fashion. For instance, if jungle animal prints were popular last Christmas, then don't give the leopard print scarf from Aunt Edna to your fashionable running buddy or give last year's best selling self-help book to your neurotic mother-in-law.  ~Didi


Dear Didi,

Should a doctor's secretary give her employer a gift if invited to their holiday party?  B.C., Warwick

Dear B.C,

If the secretary is going to the doctor's home for a holiday party, then she should bring a token hostess gift, such as a box of ribbon candy or festive cookies. On the other hand, if this was strictly an office holiday party held in the workplace or in a restaurant, you wouldn't bring a gift because the party is to thank all the employees. Being invited to the doctor's house is special, so you would give something small, but impersonal. You wouldn't take the doctor (and his partner or wife) anything personal, such an article of clothing, cologne or grooming product, or a CD of seductive songs by Nicole Scherzinger. If the doctor has children, bring a holiday treat. If not, then a fir-scented candle is a great festive gift. ~Didi


Dear Didi,

Tipping is always a dilemma. I know I'm a cheapskate, but I want to give as little as possible to the paper delivery guy, my hair dresser, and cleaning lady, who comes twice a month. Also, I share a secretary with a colleague and I don't know how much to give her. She said she wants cash. Please help. M.B., Boston

Dear M.B.,

If the newspaper delivery person delivers every day all year long, then tip at least $25 in a holiday card. When you don't tip for a cut and blow-dry every time, give the cost of both (before tax is added) to the hair stylist in a VISA or Mastercard gift card enclosed in a festive card. Give the cleaning lady what you pay for one cleaning.

Ask your colleague how much she or he is giving your shared secretary. When the secretary has been working for you for at least a year, give her the same amount. If she's new, then break it down proportionally. Again, give her a VISA or Mastercard cash gift card, but along with a festive "extra" token of your appreciation. If this is your secretary five days a week, even though you share her, she's got your back and you want to make sure she continues to do so. Therefore, a VISA or Mastercard gift card for $200 would be appropriate. Secretaries and assistants in large companies often give the tech guy or/and the person in the mailroom $50 as a holiday gift to watch their back all year long. How much you give your secretary may well trickle down.  ~Didi


Dear Didi,

My girlfriend of two years and I haven't been getting along and we never have sex any more. I want to break up with her, but my buddies tell me it's mean to do so just before the holidays. The problem is that I don't want to go to her family for Christmas or give her a present, since we're about to break up. What should I do?  A.C., New Bedford, MA

Dear A.C.,

You're not making it any better by stringing her along. Cut bait fast. Leading her on isn't a sweet thing to do. Don't text her with the bad news, tell her in person. Meet for coffee. Tell her what's up. Say something such as this, "I feel like a hypocrite making plans for Christmas and New Years because I'm just not feeling the love. Can we take a break for a couple of months and then talk again?" At this point, telling her face to face would be the best Christmas gift of all. Who knows? She may feel the same way as you do. ~Didi

Didi Lorillard researches shifting etiquette at NewportManners.com by answering questions on relationship dilemmas, codes of behavior, wedding etiquette, business etiquette, entertaining, dress codes and manners. Or find Didi on Facebook,TwitterLinkedIn, or Pinterest after reading her earlier GoLocal columns, some of which are listed below.



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